Reading Barth Backwards: IV/4, Baptism with the Holy Spirit, #4

While the change that comes from God which  enables people to be faithful comes completely from outside people, Barth writes that this is not at all to be confused with Christomonism. “The point is that here, as everywhere, the omni-causality of God must not be construed as His sole causality. The divine change in whose accomplishment a man becomes a Christian is an event of true intercourse between God and man. If it undoubtedly has its origin in God’s initiative, no less indisputably man is not ignored or passed over in it. He is taken seriously as an independent creature of God…

The history of Jesus Christ, then does not destroy a man’s own history. In viture of it this history becomes a new history, but it is still his own new history. The faithfulness to God to which he is summoned is not, then, an emanation of God’s faithfulness. It is truly his own faithfulness, decision and act. He could not achieve it if he were not liberated thereto. But being thus liberated, he does it as his own act, as his answer to the Word of God spoken to him in the history of Jesus Christ. As there must be in this matter no subjectivism from below, so there must be no subjectivism from above. As there must be no anthropomonism, so there must be no christomonism.” (22-23)

I wonder about the paradox here between the idea that the causality of people’s faithfulness coming from God alone held alongside the thought that people are not ignored or passed over by that external causality. One’s own history becomes contingent upon the history of Jesus Christ, such that it is transformed by that history while simultaneously remaining one’s own.

The radical contingency of my own history on the history of Jesus Christ is attractive on one level, in that it subsumes the tragic we face in our own circumstances under the judgment and vindication of the cross. Some would rather see our own histories as being absolutely determined by the causality of God, such that their only comfort in the tragic is to invoke the sovereignty of God and the ultimate goodness of the divine plan. Trouble is, that opens one to Ivan Karamazov’s critique: if the ultimate goodness of the divine plan involves the truly horrible, then Karamazov and others like him will reject it. I think Barth offers an alternative reading of how God’s sovereignty in the history of Jesus enables one to receive comfort in the face of the tragic. Our histories are not determined, but they are transformed. As our histories are transformed, we are liberated by the vindication of Jesus. Thanks be to God.


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