Thursday, January 08, 2009


I don't always like Karl Barth--he's a theologian from 20th century Switzerland who wrote before/during/after WWII. He wrote so much that it's exhausting just to think about. He's basically the most beloved theologian at my school, a Reformed theologian whose point is that theology should be about God alone, and that God has revealed everything--revelation is complete--in the person of Jesus, and since he's not here anymore we focus on reading the Bible. What a theologian does is try to interpret the Bible rightly in order to focus on the revelation available to us as best we can. So his belief in the cessation of revelation bothers me, and I wonder how anyone can "know" God if God is not continually revealing God's self to us, and how one can rightly interpret the Bible if there is no present Spirit teaching you, but I think despite himself, God IS speaking to Barth and through Barth's words, so as much as he wants to limit revelation, he is a tool of revelation if one reads him carefully.

Anyway, I'm reading his commentary on Romans 12 and 13 for my paper. If I wrote like him I don't think I would pass my thesis, because he talks about so many things that aren't present in the text it's just incredible, but a good portion of it is really good. So here's an interesting quote:

"...the power and earnestness of Christian ethics lie in its persistent asking of questions and in its steady refusal to provide answers to these questions." (Barth, Epistle to the Romans, 466)

I think this is incredibly perceptive. It is because we think we've found answers that we get ourselves into situations where we try to defend a particular way in an absurd fashion. If we say once for all time it is loving to act in X way, there is always going to be a time when X will not be loving, or when there will be something more loving to do than X. Life is different for each person in each time and in each moment. Answering questions closes off the ability to seek truth each day by telling us truth is already found.

So when we say, "Follow this law, because it is just," perhaps it is just at that moment for the situations we envision. But when a time comes along when that law is no longer just, or when we notice situations in which it is not just, generally we say, "Oh well, it's the law! We must follow it," instead of recognizing with humility that what we thought was truth was not the whole truth. That's why we sometimes have to practice civil disobedience: because the law is not conforming to what is good and just anymore.

I guess it's important to note that I believe there are things that are always going to be true: God, truth, love, justice, etc. But how we enact these, which is the question of ethics, is what changes. There is no question that we should always act lovingly, but there is a question about how to do that. If we try to give once-for-all answers we are not practicing ethics--we are creating an ideology. We are no longer feeling our way in the dark, which is faith--we are standing still in the dark and calling it "light."

1 comment:

Jennifer Marchman said...

I really enjoyed this, Cherice. You said so much so efficiently. Your last line really spoke to me.