Thursday, September 15, 2016

Judas' Sudden but Inevitable Betrayal: A Case Study, part 2

Our next citations on the trail of Barth dealing with the case of Judas come from CD I.2, section 14, which is about "the time of revelation." And its thesis will help us here:
God's revelation in the event of the presence of Jesus Christ is God's time for us. In this event itself it is time fulfilled. However, as the Old Testament time of anticipation and the New Testament time of recollection it is also the time of testimony about this event.
Of course, the CD uses the word "expectation" where I've said "anticipation," so in the three divisions of this section we get (1) "God's Time and Our Time," disproving a wide range of naturalistic assumptions about the time into which revelation intrudes; (2) "The Time of Expectation," discussing the way the history before Jesus points forward toward the cross; and (3) "The Time of Recollection," discussing the way the history after Jesus points backward to the cross ... or fails to, falling into now-false ways of living toward a future event instead.

The material of the first division of this section remains normative; Barth's attempt to persuade us that our time is stolen, "lost," broken off by the Fall and so not authentically God's time in continuity with creation history, carries forward in the second and third divisions as the thematic hiddenness or otherwise non-intuitiveness of God from the perspective of the world. And that hiddenness plays into the material relevant to our inquiry about Judas, material that connects directly with Barth's insistence at the beginning of CD IV.1 that the ambit of the sphere of reconciliation can't be seen from its edges, as though it proceeded from creation to redemption, but only from its center.

That center is Jesus Christ—born, crucified, and resurrected—but it is also and as such the telos of the acts of God from all eternity, and an eschaton through which the saving grace of God enters our history and constitutes salvation-history over against it (IV.1, 7–9). And it is these things precisely where it is, right smack in the middle, because (per the excursus on I.1, 427) the antecedence of eternity to time is not chronological. And so, for Barth, revelation teaches us that we must count our time differently than we are tempted to do as historical creatures: not from beginning to end, in linear progress toward eventual fulfillment, but by relation to the center in which it has in fact been fuflilled.

If we stick with Judas, the question here is: how do our lives in our times relate to that event? And how should they? It is also, and more directly in Barth's handling, the question of what justice really looks like.

The Hiddenness of the Self-Revealing God as Judgment

So in part 1 I showed how Barth defines judgment as having two sides in the impact of revelation: God reveals Godself as who and what God is, doing what God does, and you reveal yourself as who and what you are, doing what you do. Nothing about that judgment waits, undecided, for us to choose to be better; every moment of encounter with God is a moment in which our response is an object of God's immediate judgment.

The question, really, is: what about God's action? Where does that judgment lead?

To get to that answer, we can't just presume that encounter with God is normative and all of this is perfectly obvious. (Romans 1 is rhetoric designed to convict those who self-righteously think it is that way, when they get to Romans 2.) Even for the people of God's own choosing, even for the best of them, the hiddenness of God is a basic reality of the world after the Fall. And that's what Barth is about to show us in my first selection, providing context for the first Judas reference in I.2.

As before, emphasis has been added to match the German, but I've also broken the text up for readability, and this time silently corrected the translation's gender issues.
"But in relation to the hiddenness and the judgment of God in the witness of the Old Testament we must give our attention to still a third point. It is not an absurdity or a whim, nor yet is it a metaphysical necessity, which is at the root of the fact that God is hidden in this way in the history attested in the Old Testament, and that this history is thus subject to the order of the dissolution of humanity and its world and must therefore point to the cross of Christ. There is no gnosis or mysticism underlying this order. It holds true in strict, clear relation to the fact that in the covenant, in its meeting with God, humanity proves itself to be sinful humanity, striving with God, turning aside from the way of God. |

The history of Israel in its covenant with God is not only the story of its sickness, of its suffering shipwreck upon the Lord by whom it is chosen and loved, but also the story of its continual misunderstanding, its continual self-will, its continual rebellion. And the two things correspond and mutually condition each other. As we see, for instance, in the story of the setting up and worship of the golden calf, the rebellion occurs in connexion with the strict lordship of the hidden God; i.e., it arises not from some chance and therefore incomprehensible weakness or wickedness, but from a very revealing protest against the opus alienum by which God keeps faith with God's own and shows them love. And vice versa the opus alienum, the punishment, is the only way God can keep faith with and show love to this nation, which is a wicked, stiffnecked, obdurate nation. Israel's sin is, so to speak, the human side of God's hiddenness. |

