Time and Revelation

And by revelation here we’re not talking about the final book in the NT canon, but the larger idea of God’s revealing of Godself to humanity–what Barth summarizes as “Jesus Christ.”

In this, the first of a three week excursion into ยง1.14 of the Church Dogmatics, Barth brings us back again to his central tenant that what we know theologically we know on the basis of revelation alone. We do not have general ideas of “god” that the true corresponds to, but a revealed God whom we believe.

Similarly, we do not have a general concept of “time” to which the time of God corresponds, but in revelation we learn of a new kind of time that is not defined or measured by the time we inhabit from day-to-day.

Our time, like the rest of the created world which we inhabit, is time created good but fallen.

God’s time is summed up in the person of Jesus. While this revelation enters history, history itself can never be seen as revelatory. Revelation is about the incursion of light that shines in the darkness. The darkness can never be revelation, though it can be the context within which revelation makes itself known.

As so often in the Dogmatics, Barth seems most concerned with theological Liberalism, with its propensity to equate the mundane with the divine, to both strip away the supernatural from the biblical record in order to find what is true and good and the tendency to see all of life and history as culture as revelatory of God.

This dense chapter presents us with a way of beginning to wrestle with some of the most vexing problems of the NT’s depictions of the work of God in Christ. Specifically, it seems that there are many things that are begun, a new age that has dawned, and an immediacy to the consummation of the Kingdom that have failed to materialize.

As longtime readers have heard me say before, one of the most profound issues Jewish people have with Christian claims about Jesus as Messiah is summed up in these words of Martin Buber:

Now to the Christian, the Jew is the incomprehensibly obdurate man, who declines to see what has happened; and to the Jew, the Christian is the incomprehensibly daring man, who affirms in an unredeemed world that its redemption has been accomplished

The unredeemed world. There’s the problem.

But the NT also demands that we recognize a tension between the “now” of God’s kingdom alongside the “passing away” of the world of flesh in which we find ourselves.

Here is where Barth wants us to recognize the advent of not a new era in the sense of the latest in a series, but instead a new kind of time altogether–the presence of God with us. This is a time that can encompass all our times, and will continue as God’s presence to us and for us when time is no more.

And, this unredeemed world can truly be known as redeemed in the suffering servant–but only by means of revelation.

2 thoughts on “Time and Revelation”

  1. This is serious stuff – there’s a hint here that Barth seems to have seen well. I am glad to read it from you this morning when my own writing blog has been disabled for 24 hours!

    My theology is very simple: help, thanks, and sorry. And if I need to say anything else: ‘not me- first’ but sometimes ‘yes as-if me-only’. And the simple command and mandate for me arising from revelation is ‘find words’.

    I have read Buber and Barth in my youth (before I could read) – I really should reread them now 40 years later – I might have a chance of getting it and finding words too.

  2. “While this revelation enters history, history itself can never be seen as revelatory.”

    Thus says POE:

    Though, when is history ever “merely” history? Does not our very being imply revelation, as humanity is made with divine stuff, a little lesser than the Elohim. So, we can’t just suspend this attribute when disobedience occurs, even systemically so, for even with the reality of sin’s affects humans are still imbued by what we might roughly call a supramundane existence. Disclaimer: of course, this is not to liberally or wistfully equate the mundane with the divine, as Barth rightly hedges against, only to place it on a hierarchical continuum of Yahweh/Elohim/humans-like-elohim.

    THUS, by logical extension, I do not perceive the gospel as entering forth a “new time altogether” ex nihilo. That is a bit too newfangled; time was made “very good” and it has, well, stood the test of time. As a poet once said, “God doesn’t make no junk and he doesn’t junk what he made.” The time and presence of God has always been and will continue to be — deeply, sensitively and skillfully so. God works alongside/concurrently with a firmly blessed creation now juxtaposed by the evils which still skirmish about.

    In summation, being a part of the gospel-revelation isn’t determined by an ethic of discipleship (which often is used as a badge of righteousness for Sunday service churchgoers), but rather it is firmly presumed by our being-ness to begin with, which then (and only then) brings about an ethic of discipleship.

    Sin, therefore, is when we misuse this power.

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