God is One

If there is a central faith confession in ancient Israel, it is that God is one.

Well, at least, God alone is Israel’s God, which then gradually becomes, the only true and living God. But let’s not quibble over the historical development from henotheism to monotheism.

Because, after all, as Barth reminds us in Church Dogmatics §31.1, it was just when Jewish monotheism had taken firm root,

when polytheism had apparently become a matter of past history and the idols Israel had worshiped were apparently recognized only as the idols of the despised Gentiles or in recollection of the abomination of their disobedient fathers–it was just then, under the sway of this victorious monotheism, that Israel’s Messiah was handed over by Israel to the Gentiles and nailed by them to the cross with Israel’s approval.

This dangerous statement is part of Barth’s larger polemic: we don’t confess “monotheism” as some theoretical perfection about God. We respond to the revelation of God as one, revealed as such in the Exodus but supremely in Christ.

In light of the crucifixion, Barth says,

“Could there be a better proof that this monotheism is not a final achievement and expression of Israel’s obedience to the first commandment?”

This is the part of the first section of Barth’s exposition of Divine Freedom. God’s unity and omnipresence are juxtaposed in this first discussion.

In the discussion of the unity I found myself reacting as I have through much of §2.1: there are moments when Barth’s radical Christological focus breaks through–he claims that it drives him throughout, but it only appears on the surface at times.

I miss the radically Christological centering and argumentation of Book 1. The feel of the discussion about God’s oneness, the undividedness of God in God’s Triunty–it all feels like Barth is trying to approve the orthodox tradition of the church after the fact rather than articulating it after the fact in light of the Christ event.

One of the highights for me this time ’round was a small print section on oneness and the work of Christ:

God’s simplicity reveals itself and consists in His continual self-confirmation in His speech and action; His continual self-confession and self-attestation in His identity. This involves the repetition and also the fulfillment of His promise… It involves the unity of His promise and His command… It involves the unity of the election and calling of the sinful people Israel and of the church of Jews and Gentiles sanctified by grace. It involves the unity of grace and holiness, mercy and righteousness, patience and wisdom, in the total work of His love.

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