It is not with pure, good, moral people that God makes and keeps covenant, but with transgressors, and incorrigible transgressors at that. In the historical picture given in the Old Testament even the greatest heroes, even a Moses or a David, are obviously not excluded from this category. Even the prophets do not except themselves. The 'righteous' in the third section of the Old Testament writings was the very last person not to submit to this rule. It is not just that they confess themselves a sinner (so that the matter can be regarded as a literary question), but they act in such a way that it is quite evident that they really are a sinner. The God of the Old Testament cannot be approached, least of all by way of the human excellences of those whom God calls God's own. |

Again, Israel's sin is not something 'wicked'; it is not 'vice' or 'immorality.' In the Old Testament it is evident that God often punishes in a very striking way, where according to ethical judgments there is no sin at all or else the very opposite of sin. On the other hand, God frequently does not punish or punishes extraordinarily lightly, in cases where from an ethical point of view there really is serious sin. In neither case does the different nature of ancient oriental ethics offer more than a partial explanation. So then the God of the Old Testament cannot even be reached by way of the obvious righteousness of God's punishments, because sin in the Old Testament is itself a mystery, the mystery of the breaking of the covenant. But that means that sin is committed within the radius of the covenant itself; by being committed it is brought into relation with the economy of the divine will and action." (CD I.2, §14.2, 90–91)
The hiddenness of God, like the judgment of God that results from the event of revelation, is a two-sided reality. And revelation doesn't relieve that reality for the people to whom it is given—any more than being a disciple and so privy to the explanations of the parables made it so that Judas could not fail. Barth gets to the quoted passage by explaining first that the OT is witness to revelation, to God's freely-chosen self-relation to this people, these particular people out of all others. It creates them where before the event of revelation they were not. And by creating this relationship in the world, it instantiates the covenant: the Bund, which is in German both the assembly and its organizing principle.

And so, second, Barth turns to the obvious consequence: that in revealing Godself to this people whom God had to forge for Godself by that act, God reveals Godself precisely as the hidden God, the God the world does not know. The God that is not intuitively worshipped anywhere in the world. As he puts it five pages earlier:
"The revelation which was the origin of this nation was the revelation of the one, only God, to be acknowledged without analogy and to be worshipped without image. What invaded Palestine was the radical dedivinisation of nature, history and culture—a remorseless denial of any other divine presence save the one in the event of drawing up the covenant. If there were any pious Canaanites—and why should there not have been such?—the God of Israel must have appeared to them as death incarnate, and the faith of Israel as irreligion itself." (I.2, §14.2, 85)
And in this context it becomes obvious that pious Israelites (and Judahites) suffer the same problem: there can be no worship of this God on the basis of nature, culture, and history—even their own. And so, exactly like the rest of the world for which they are intended as the exemplary nation, Israel and Judah prove that God remains hidden except in self-revelation. And they prove it on such a regular basis that prophetic correction defines one entire division of their scriptures, and is generally presumed throughout the other two! Wisdom doesn't have access to this without faith; the only way to grasp the difference between God's punishments and God's approval is to assert relationship with God—Bund, covenant—as the foundation of all ethical deliberation.

