Fearing and Loving the Covenant God

Can we truly know God? If so, what does such knowledge entail? How can the God who is wholly Other make Himself known to creatures? If we were to know this infinite God, as finite creatures, what would such knowledge look like?

Karl Barth claims that it would be an involved knowledge, a true knowledge, and a knowledge that is nonetheless shrouded in mystery.

Knowledge of God is self-involving. To know God is to love God. This is not the knowing of propositions, but the knowledge of faith and love. We know God as we trust what we have heard in the proclamation of the word.

But with “love,” Barth also insists that true knowledge entails fear of the Lord. Yes, perfect love casts out fear–of judgement. But there is an otherness of God that is embraced, and an appropriate response of fear, that comes when we truly know the true God.

It seems that the point to which Barth is perhaps most eager to arrive, however, has to do with how God can possibly become a true object of our knowledge. Here, he turns to the Trinity.

God does not become known and knowable after there are people to know God. God is eternally known and knowable because the Father knows the Son and the Son knows the Father (through the Spirit? or does the Spirit know, too?).

Human knowledge is true, if limited. God has revealed Himself as this God whom God knows himself to be.

Although the Trinity can never be a philosophical answer to the problem of the knowledge of God, it is one that coheres within the Christian claim about God’s identity, and the nature of God’s self-revelation.

2 thoughts on “Fearing and Loving the Covenant God”

  1. I love the parallelism between “…whom we must fear above all things because we may love him above all things” and the similar relationship set up between knowing and mystery. His use of “must” and “may” is very interesting.

  2. I found this section slightly easier going than the first (perhaps I’m just “getting back into practice,” not really having read Barth since leaving seminary 15 years ago!). I most appreciated the insistence that even the knowledge of God in faith is an indirect, mediated knowledge of God: “even the best mirror shows a thing quite differently from what is in itself” (p. 53); the reminder that God’s giving of the sacred name is just as much a refusal to give it (p. 61). Not that this opens up room for us to say anything we like about God, as if we did not have to reckon with the (best and clearest though still “inverted”) reflection in Jesus; and not that this leaves us room to wonder and doubt where God has been made clear; but it is a promise that there is and always will be more to see, more to learn – that the mystery of God will never be exhausted.

    Because I am a hopeless nerd, this made me think of the (long) scenes in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” where the Enterprise is flying into the mysterious cloud of V’Ger. On and on the ship flies, seeing wonderful vista after wonderful vista open up; but when the ship reaches the center, all the mystery is gone, because V’Ger is revealed as an old Earth space probe, radically transformed. (I would have said spoiler alert, but the film came out in 1979, so…) So I actually wrote in the margin on p. 52, “God is not V’Ger!” Barth says: “A further knowledge of God will only lead us deeper into just this entirety of His being.” If I understand Barth correctly, he’s talking along the same lines as C.S. Lewis in the Narnia books: one can always go “farther up and further in.” Even when we see God face to face, and know as we are fully known (1 Cor 13), we will not have exhausted God.

    Which is really quite amazing, when you think about it!

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