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The Man of Sin in the Light of the Obedience of the Son of God

Feb 11, 2016 08:05 PM EST

The following is an excerpt from the book 'Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of Reconciliation, Volume 4, Book 1' by Karl Barth:

If we try to approach this aspect of the problem only in the light of Jesus Christ, we shall be well advised to start from the moment in which we see the element of truth in every form of optimism. From the act of atonement which has taken place in Jesus Christ it is clear that in evil w do not have to do with a reality and power which have escaped the will and work of God, let alone with something that is sovereign and superior in relationship to it. Whatever evil is, God is its Lord. We must not push our attempt to take evil seriously to the point of ever coming to think of it as an original and indeed creative counter-deity which posits autonomous and independent facts, competing seriously with the one living God and striving with Him for mastery. Evil is a form of that nothingness which as such is absolutely subject of God. We cannot legitimately deduce this form a mere contrasting of the idea of evil with the idea of good. But we can say it in the light of the fact that in Jesus Christ, in His death (the meaning of which is shown in His resurrection to be His victory and the liberation of man), we see evil overcome and indeed shattered and this in such a way that in its supreme aggression, in its most blatant manifestation, it was impressed into the service of God and contrary to its own nature become necessarily an instrument of the divine triumph. Whatever else we may say of its origin and nature, however seriously we have to take it in its significance for ourselves, it is certain that we have no reason to fear that in it we are dealing with a factor which is the complement of God and confronts Him on the same level. Its claim to be this was given the lie once and for all on the cross of Golgotha. But if in relation to God its impotence has been unmasked, then in relation to man and his world as the creation of God it may cause serious concern, but it cannot and must not give rise to any final doubt, to any unrestrained anxiety, to any pessimism, defeatism, hopelessness or despair. Certainly we can say this only with reference to god as the Lord and Creator of His creation and the covenant partner of man. Certainly we can say this only with reference to His grace, whose superiority over sin has been unequivocally demonstrated in Jesus Christ. But in the light of God and His grace which alone is sovereign there can be no absolute fear of evil, as though evil itself were an absolute. What we cannot do, the forgiveness of sins, the separating of man from his sin in the killing of old and the raising up of a new man, God Himself has done and reveal. And in faith in Him and therefore in the knowledge of faith and therefore in what we have to think of ourselves and others, we cannot go back on that. We should be ignoring or denying what God has done for us in Jesus Christ if we did not hold steadfastly to the fact that the door has been closed on all dualistic views of evil by the eternal resolve of God which become a historical event on Golgotha, and that not even momentarily can it be opened again. There can be no question of our needing such views the better to understand the atonement and the justification of man which is grounded in it. On the contrary, such ideas are pagan and mythical, and they can only lead us into error. God has broken evil in Jesus Christ. And since He has done this, it is settled once and for all beyond which it cannot go. This is the element of truth - it has, of course, become almost unrecognizable in the optimistic construction - in the assertion that the function and significance of sin are limited because from the very first they are subordinate. In so far as that assertion carries an other meaning, we can only oppose it, and on the very same ground as that on which we have accepted it in this - and only in this - sense.

If we understand the superiority of God over evil (and therefore the limitation of the threat of evil of man) in relation to Jesus Christ, then there can be no question of any harmony enfolding God and sin and man, of any order in which the three belong together. We are not placed before a living picture in which the details of belong together and can be seen together. We are placed in the midst of a drama, a drama which concerns ourselves. The superiority with which God confronts sin in Jesus Christ is that of His unconditional No to this element and to us as its representatives. It is a No in which there is no hidden Yes, no secret approval, no original or ultimate agreement. It is the No of the implacable wrath of God. Sin is the enemy of God, and God is the enemy of sin. Sin has no positive basis in God, no place in His being, no positive part in His life, and therefore no positive part in His will and work. It is not a creature of God. It arises only as the exponent, and in the creaturely world the most characteristic exponent, of what God has not willed and does not will and will not will, of that which absolutely is not, o is only as God does not will it, of that which lives only as that which God has rejected and condemned and excluded. When man sins, he does that which God has forbidden and does not will. The possibility of doing this is not something which he has from God. That he cannot put this possibility into effect does not belong, as is often said, to his freedom as a rational creature. What kind of a reason I it which includes this possibility! What kind of a freedom which on the one had is a freedom for God and obedience to Him and on the other a freedom for nothingness and disobedience to God! Turn it how we will, if we regard this as a possibility of the creaturely nature of man, we shall always find it excusable because it is grounded in man as such. But in the final meaning of the term it is inexcusable. It has no basis. It has, therefore, no possibility - we cannot escape this difficult formula - except that of the absolutely impossible. How else can we describe that which is intrinsically absurd but by a formula which is logically absurd? Sin is that which is absurd, man's absurd choice and decision for that which is not, described in the Genesis story as his hearkening to the voice of the serpent, the beast of chaos. Sin exists only in this absurd event. We say too much even if we say that this event may take place according to the divine will and appointment. We must not go beyond the negative statement, that since man is not God he can be tempted along these lines and therefore it was not, and is not, excluded that this event will take place. But this event was and is actual only in its absurdity. There is no inner or outer possibility. Its actually is the man who sins, who can recognize and confess but not explain and understand himself as suh, who certainly cannot interpret himself as an "asymptote of the Godhead." The possibility in question can be described only as that which God has denied and rejected forbidden, as that which is nothing in itself, as that which is as such impossible, which exists only on the left hand of God. How do we know this? A priori speculation has always thought it knew otherwise. We know it, we have to know it, from the fact that sin has been treated in this way by God Himself in Jesus Christ, with an opposition which excludes any compact with it, any explanation of exculpation of the fact that it has taken place, with an uncompromising No. If we see it in this light, in the light of what happened to it there, we lose all our desire to bring it into a final harmony with God, as fratricide and as self-destruction - it is then seen as that which is out of place and will never be in place. Even the humblest being in the most obscure part of the created world fits in somewhere and has some potentiality an a God-given right of actualization. But sin does not fit in anywhere and has not genuine potentiality and no right of actualization. Sin is transgression (1 Jn. 3:4). In this respect the Old Testament is the best commentary of the New, and in the Old Testament where is sin anything else but transgression? Where is it judged in the light of a secret explicability and exculpability, of an ultimate compatibility with the will and work of God? And as transgression sans phrase it is not tolerated let alone accepted in the death of Jesus Christ. It is not even merely condemned, but broken and rejected. IT can only be covered by God. It can only be forgiven to man. Man can only be separated from it. He can only be snatched, like a brand from the burning, from the abyss into which he had plunged himself as the doer of it. He can be affirmed as the creature of God only when sin and he himself as the man of sin are utterly negated - with the No of the supremely real wrath of God. And this is what took place in the death of Jesus Christ at Golgotha. We cannot, therefore, go back again behind the antithesis which was resolved there between God and man on the one side and evil on the other. And we ought not to try.

