How are we to think of God?
When folks start getting all technical about it, they sometimes talk about God’s attributes as “communicable” and “incommunicable”: who God is for us, the God we can share in (on the one hand), and who God is in Godself, the God we cannot participate in (on the other).
Karl Barth calls us to caution here.
God is the God of love. But this is not merely about the God how is for us and with us, this is the Triune God from all eternity.
And God is the God of freedom. But this is not merely about the God who is Other. God is perfectly free in his entering into his various relationships with the created order.
Throughout §28-29 of Church Dogmatics, Barth has been developing this groundwork for the reality of the identity of God: God as God is revealed is the God who is; and the God who is is none other than the God we meet as revealed (and concealed) in revelation by Christ, Scripture, and preaching.
In the next two sections we’re going to hear about the attributes of God that express God’s love (§30) and those that express the perfection of God’s freedom (§31)–but all in such a way as to keep both love and freedom on the table at all times.
Overall, I like what Barth is going for here: he does not want us to think that we have some idea of Godness that we’re striving for, some ideal form that indicates God who is “other” and “out there.”
Moreover, Barth wants to ensure that when we turn to ask, “What is God?” we do not attempt to separate that answer from the all-important “Who is God?” that he has been answering in his development of the doctrine of God who is known in Christ.
I like that.
I wish, though, for a couple of things.
One, I feel that we have spent so much time in the Trinity lately that the revelation of God in the story of Jesus has grown dim. The closer we stick to Christology, the happier I am. I know that Barth himself intends all of this to be such an exposition. I wish to see it clearer at time.
Also, the appeal to the narrative as a true revelation of God is a double-edged sword. While it does, as Barth acknowledges, mean that the God we see here is the God who is, I wonder if Barth has left open enough space for how the story might impact and influence God?
Might the God who loves in freedom eternally surrender some aspect of his freedom to bind himself to the story of Israel? Some change in God’s freedom and even love must be apparent when God becomes eternally incarnate.
But more importantly, what about the ways that God deals differently with people over time. Without going for “God figuring out how to be God,” if the relationship between God and Israel, God and the church, is a true relationship, might that binding and the self-giving of God to the people and the people responding in faithfulness or rebellion, not influence God (cf. incarnation above, for one) in some meaningful sense? Might God not respond to the created order and thus not act merely in sovereign freedom?
Here we have the set-up: we can’t find love only in God for us, but it is part of God as God is in eternal Triunity. We can’t find God’s freedom only in God who is Other, but it is part of God as God is for us. Next we’ll move on to see how this plays out in grace and holiness, mercy and righteous.
Note for new readers: I’m on a 7ish year plan to blog through the Church Dogmatics. Full reading schedule and earlier posts can be found by clicking the Karl Barth Reading tab above.