The question of whether, and how, we can know God has been very much alive for the past couple hundred years. It’s been a problem philosophically, as the gulf between a supposedly transcendent God and the world in which we find ourselves has proven too much, say the philosophers, for the God on the other side to do us much good.
God got sent to the in-law suite in the attic whilst we went about our daily business of cooking and cleaning and loving and warring.
With Freud and Feuerbach, the problem came closer to home. Maybe the problem isn’t that God is too much “out there” to do us any good. Perhaps the problem is that God is far too much “inside.” Perhaps God is a projection of our needs, of our desires.
We are living, now, in a somewhat peculiar moment. The information age has made the musings of the phiolosphers more readily available; the education age has made advanced study of theology and philosophy more extensively enjoyed (or, at least, performed!); and people with philosophical and theological training are bringing their message to the masses both in books and in freely available popular media (return here to point 1: information age).
Where this is all going is here: over the past two weeks I have read Peter Rollins’ Insurrection, heard him with Barry Taylor on the Homebrewed Christianity Podcast, engaged with Rollins’ “love is God” philosophy with friends on Twitter–only to turn to the first 30 pages of Karl Barth, Year 2, and find his insistence that there is a God who is objectively known and knowable, because this God is, in fact, known in the church.
Here, Barth does not argue against the position that God as such is truly known, if mediated, God makes Himself known and people hear with faithful obedience. Instead, he begins with the assumption that because there is a God made known through Jesus Christ in the church, that God is, in fact, knowable.
Barth’s argument is circular: God is knowable because we know God. He does not attempt to enter the circle by way of argumentation, but begins within the Christian story where God is made known in Christ and in scripture, and uses this story to tell us what it is to know God.
But I agree with Barth in the necessity of this circularity: you do not arrive at the God of the Christian story by starting with an idea of God in general and working your way in. You either believe in this God or you don’t; you either believe in this particular God, or you believe in another. The unmoved mover is not the God of Israel.
I found Barth more satisfying than those who suggest that God is of ourselves rather than made known according to God’s own decision.
In short, the notion that God is of ourselves, or found in our actions, or project of our desires, is not the God of the Christian story. If God was not in Christ reconciling the world to Godself, then the story is simply false. To confess resurrection is to look to a moment in time when God broke into history and vindicated the crucified Christ–truly overcoming death and taking Jesus out of the world.
The God found in my acts of love does not have this power, the power of the gospel, which is real power for salvation.
Barth manages to hold onto both the uniqueness/otherness and true knowability of God. God chooses to reveal Godself as an object that we can know. This knowledge is always mediated: ultimately through the Word of God in the flesh.
Knowledge is true because God chooses to make Godself object. It is unique because we are dependent on this self-disclosure and cannot know the true God without such disclosure. It is true knowledge when we not only believe that this God has spoken, but obey the summons that the voice brings.
The self-involving God is an object of our knowing through a self-involvement of us as knowers. Thus, while the truth of the notion that God is known when we love in obedience to God is maintained, so is the otherness of God who is not identical with that love of neighbor itself.
Jerry has his Barth Together thoughts here.
And Brain Maiers is back in the game!