As we think about who God is, we often struggle to hold down ideas that appear contradictory to us. How can God be both holy and gracious? How can a just God also be merciful? How can the God whose wisdom calls us to a definite way of life exercise patience with those who refuse?
These are the three pairs of seemingly incompatible attributes that Barth unpacks in his chapter on the God who loves (Church Dogmatics §30, “The Perfections of the Divine Loving”).
While I resonated with the tensions of the first two pairs, I found the Patience and Wisdom section to be a bit more strained.
The strength of this section, as usual, came in the insistence that we don’t know from any sort of ideals or preconceptions of what a God is or might be that God is wise and patient. We only know that this is who God is because it is who God has revealed Godself to be in Jesus Christ.
What is the true God’s patience?
Patience exists where space and time are given with a definite intention, where freedom is allowed in expectation of a response.
God is patient in eager expectation that those reconciled to God in Christ will enter the relationship God has created in him.
This section of the Dogmatics contained a couple of beautiful, revisionist readings of biblical passages, including here God’s marking of Cain. The preservation and defense of the murderer is the triumph of God’s mercy and patience.
When Barth moved into the discussion of wisdom, I felt that Jesus Christ as the wisdom of God was too much confined to the small print, and not given enough of a defining place in the major theological structure. The desire to juxtapose wisdom with patience felt strained at this point.
Nonetheless, there was another beautiful revisionist reading of the OT, as Barth discussed the story of Solomon suggesting that a contested baby be split in half and given to the parents. There is a people who profess to come to God in search of wisdom, but would take death to be proven right. And there is a people who come to God in search of wisdom, and would rather suffer the personal loss in order to give life to the other.
The two women end up representing a people standing before God, whose wisdom is made known in the cross of Christ–and is, therefore, not a wisdom that can be known from below, but only by God’s own revelation.
The patient God is wise–patiently awaiting a people who will see God’s own wisdom made manifest in the cross.
From here, Barth will move into the God who is perfect in freedom. Apparently, this is either more important or much more difficult to talk about than God as love. §31 extends over the next 240ish pages of the book. Steel yourself…