Monday, September 19, 2016

Judas, Lost Hope, and the Suffering of the Righteous: A Case Study, part 3

So far, tracking Barth's handling of Judas, we've seen his original view of election, pre-Maury-lecture, and we've also seen that just like the later doctrine, it leads directly into reconciliation when it comes to judgment in history. This doesn't take away the still-problematic bit about "the vocatio can take place efficaciter, efficacissime, and yet the electio effected therein may be rejectio," but it does at least remove the notion that such rejection is ultimate or hanging over anyone's head as a future possibility.

In the encounter between God as God is and the world as we have already made it, it should be no wonder that God's choice of us is also effectively a rejection of who we have made ourselves. This choice necessarily results in the death of the savior, and God knows that going in—but it also proceeds along a course of active reconciliation of the creature in the wake of that judgment and God's consequent and gracious forgiveness. We, who have been rejected as we are, are forgiven because God is working to change us back toward the covenant people we should have been.

But what happens when, in the sudden awareness of our sin, we despair? And—because we have always had more ready answers to that question, even if they are false—how does this relate to the unmerited suffering of the just? You can probably guess Barth's answer, since we're still in CD I.2, section 14, and the theme is Jesus Christ as the real center of history and telos of God's work, but let's see how it works out for Judas in 14.3, "The Time of Recollection."

The Hiddenness of God as the One among the Many

We're not that far from where we left off in 14.2, just about 15 pages further on, but Barth has managed to shift from his notional handling of Old Testament time to his notional handling of New Testament time—something delimited not by BC or AD on the calendar, but with the question of whether we are living towards or out of the fulfillment of time in the Christological center of the historical circle. And while Barth separates those as otherwise incommensurable eras of history on either side of the fulfilled time that divides them, that doesn't mean that we don't get bleed-through of the old in the time that ought to be new.

This third part of section 14 is actually quite short (for Barth), and is helpfully outlined in three numbered points:
  1. "The New Testament, like the Old Testament, is the witness to a togetherness of God and humanity, based on and consisting in a free self-relating of God to humanity. What in the Old Testament, in the expectation, was God's covenant with humanity, is here, in the fulfilment, God's becoming human." (CD I.2, §14.3, 103)
  2. "The New Testament, like the Old Testament, is the witness to the revelation of the hidden God. The conclusive proof of this is the circumstance just touched upon, that it sees revelation, the revelation expected by the whole of the Old Testament, at the very point at which one might well have seen the contradiction and annihilation of it, in the rejection and crucifixion of the Son of God by God's chosen people." (CD I.2, §14.3, 106)
  3. "The New Testament, like the Old Testament, is the witness to the revelation in which God is present to humanity as the coming God." (CD I.2, §14.3, 113)
That first point proceeds along an architectonic of the many and the one, in an attempt to explain why the new time doesn't look like the old as far as covenants go. The NT and OT don't declare different things; they just declare the same thing in different ways—and the ways make a difference. We don't get it right if we look at Jesus as making just one more in a historical series of covenants, nor will we understand why this one is different, and not therefore followed by any further covenants. And, for Barth, this is because Jesus is no mere indicator of the reality of God in relationship with humanity; he is finally the thing embodied. As the union of both sides, Jesus is the covenant relationship fulfilled, accomplishing what no prior instance could and taking the chance at failure entirely out of the covenant people's hands.

And that's why, in the second point, Barth goes for the death and resurrection of Jesus as the revelation of our inability to negate the covenant by destroying its instruments. Nothing about God's judgment upon the world is reduced, nothing about the world's rebellion is made more acceptable to God in light of Christ than beforehand, and nothing about the life of those who follow God and are sent out into the world as agents of God is made any easier:
"The judgment of God, which Christ's community sees visited upon the world about it, as upon a wicked world ordained to dissolution, is no less severe than that which finds expression in the exclusiveness of Israel compared with the Gentiles and their gods. The bloody wars of Yahweh against Baal have now, of course, ceased; not because the radical nature of the rejection of the 'form of this world' (Rom 12:2) has been mitigated, but because now it has become so utterly inward and basic. |

This æon has been overcome in Christ with all its principalities and powers. Christ took it in His body to the cross and bore it to the grave. Therefore now the form of the struggle in the Old Testament which it still presupposes, can and must fall to the rear. As such it is pointless. It has become a sign which can be dispensed with as such and even disappear, now that the thing itself has been brought to the fore in Christ's triumph over all His enemies (Col 2:14f.). The secularisation of nature, history and civilisation now ceases to present a problem as we look back upon the cross of Christ. |

