Reflections on CD IV/2

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In $64, The Exaltation of the Son of Man, Barth writes:

“Throughout the New Testament the kingdom of God, the Gospel and the man Jesus have a remarkable affinity, which is no mere egalitarianism, to all those who are in the shadows as afar as concerns what men estimate to be fortune and possessions and success and even fellowship with God. Why is this the case?…But one reason is the distinctive solidarity of the man Jesus with the God who in the eyes of the world – and not merely the ordinary world, but the moral and spiritual as well – is also poor in this way, existing not only in fact and practice but even in theory, somewhere on the margins in its scales of values, at an unimportant level, as the mere content of a limiting concept. In fellowship and conformity with this God who is poor in the world the royal man Jesus is also poor, and fulfils the transvaluation of all values, acknowledging those who (without necessarily being better) are in different ways poor men as this world counts poverty” (CD IV/2, 169).

This quote confused me. Barth appears to be suggesting that the reason Christ cares for the “least of these” is because God is dead. Basically, God has been divested of his importance and now exists on the limits of society as a “God of the gaps”, as an afterthought. God now longer occupies the center of our imagination, and now God is simply a poor forgotten sap. This has to be the fourth or fifth time I’ve been reading Barth discussing Jesus’ ministry to the oppressed (which as he points out is central to Luke and James in the Greek Bible), but the conclusions he draws from this fact are always odd. Before he’s said this Jesus takes care of the poor to remind us how depraved and lowly we are in the sight of God. Now, he appears to be suggesting that since God is neglected (in thought and deed) She has many things in common with the poor (namely society’s indifference to the poor’s plight). While this is somewhat interesting, would it be too much to ask of Barth go ahead and affirm God’s obvious preferential option for the poor that is manifest in both the Hebrew Bible and the Greek Bible?

“What we have said finds its true climax and glory in the fact that – however hard this may sounds – He finally hung on the gallows as a criminal between two other criminals, and died there, with that last despairing question on His lips, as One who was condemned and maltreated and scorned by men and abandoned by God…And in the passion He exists exclusively as the One He is – the Son of God who is also the Son of Man. In the deepest darkness of Golgotha He enters supremely into the glory of the unity of the Son with the Father. In that abandonment by God He is the One who is directly loved by God. This is the secret that we have to see and understand. And it is not a new and specific secret. It is the secret of the whole. Nor is it a closed secret. It is a secret which has been revealed in the resurrection of Jesus” (CD IV/2, 252).

This really captures the entirety of CD IV/1 and CD IV/2. The despised One was condemned and abandoned. The Son of God was humiliated and condescended so that we might be free. What I found most striking was Barth’s suggestion that the resurrection suggests that Jesus’ abandonment on the cross is actually a time of supreme unity with the Father.

“What we have called the way of the Son of God into a far country and the homecoming of the Son of Man, and what older dogmatics called the exinatio and exaltatio of Jesus Christ, are one and the same event at the cross. The humility and obedience of the Son of God, and the corresponding majesty of the Son of Man, coincide as they are represented in the event of Gethsemane and Golgotha. The Word was really made flesh. It was really God who really reconciled the world to Himself – in the One who was the true God, omnipotent in the depth of His mercy, and also (in His death and passion) true man, allowing free rein to this omnipotent mercy of God. There is involved both the depth to which God gave Himself for us in His own Son, and the majesty to which He exalted us in the same Son who also became man as we are” (CD IV/2, 292-3).

Here again the dialectic between the humility and obedience of the Son of God with the simultaneous exaltation of the Son of Man are held tightly together. The power of this formulation is the way in which Barth is able to allow reprobation to be wholly located in the condescension of the Son of God. The good news is that the exaltation of this Jesus of Nazareth is also our own glorification as we participate in his life.

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