Distinguish and Relate

A theology of this sort involves a double movement: a distinction between God and humanity (along with all creatures) and a relating. That is different from a choice between a separation by which God and humanity are opposed to each other and an identification of God and humanity, so that they can be treated as interchangeable. It is a mistake to read even the early Barth as though he held to a separation, without a relating.

Distinguishing and relating, and insisting on the two together, was a technique fundamental to Barth's theology. It yielded concepts he could play with and is one of many reasons why reading Barth is fun. The distinction is not drawn from the point of view of the limits of human knowledge, as though the otherness of God consisted in his being unknown, unknowable, or unreachable. Human ignorance does not ground or serve God's transcendence. Barth insisted on the necessity of revelation, by which God simultaneously makes himself known and guards the mystery and freedom of his being. God asserts his transcendence by his presence and activity. The otherness of God is not to be conceded because human knowing or action proves unable to absorb God into itself, which would effect the humanizing of God. God's otherness is rather what God in his freedom speaks and realizes. By being God, God distinguishes himself from all that might be confused with God, whether nature, or powers usurping his place, or the pretensions of human beings. The freedom of God is not his non-humanity, let alone his antihumanity; it is a freedom which is actualized in God's being for humanity. Thus the distinction can never be detached from the connection, as it would be if God's difference were his nonhumanity.

Barth followed and built on the central Christian dogmas, arguing that God in Christ chose in his freedom to be God with and for human being, as his covenant partner, in the inner history of his whole enterprise in creation. Barth frees Chalcedonian-style Christology from any hint that the unity of divinity and humanity is a natural or necessary reality: it is always the action of the free God, choosing who he will be. Consequently, God in Christ is known only in the immediate reception of the self-giving of God through his own Word. The voice of God is not heard through our sense of the meaning of our moment in history: it could not be the voice of Hitler in the "German hour" of 1933, as E. Hirsch and others said. God always speaks in the one Word, Jesus Christ, the living Lord, who surprises us by doing new things, not being tied to some recorded memory (Barth 1965: 30-2). God is not to be "humanized" in a particular department of history because God is Lord of all (Barth 1933: 79, 3 78f.).

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