The programme of the Old Testament has been carried through to a finish. For that reason, and not because of the increase in humanity, toleration or joy in living, the Church's attitude to the world is so utterly different, so much calmer and so much more superior than Israel's of old. If the old æon has been done away, as is the case according to the New Testament kerygma, we no longer need to fight against it. Or rather, the armour in which it is combated has now become the purely spiritual kind described in Eph 6." (CD I.2, §14.3, 106–7)
The Suffering of the Many, and of the One

Of course, Jesus is not the last to suffer! And here we get the context for our discussion of Judas' story.
So, too, the suffering of the people of God, of the prophet, of the righteous, does not cease in the New Testament, not even in the sense of having perhaps acquired a less central significance for the existence of humanity in covenant with God. On the contrary. How could it be otherwise? The life-story of Jesus cannot be unfolded in the four Evangelists, because obviously the narrators have no other interest but to show how a priori this life struggled to its own passion and death, the portrayal of which then assumes such proportions, that there can be no doubt that in what befell on Good Friday they saw the Christ-event proper as the meaning of the whole life-period of Jesus. |

With this also corresponds the picture of those who hear the Word of Christ. They are blessed as the poor, i.e., as the oppressed righteous, who are so "in spirit," who are therefore persecuted for Christ's sake. The address to the disciples in Matt 10 is one single indication as to the attitude in persecution. Similarly, in the Epistles the picture repeatedly emerges of the threatened apostle, partaking in the sufferings of Christ and in the end prepared to sacrifice their life, and the picture, too, of the oppressed, persecuted, suffering community. The menace of martyrdom and readiness to face it belong, as it were, to the obvious factors to which the New Testament has to bear witness in respect of the situation of people called and converted to Christ. They are not in any way unusual, but are annexed to membership of Christ. They have to take place, just because Christ is the crucified Son of God. |

This is the total change, as compared with the Old Testament, even in the total unity which exists at this particular point. That it is a matter of Jacob's conflict with God is succinctly indicated in the passion story of Jesus, namely, in the story of Gethsemane and in the cry of Jesus on the cross : "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" It is indicated in such a way that we cannot fail to see that we have here the answer to the insoluble question of Job and the Psalmists. But this question as such does not figure greatly in the life and teaching of Jesus, and in the suffering of His followers generally it has ceased to play any part. The doubts, complaints and protests, even the prayers of sufferers in the Old Testament seem silenced in Paul and John, and the other New Testament writers, as though there never had been anything of the kind. Recollection of it, as in Rom 7:24, may just crop up, only to disappear again at once. |

Yet suffering is not only lacking, but is emphasised in quite a different way from the Old Testament. Obviously the reason for this change is not that a more harmonious, more optimistic, more joyous attitude to life holds the field, or that the Evangelists and apostles have ceased to be aware of the depths of forsakenness, even God-forsakenness, out of which humanity must cry to God. Job, the Preacher and the Psalmists are in place in the midst of the New Testament with their bitter, nay embittered questions, but not now as independent figures, not as those who still have to discuss a problem, and not in such a way that their bitterness or embitterment must have a further outlet. For now their problem has ceased to be a problem. |

We must know their problem, the problem of human suffering at the hand of God, in order to understand the New Testament. But with the New Testament we must know it as a problem solved, if our knowledge of it is to be real. All those who are led by so strange a way find here their journey's end. And how strange the way was, the fact that it was a way through complete and trackless darkness, that on this way they really had no comfort save God alone and God only as the hard master, to whom they had to cling in a hope against hope—it is only here that all this becomes unambiguously clear. Only here, because here God goes right into this darkness in which humanity has to stand and move before God, and does not let the extreme bitterness of God's wrath and of death touch sinful humanity, but—and this is the mystery of the New Testament—experiences and bears it Godself. In this way and in this fact the hiddenness of God, which includes all that the Old Testament attests concerning the suffering of the righteous, becomes an event. |

And that is why now there can be no further continuation of the series of prophets and servants of God, or of desperate crying and protest and unbelief, but only the strict matter-of-factness of those who are challenged to bear their cross and follow Christ. The fact that Christ's disciples and communities must suffer is important only in connexion with Christ, but in itself it is actually a trifle. There is a mysteriously effective restraint in the circumstance that apart from the one account of Stephen, the exception that proves the rule, not one martyrdom is described in the New Testament, neither Paul's nor Peter's nor John's. The Acts of the Martyrs in succeeding centuries continued the Old Testament or rather the Synagogue tradition, not that of the New Testament. By this they prove themselves to be apocryphal testimonies, which without exception can only falsify the real testimony of the New Testament if they are restored to a place of honor.