However serious this antithesis, however intolerable the actuality of sin, it can be measured only by the fact that in existence of Jesus Christ God took to Himself the fulfillment of His judgement of wrath upon it. It was not necessary that God should become man and that the Son of God should dies on the cross simply to deal with an interruption in the course of the world, simply to mitigate the relative imperfection of human situation, or to strengthen and increase its relative perfection. The exponents of the Neo-Protestant doctrine of sin saw and said this quite rightly. But the fact remains that God did become man and that the Son of God did die on the cross. In view of this, we cannot deny that in sin we have to do with something more than an interruption or relative imperfection. In the event in which man becomes the man of sin there obviously takes place a menacing of the whole work of God, the whole world as created by Him, a menacing which in its impotence is quite intolerable to God Himself. It is now clear that the contradiction and opposition of man, his godlessness and inhumanity, his sin against himself, are not a little absurdity but one which is incommensurably great, provoking God Himself to direct action. God Himself in His high majesty as Creator and Lord - the very opposite of what Schleiermacher maintained - allows Himself to be affected and concerned and offended by this absurdity. It cannot encroach upon Him - Schleiermacher was right in this - because He is the high and majestic God even in His mercy; but all the same He takes it to heart. He does not will to be God, high and majestic, without us who have fallen victim to it. And it I now before Him - in His judgment, and His judgment never fails - as an act which is so pregnant and menacing that there can be no question merely of an adjustment or correction in the course of the general over-ruling of His providence and control (with the proper use of the mediatorial services of all kinds of creatures, angles, and prophets, and finally with the co-operation of sinful man himself). What is made clear in the incarnation of the Word of God and the offering up to death of the Son of God is the evil that is not an element in the orderly course of the world, but an element, indeed the element, which absolutely threatens and obscures it - the sowing of he enemy in the good field, the invasion of chaos, the nihilist revolution which can result only in the annihilation of all creatures. But how is man to see this, to take sin as seriously as this - his on sin and that of others, however plain? Are we not continually surprised by the insignificance of that act in hich the first man - and with him every other man - become a sinner according to the story in Genesis? And do we not take a restricted view of the guilt and sinfulness of evil in all the measures that we believe we can and should take against its origin and effects (our pedagogic and political and moral enterprises)? How small the harm appears when we think we can botch it up in this way! The truth is that Anselm's question: quani ponderis sit peccatum? Is given an answer either from the cross of Christ or not at all. It is given an answer from the cross of Christ. The seious and terrible nature of human corruption, the depth of the abyss into which man is about to fall as the author of it, can be measured by the fact that the love of God could react and reply to this event only by His giving, His giving up, of Jesus Christ Himself to overcome and remove it and in that way to redeem man, fulfilling the judgment upon it in such a way that the Judge allowed Himself to be judged and caused the man of sin to be put to death in His own person. It is only when it is seen that this was the cost to God - in the person of His Son - of our reconciliation with Him, that the frivolously complacent assumption is destroyed that our evil is always limited by our good (our good nature and our good actions), and that it is excused and mitigated by this compensation. Our evil is indeed limited and compensated and more than counterbalanced, but not by our good, only by the goodness of God. And because this is the only possible limitation and compensation we cannot think too stringently or soberly about the seriousness of human situation.