(Jesus Doesn't) Curse Your Sudden but Inevitable Betrayal

And that brings us to the matter of Judas, though it's hardly just a matter of his actions—and here the italics remain emphasis from the German, where the bold is mine:
"Nevertheless we have not said the decisive thing that is to be said in connexion with this Old Testament necessity, namely, that on the basis of the covenant Jesus Christ had to be crucified. If, when the Word was made flesh, anything else could have happened upon the ancient critical stage of Galilee and Jerusalem than actually did happen, then a different God and a different humanity would at once have had to confront each other upon that stage. If God did not become another, if, therefore, humanity did not become another in the event when God asserted His real lordship, if, on the contrary, this event was the fulfilment of time, the fulfilment of the covenant, how could its content be other than the real hiddenness of God and so the suffering and dying servant of God? And likewise on the side of humanity, how could it be other than rebellion and desertion really and finally consummated? |

Jesus had to go up to Jerusalem. But the high priests, too, and the scribes and the people, had to do as they did in the only too genuine succession of tradition. The disciples had to leave Him, Peter had to deny Him, Judas had to betray Him. Not even here does this necessity imply the slightest excuse. Humanity unveils itself here as really and finally guilty. But that this did happen, that humanity really and finally revealed itself as guilty before God by killing God, had to happen thus and not otherwise in the event in which God asserted God's real lordship. Of course this necessity can be expressed only in retrospect of this event, i.e., in retrospect of Easter to Good Friday; we might also say, in prospect of Christmas to Good Friday. 'Our chastisement was upon him, that we might have peace.' |

If that is true, if the encounter of God and humanity here is really reconciliation, then it may be said that Christ had to be crucified, that God had to meet humanity here as the Hidden, and that humanity had to meet God here as a rebel. And if reconciliation is the truth about God's action on Good Friday, and is recognised as the truth, in virtue of the revelation at Easter or Christmas, then this 'had to' must also hold for the Old Testament, and the events in the Old Testament are to be regarded as expectation, as prophecy of the revelation in Jesus Christ. Then the truth of God's hiddenness in the Old Testament and the truth of Israel's sin is seen to be the forgiveness of sins." (CD I.2, §14.2, 92–3)
That's the outcome. We fear too much to let the act of revelation be the kind of instantaneous judgment Barth insists that it is; we want to suspend it, leave it hanging over us, as though we could do better by our own efforts—or if we don't, really deserve ultimate condemnation when it finally does come. But that's not what God does. That's not how atonement works. A rabbinic source, I recall being told by one of my Bible colleagues, opined that the blessing upon Israel was to be judged in the moment, instead of all at once at the end like the nations. That the process of reconciliation, involving judgment, forgiveness of sins, and active repair to restore relationships, was the gift given to the elect people of God. (We often think the same about the sacraments, as Christians.) Barth does this one better, because the process of reconciliation with God is not in our hands! Reconciliation itself is the gift God gives to God's creature, whom God chose from before all worlds and chooses in every moment.

And so when that judgment comes in the moment of revelation, when we reveal exactly who and what and how we are as sinful people, because we have no choice in the matter at that point but to do what we are, it isn't because God came in the form of an offer that we considered. It isn't because God asked us to change and we refused. It's because we fulfilled the Fall, which was always and originally our choice, and God fulfilled the covenant, which was originally and always God's choice. And that was Good Friday, but Good Friday never stands alone—because the reality is Easter on the other side, which shows us the meaning of Christmas. The reality is God coming again, the resurrection as the first form of the parousia, which shows us the real meaning of the incarnation.

The reality, as we must acknowledge for Judas as much as for Peter, the rest of the disciples, the high priests, the scribes, and the whole Jewish people, is forgiveness in God's assumption of our transgressions. They remain wrong, they remain bad actions, bad systems of culture that create them, bad worlds of our own design in which some of them could be advocated as goods. They remain, in other words, ours—but they do not have the consequences we might wish they did for our rebellion. They do not get us free of God, nor do they get God to justify our rebellion by responding to evil with evil, nor yet do they justify our cultured pieties by deputizing our asserted goods as good. Forgiveness is part and parcel of God actively reconciling the creature God chose to exist, reconciling it to Godself and to itself in all its sundered parts. It comes in the wake of judgment as also part and parcel of reconciliation, the prerequisite of all forgiveness of sins, and it points the way to better existence for us and for our neighbors.

Of course, the next passage is going to have something to say about that, since Judas commits suicide after realizing the depth of his transgression, and since that story in scripture is assumed to mean something regarding Judas' salvation. And that, in Barth's handling, will get us an interesting answer to the problem of human suffering.

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