The New Testament answer to the problem of suffering—and it alone is the answer to the sharply put query of the Old Testament—is to the effect that one has died for all.

And in this way the Old Testament hiddenness of God extends its existence into the New Testament in the twofold reality of sin and punishment. It can even be said that one part of the Old Testament finds its direct continuation, so to speak, in certain New Testament settings, namely, where it speaks of men who have wilfully excluded themselves from the revelation in Christ, e.g., King Herod and his death, Judas Iscariot and his suicide, Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 4. These are still genuinely Old Testament scenes. To a certain extent the same can be said of the account of Zacharias in Luke 1, or even of the conversion of Saul. And above all, every passage is in this category which is related directly or indirectly to the event which, as it were, constitutes the historical horizon of New Testament witness in a forward direction, namely, to the destruction of Jerusalem. (CD I.2, §14.3, 107–9)
And, of course, we addressed the problem of sin and punishment as a so-called Old Testament reality last time, in covering the material from 14.2. Barth attempts to be quite clear here: "sin and punishment" as a lingering theme in the New Testament is not revelatory. It does not manifest the will and work of God. It is a veil that obscures God's self-revelation, a way of carrying God's hiddenness forward in order that we may continue to expect something from the future that has in fact been given already in the past, in Jesus Christ. One has died for all.

Relieving the Lingering Hiddenness of God

Carrying on under that obscurity allows us to continue asking what Barth is about to call the twofold Old Testament question: why do things go so badly for this people, and why are things so bad? But when we do so by presenting, for example, the stories of the martyrdoms of the saints, which look like unmerited sufferings, and the stories of the more apparently merited deaths of people who have done bad things, we nullify the value of Christ's death. We say, by elevating those stories, that one has in fact not died for all, that all remain on the hook, and that there must be some reason for it—that God must have some reason for arranging things this way, by implication. And so we keep looking at sin and punishment, we keep looking at judgment and condemnation by extension, and we ignore the gospel.

And Barth is about to tell us that—from a certain, limited perspective—there's truth to that. Romans 5:12 is correct: sin and death are a universal human problem after the Fall, and not something that can be escaped by finding the right way of life. The gospels, read correctly, insist that the crucifixion is not something "they" did, something "we" can escape blame for. If we stop at Good Friday, if we center our atonement theories on the crucifixion as the sole deciding moment, the accusation against us covers humanity from top to bottom and edge to edge. If we focus on the crucifixion through the lens of a narrative of sin and punishment, there cannot possibly be a limit to the condemnation humanity has merited. The New Testament insists on this, even as its writings also attempt to uphold the older, forward-looking logic of pious culture by which we attempt to escape blame and direct it against the truly immoral. As Barth says, the Old-Testament logic of God's hiddenness lingers, even in the face of revelation.

But that's the trick, isn't it? The crucifixion isn't the event of revelation in and of itself. It is an event that can only be properly understood from the standpoint of the resurrection, and so from the light the resurrection casts back onto the entire incarnation, as we heard from Barth in 14.2. Romans 11:32 doesn't stop with "God hath concluded all under disobedience"; it has a purpose clause: "that God might have mercy upon all." The resurrection reveals God's glory, and shows the limit of this age and its obscuring of God's glory, the end of our manufacturing of the hiddenness of God for our own purposes. It's not a second thing after the crucifixion, Barth will insist here, but a further dimension of the one event, which illuminates the whole in its proper context (110–11). It is the resurrection that turns the whole rest of the life of Christ into the self-revelation of God, as opposed to a long series of events behind which revelation is obscured.
"In what the New Testament says of the world, of suffering, of sin and punishment, we do not find ourselves on a level at which human joy in creation or love of life, however genuinely human or even justified in its place, can make good its relative affirmation against a too one-sided denial of what is this-worldly. This No is a No which cannot be ignored or contradicted, a divine No which reposes upon the divine Yes of revelation, because, in virtue of what happened at Easter, the passion in which it takes its rise is the passion of the only-begotten Son of God, full of grace and truth. It is because all things are become new, and for no other reason, that the old is done away. It is only because Jesus lives that His cross is the sign under which His Church marches. It is only because He is the Lamb of God that victoriously bears and bears away the sins of the world that God has concluded all under unbelief." (CD I.2, §14.3, 111–12)
So where does that leave Judas?

Context is always important. Without context, the material from CD I.1, section 5, might have convinced us that Judas was effectively elected to rejection from all eternity, by God's sovereign and unquestionable decree. But the context told us that this judgment was the result of the encounter between God's self-revelation to Judas and Judas' self-determined being at the time. That it was, in other words, a judgment predicated on Judas' rejection of God, built out of the nature of the relationship between Judas and Jesus, which had the outcome of Judas' unbelief and disobedience. And that it was this within a context in which God's Word sought not Judas' condemnation, but merely to be effective in his life.

