Saturday, December 12, 2009

Barth on Human Resistance to Truth

Reading Barth, this paragraph (yes, this is a single paragraph) struck me as speaking powerfully to recent discussions in the Hot Tub. Its a lot to wade through, but it speaks powerfully of the real obstacle to knowing the truth in God: us.

"What is truth?" It certainly cannot be expected to encounter man as a phenomenon which is immediately and directly illuminating, pleasing, acceptable and welcome to him. He would not be who he is if the promise of the Spirit came to him easily and smoothly. The gate through which it comes to him, if at all, is not wide but strait, and its way to him is not broad but narrow. Basically, it is in harmony with him and it speaks to his innermost self. For it tells him about the reconciliation of the world to God which has taken place in Jesus Christ, about this as his own justification and sanctification, about the new birth which it implies for him, about the freedom and peace of his true being as a new man in Jesus Christ. Yet telling him of these things, it is a new and strange and unsettling message compared with what he is in himself apart from this being of his in Jesus Christ, and with what he thus regards as pleasing, acceptable and true. It lacks the brightness and radiance which might cause it to seem true and acceptable. Indeed, the new man in Jesus Christ of whom it tells seems to be wrapped in obscurity compared with the old whom we know so much better and with whom we are naturally well acquainted. We need to pierce the obscurity, to penetrate the alien, threatening and uncomfortable aspect under which the truth draws near to man, if we are really to see it as the truth. We need to do something which is not at all self-evident, namely, to become other people. In the first instance, it does not address us; it contradicts us and demands our contradiction. Hence it does not commend itself. It is not welcome but unwelcome. It would certainly not be the truth if it did not have the tendency and power to pierce that obscurity, to penetrate that first aspect, to change us and therefore to open us to itself. It would not be the truth if the newness and strangeness in which it first encounters us were no more than the hard shell of a sweet and very precious kernel, if its aim and impulse were not to make perceptible and accessible to us the joy and peace of our true being as new men in Jesus Christ. But it would also not be the truth if it won us for itself by any other way than that of a powerful Nevertheless and Notwithstanding, if it did not encounter us in that hard shell, if it served up that insight on a platter, if it disclosed itself to us cheaply and otherwise than in a desperate conflict of decision. Things gained in this easy and self-evident way might well be kindly and good and even true within the sphere of a creaturely life, but they would certainly not be the truth of God. And they would be distinguished from this by the fact that they would entail no unmasking of man, no exposure of him as a liar, and therefore no summoning of him to a knowledge of the grace of God, to faith and obedience. That this is so in the case of the truth of God is grounded in the fact that this is identical with the true Witness Jesus Christ as the revelation of God's will and work for man enacted in Him. The glory of this Mediator, however, is a glory which is concealed in its opposite, in invisibility, in repellent shame. This Witness does not encounter man in a splendour which wins him easily and impresses him naturally. Raised from the dead by the power of God, He encounters him in the despicable and forbidding form of the Slain and Crucified of Golgotha. It is as the One whose way leads and ends there that He is the Reconciler of the world to God, the justification and sanctification of man. It is with Him as this One that our life is hidden and secured in God. And it is as this One that He comes again, revealing Himself in the world which moves to this end and goal and therefore in our sphere of time and history. The Word of the cross is thus the light of life, the saving revelation of God, the promise of the Spirit, in which He visits and accompanies and encounters man. It is as the Word of the cross that it has and exercises this power, and therefore primarily in this context the power to unmask the man of sin as a liar. To whom could it possibly appear welcome, acceptable or even tolerable? As it is this Word from which we think we can only turn away in rejection in view of the menace of its form, it is obvious that we should try to escape from it in falsehood, accepting instead a truth or untruth which it is easy to hold and affirm and which has the advantage that it enables us to think that we can avoid exposure. We can only think this. For in face of this Word there is for man, no matter what he thinks, no possibility of escape or concealment.

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