June 13, 2013 by mattwilcoxen
Prayer is much more central to Karl Barth’s theology than many realize. It seems to me that Barth is everywhere concerned with putting his reader into the position where they can do nothing other than pray. This is because we humans can really do nothing else besides pray: we are commanded to love God, but we cannot, so we pray that we might be permitted. To take up this prayer is to take up the Christian life.
This subtle theme peeks its head out when Barth is wrapping up his doctrine of God’s attributes in Church Dogmatics II/1. Barth has been discussing the “glory” of God as “the truth and power and act of God’s self-declaration and therefore of God’s love” (p. 666). God has this glory in God’s own self-sufficient eternal life as the Trinity, but God’s self-sufficiency is eternally actualized in the free “overflowing” of God’s glory to humans in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. This free “overflowing” is not just the revelation of glory as something far off, but rather the invitation to participation in this glory. This is why it may be said that creatures “glorify” God–they add nothing to God in this, but receive from him a participation in glory. They do this as they offer their whole lives in gratitude to God.
The offering of our whole lives, Barth says, is not something we currently experience. God is not yet “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28). We are not yet with “the angels of God or the company of people made perfect in post-temporal eternity” (p. 675). For those of us in time, there is no sight, but only faith. For Barth, faith takes the form of–what else?–prayer. Faith is entering into a “holy house”, “a special corner of our existence” where our thoughts and desires are “‘lifted up’, raised up to God”.
Because of our waiting, we on earth need this special uplifting (which only God can sanctify). We need the special “worship” (which only God can sanctify). We need the special “service” (which only God can bless). We need, too, the special “praise of our lips” (whose success depends completely on God’s gracious acceptance of it). We need our prayers (which are dependent on God’s hearkening). We need, in short, a holy place on earth in which we can stand “in true reverence and a heavenly mind,” if God permits us to do so. (pp. 675-676)