Without context, the material of CD I.2, section 14.2, might have convinced us that Judas was under compulsion to betray Jesus, that he had no choice and yet remained "really and finally guilty," with no excuse. Sounds like determinism, perhaps a bit like double-predestinarian logic. But the context tells us that the decisive reality, in which God came to humanity incarnate in its own flesh and humanity responded with murder, belongs to a situation not eternally predetermined, but simply dependent upon its entire foregoing context. What happened was going to happen, because God did not become some other God in the event, and humanity did not become some other humanity in the event; they played out their respectively self-determined roles to the end. But this reality is not decisive as though God played it out in order to condemn its participants. It is decisive because God played it out in order to absorb its force and demonstrate once and for all that the governing logic is reconciliation, based on the forgiveness of sins, in order to build humanity back toward covenant partnership.

And without context, the material here might have us believing that Judas' suicide in the wake of his betrayal of Jesus, which places him in a group of people who have deliberately excluded themselves from the revelation in Christ, excluded him from more than just that. If we let ourselves elevate this narrative of his actions above the fact that he is inexorably one of those for whom Christ died—because even in this older doctrine of election Barth still believes that Christ died for all—we insist that God is not actually revealed in Jesus Christ. And Barth won't let us have that. Barth won't let us imagine that one has died for all, and all remain responsible for themselves.

The judgment of God upon human actions never goes away in Barth's theory of atonement. It never gets smaller. Jesus doesn't die to make our actions OK with God. So what Judas did is never going to be accounted as good. But what he did next is never going to be allowed to stand as a verdict on it, either. That's not sin and punishment as a narrative of God's just judgment. It's an existential tragedy, something we should mourn because in light of the resurrection we have come to know what Judas did not survive to learn. In his despair, Judas wrote himself out of the story before he could be reconciled. Which is really what sets him apart from Peter, who survived to begin to be reconciled with God and his friends into a life of service. But it doesn't in any way change the fact that one has died for all—and if he died for all, he was not raised for only some.

And if you think that surviving to be successfully reconciled is what it takes to be successfully redeemed, maybe you've got a problem here. But as I continue to argue, you've got a problem with Barth at all points if you think that. And we'll see how that works out in future volumes as I continue this case study, but the connections to CD IV are already solid. This is the eye of the storm, the place its forces cancel out. We aren't on a path through the storm to the eschaton, as though it mattered how we came out the other side. We are not here only halfway to the eschaton, as though the other half of the storm still mattered. There absolutely is still another half of the storm after the eye we see witnessed in scripture passes, and as Moderns we're squarely in the middle of it—but Barth insists that we're supposed to live by reference to the eye, not the other edge of the outer wall of the storm.


Epilogue

Okay, I know this was a long post already, but I mentioned the third point of 14.3 and then didn't continue on to it: that the presence of Jesus in the fulfillment of time in the middle of history is the presence of the one who will come again at the end of historical time. Unlike Servetus, Barth doesn't suggest that the fulfillment of time in that central point of history obviates the promise or our expectation of its truth at the eschaton. We aren't not waiting for the eschaton; we're living towards it on the understanding that what was true in the grammatical perfect, most clearly in the forty days from resurrection to ascension, remains true from then until the end of all things. We are therefore expecting the eschaton without any uncertainty about its content, or what will be true for us when it comes.

And again: for Barth this means nothing about the intervening span of history. It doesn't change. It doesn't cease to be the swirling mass of our rebellious storm on the other side of the eye. Pannenberg and, to the extent that he is similar in this respect, Moltmann are therefore wrong about the implications of the presence of the coming one for history. We don't get to be more open to the world in epistemological ways just because we've passed through the eye and seen the forces cancel out. The world, and we within it, remains under judgment in all the exact same ways as we've already seen. But the parousia in all its forms is the same single event, the coming again of the one who has already come, and we can expect of the coming-in-judgment exactly the same thing we've seen from the resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

It will not, in other words, be a different or greater judgment—as though God were going to ask us why we hadn't successfully reconciled ourselves, and blame us for our failures, and hand down therefore our final destruction or eternal punishment while those who had succeeded at reconciliation were blessed with a glorious future. For Barth there is no such through-line dependent upon our action. God is not the passive agent, who offers us a future and then waits to see if we take it. The logical end of all God's actions is that span of fulfilled time right in the middle, where the forces cancel out. You will see that calm again, when the storm has passed—Barth insists upon it!

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