Church Dogmatics § 10, “God the Father”

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November 14, 2013 by mattwilcoxen

karl_barthKarl Barth, Church Dogmatics §10, “GOD THE FATHER” (pp. 384-398)

God as Creator (pp. 384-390)

In revelation, God deals with us as Lord. That is, he is not on the same level that we are, but neither is he detached and aloof from us. His Lordship is not just power over us–it is that–but also the exercise of power in an I-Thou relationship. Further, this I-Thou encounter with the Lordship of God occurs in Jesus of Nazareth. Yet the Lordship of Jesus is not self-evident; it is hidden. Within the gospels (especially the Synoptics), true and real deity is ascribed to One that is other than Jesus–“the Father in heaven”. Jesus’ Lordship is only “a manifestation, exercise and application of the lordship of God the Father” (385).

How is the Lordship of God the Father manifest in Jesus’ life? This Lordship is not just a friendly affirmation of human existence; in fact, it is a radical questioning of human existence. The will of the Father is that we must die. The one who is Jesus’ Father is only to be known in death and resurrection. One thing this means is that the true Lord is not just the affirmation of ourselves. He is not to be found in a deeper analysis of our consciousness. He stands over against us. He is neither the affirmation of our lives or our deaths–he is our Lord.

We use the term “Father” in connection to God’s relation to creation, only to transcend it at once by understanding it in terms of creatio ex nihilo. Father refers to the fact that God is our creator, and that he is the Lord of our existence. That isn’t to say we translate “God the Father” back into something we already understand (creation). Rather, we learn from this particular revelation of God as Father what creation means.

The Eternal Father (pp. 390-398)

How is it that God can be Father and therefore our Father? It is because this is an eternal mode of God’s essence. How do we know this? Because it is revealed in Jesus. We see God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the economy. If we deny these distinctions in God’s eternal being, then we are departing from revelation altogether. If we stick to what is revealed in Jesus, then we learn for the first time that there is an eternal fathership of God in himself. It is God’s eternal fatherhood that grounds his fatherhood to creation. In one sense, then, it is God’s eternal Son that makes it possible for God to be the Creator.

When we use the term “Father” of God’s eternal self-relating, we are no longer using the term analogically. In fact, every other creaturely application of “father” is analogical, but this use is not. This is the eternal relation that is the basis of all other relations that might be called “fatherhood”. It means that God is the author of his other modes of being (Son and Spirit). It is God that radically precedes everything, and sets himself in relation to everything. God is even Lord over his own being.

Barth closes by carefully setting this section in relation to some key Trinitarian rules. Though appropriation of creation to the Father is called for by the biblical texts, we have to interpret them by the rule that all of the outward works of the Trinity are ultimately indivisible, so that the Son and the Spirit are also called Creator. This derives from the oneness (simplicity) of God and the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo that are also attested in the economy. Appropriation (the special assignment of a certain role to one of the persons of the Trinity) is a necessary but ultimately “improper” way in which we creatures come to knowledge of the being of God. We do not transcend this way of knowledge and dissolve the distinctions it posits–instead, Barth says, we have to balance it with the notion of the unity and equality of the modes of being (here Barth uses the term “perichoresis”).

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© Matthew A. Wilcoxen and Canon and Creed, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matthew A. Wilcoxen and Canon and Creed with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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