Barth on Necessity and Suffering

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“Jesus had to go up to Jerusalem. But the high priests, too, and the scribes and the people, had to do as they did in the only too genuine succession of tradition. The disciples had to leave Him, Peter had to deny Him, Judas had to betray Him. Not even here does this necessity imply the slightest excuse. Man unveils himself here as really and finally guilty. But that this did happen, that man really and finally revealed himself as guilty before God by killing God, had to happen thus and not otherwise in the event in which God asserted His real lordship” (CD, I/2, 92).

I found this quote to be interesting for a couple of reasons. He does a good job of finding a middle way between two common positions. One the one hand we have the anemic Calvinist reading where people sit around and wonder, “my God if Judas had to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver to fulfill Scriptures in Zechariah can we really hold him responsible?” Basically, Judas’ agency is in question and hence the person wonders if he is ultimately accountable for his actions. Barth says no. Judas does not get off that easy. I’ve always had difficulty stomaching both interpretations, but I find Barth’s to be more palatable insofar as it resists reading the whole Judas-Jesus relationship perversely. Although there are multiple ways to understand Judas and Jesus’ relationship, I think we should be more cautious to condemn Jesus as Ruskin points out here. The issue of sovereignty obviously is at play here. I tend to think that Jesus chose Judas as a follower because he believed in him. He took a risk that all friends must take. This is making me re-think posting that paper I wrote on the Oedipus complex and the cross because I dedicated a substantial portion of it arguing for a different interpretation of Judas’ relationship with Jesus. I’ll have to return that in a later post as it requires too much explanation.

My friend once brought up the point that what ultimately separates Peter and Judas was that Peter believed that he was worthy of forgiveness, hell he messed up so much in the gospels I’m sure he was used to asking for it.

Unfortunately, on the next page Barth goes on to call synagogues petrified. Yay for ecumenism.

“Only here, because here God Himself goes right into this darkness in which man has to stand and move before Him, and He does not let the extreme bitterness of His wrath and of death touch sinful man, but – and this is the mystery of New Testament – experiences and bears it for Himself…The New Testament answer to the problem of suffering – and it alone is the answer to the sharply put query in the Old Testament – is to the effect that One has died for all” (CD I/2, 108-109).

This is really fascinating. According to Barth, the Hebrew Bible is a record of people struggling with the problem of suffering and the experience of God-forsakenness (e.g. Psalmists, Job). After the New Testament, the riddle has been solved. God the Son has absorbed God the Father’s wrath and taken away the sins of the world. God the Son is the scapegoat. He goes to the depths of hell for us so we don’t have to. I’ll admit I’m not completely clear on Barth’s doctrine of reconciliation, but I suppose I’ll be able to report back about that next Fall.

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