Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Pride and Fall of Man

The title of this blog post is the title of Barth's CD IV, 1 §60. I should've known that I wasn't going to get away from running into Barth at some point in my career here at Duke, so now I'm head deep in his Church Dogmatics, trying to make sense of his whole theology. Anyway, our reading for this week was from section 60, and in it, he does say some interesting things, so I thought I would leave you tonight with a snippet:

4. The knowledge of Jesus Christ is finally the knowledge of the significance and extent of sin, or in the words of Anselm: quanti ponderis sit peccatum.

Granted that we have before us the reality of sin, its negative character, its truth as the determination of every man and the whole man, of man himself, we still have to ask what it means that from all these different standpoints man is the man of sin. May it not be that even on all these presuppositions his existence can be comprehended and expounded as a phenomenon which is purely relative, which can be estimated, its irregularity being finally explained and its part in the great nexus of God and the world and man understood?

Is it not conceivable that, although we have to correct all the individual errors and weaknesses in the modern Protestant view of sin as we have seen it, yet when we survey the whole we are brought back to the grandiose teaching of Leibniz which underlies it? Wrong is simply the negation of good, that which (like evil and death) is not willed and caused by God, but which since the possibility of it was necessary to man as a free rational creature He had to permit for the sake of the relative imperfection and therefore the perfection of the world distinct from Himself. In its own way, therefore, it is a necessary and in its own place a positively ordered and effective element in the harmony of all existence and therefore of the existence of man. Can we not finally hazard the construction that man can and does sin on the basis of his metaphysical imperfection which is inalienable to him as man and the complement of his relative perfection, but that in so doing as an 'asymptote ofthe Godhead‛ he is engaged in a constant approximation to its removal? Of course, the creature is not God, so that this can only be an approximation, a relative and not an absolute perfection. But as an approximation it does represent the attainment of his relative perfection. Why should not the presuppositions to which we have just come enable us to think and say this or something similar?

If we try to approach this aspect of the problem only in the light of Jesus Christ, we shall be well advised to start from the moment in which we see the element of truth in every form of optimism. From the act of atonement which has taken place in Jesus Christ it is clear that in evil we do not have to do with a reality and power which have escaped the will and ork of God let alone with something that is sovereign and superior in relation to it. Whatever evil is, God is its Lord. We must not push our attempt to take evil seriously to the point of ever coming to think of it as an original and indeed creative counter-deity which posits autonomous and independent facts, competing seriously with the one living God and striving with Him for the mastery. Evil is a form of that nothingness which as such is absolutely subject to God. We cannot legitimately deduce this from a mere contrasting of the idea of evil with the idea of good. But we can say it in the light of the fact that in Jesus Christ, in His death (the meaning of which is shown in His resurrection to be His victory and the liberation of man), we see evil overcome and indeed shattered and destroyed by the omnipotence of the love and wrath of God— and this in such a way that in its supreme aggression, in its most blatant manifestation, it was impressed into the service of God and contrary to its own nature became necessarily an instrument of the divine triumph. Whatever else we may say of its origin and nature, however seriously we have to take it in its significance for ourselves, it is certain that we have no reason to fear that in it we are dealing with a factor which is the complement of God and confronts Him on the same level. Its claim to be this was given the lie once and for all on the cross of Golgotha. But if in relation to God its impotence has been unmasked, then in relation to man and his world as the creation of God it may cause serious concern, but it cannot and must not give rise to any final doubt, to any unrestrained anxiety, to any pessimism, defeatism, hopelessness or despair. Certainly we can say this only with reference to God as the Lord and Creator of His creation and the covenant partner of man. Certainly we can say this only with reference to His grace, whose superiority over sin has been unequivocally demonstrated in Jesus Christ. But in the light of God and His grace which alone is sovereign there can be no absolute fear of evil, as though evil itself were an absolute.

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