Politics as Parable of the Kingdom of

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The church works for a better kind of state, in its own way, from its knowledge of the Word of the God. Barmen V's single word, "reminding," now blossoms into a great tree of political imagination, suggestion, and participation. Between church and state, "a simple and absolute heterogeneity" is as much out of the question as "a simple and absolute equating," so there is only one possibility left: "the existence of the State [is] an allegory, a correspondence and an analogue to the Kingdom of God which the Church preaches and believes in" (Barth 1954: 32; O'Donovan 1996: 213-14).

In his earliest work, the commentary on Romans, Barth had treated politics as parable. Historical action was seen as a gesture toward the reality of the kingdom of God. In relation to God, human action is like playing a game (which, as we know from football, may be very serious though only a game; it is a good game only when played seriously until the whistle goes, when we let it pass away, transcended by the resumption of wider life). Barth was fascinated by Lenin's 1917 revolution, but did not expect it to realize the kingdom of God. God is the great disturber; only his new creation is the complete true revolution. The political revolutionary is truly closer to God than the reactionary who mistakenly expects God to defend existing order; but no change achieved by the revolutionary can be more than a limited analogy of God's revolution. Analogy thus connects while it distinguishes. It maps a space in which human action is called for and is meaningful, as experiment and experience, seeking and learning, obeying and disobeying, witnessing and being blind, having faith and denying.

In 1946, Barth found 12 analogies of the kingdom of God in the "external, relative and provisional existence" of the civil community. Interpreting them required "Christian, spiritual and prophetic knowledge on every side." Some had figured earlier in his work: the relation of divine justification and "a commonly acknowledged law, giving equal protection for all in the State" had been explored in Recht und Rechtfertigung (193 7; Eng. trans. Barth 1939). Some foreshadowed expanded exposition in his later theology. The first of the 1946 analogies states that as the one eternal compassionate God proved himself a neighbor to humanity, so in politics, the church is always interested in human beings, and not in abstract causes or ideologies. This theme was taken up in The Humanity of God and runs through the Church Dogmatics, from volume II on election to volumes III (creation) and IV (reconciliation), written from 1945 to 1959. The priority of concrete persons over causes and generalities, was powerfully argued again in The Christian Life (Barth 1981a: 203, 267). When Emil Brunner challenged him in 1948 to denounce communism, as he had opposed Nazism, because they were equally manifestations of the essentially anti-Christian and inhuman evil of totalitarianism, Barth refused for a complex of reasons, including his theologically grounded suspicion of ideological language about social systems, which deprived its users of the freedom to respect, respond to, and encourage persons. God's proving himself a neighbor, reaching out to all people, was evident in the slogan Barth derived from Paul (Rom. 5), that Christ died for, not against, the ungodly (Barth 1981a: 203, 210, 267; Willmer 1990). Barth could not be a theological Cold Warrior, who beat the Christian faith into a sword for total closed opposition to communism.

The basic, encompassing analogy of God and humanity served as the deep structure of the Church Dogmatics. The story of Jesus is the story of humanity, in which the reconciliation of humanity is already accomplished, so that, echoing Barmen I and II, "God in Jesus Christ established and confirmed his original claim to man and hence man's claim against sin and death" (Barth 1954: 35). Jesus Christ is the man who is both elected and rejected by God. Nothing that happens to people in history falls out of the range of what God has already gone through with Jesus, in struggle and in victory, the triumph of God in and for humanity. This is the basis of Barth's humanism, which is not an affirmation of separate individuals, each secluded in his own identity, apart from and against others, but the vindication of Jesus representing all (Solle 1967). Barth's humanism is a cheerful confidence in God who elects himself to be the God of all, including his enemies and unbelievers - for God's reality transcends human believing and not believing. Barth provoked the suspicion that his theology implied universal salvation. He countered it by inviting people to consider whether the reality of God in Christ does not push us to risk univer-salism: so it is wise not to brand it a heresy, although it cannot be affirmed as dogma.

Analogy does more than identify significant likeness between God and humanity, revelation and politics. It witnesses to the creative sovereign reality of God, so that analogy moves first from God to humanity. But it then sets humanity in movement toward God, in prayer and action. The Gospel, the Word of God, was not to be read by taking the world as the norm-setting reality. That was the point of Barth's early pungent article on the political realism of Friedrich Naumann (Barth 1919). The core of his opposition to German Christians was that they took Hitler as dominant fact, to which Jesus the Savior was to be adapted as a flexible, subordinate metaphor. The reality of God, however, was never to be diluted, to be regarded as a mere dream, a wished-for unreality. But nor was the reality of God and his new world a visible given: we walk by faith, not by sight.

Analogy does more than identify similarity between two different realities, in a relation of stable distinction. It certainly does not establish a "metaphysic of the state" (Moltmann 1984: 96 n. 10). Analogy generates movement. The coming kingdom of God illumines human life by giving "a direction and a line that must be recognised and adhered to in all circumstances." Prayer represents the faithful knowing response to God: it confesses that the kingdom is God's action, not a human work. Prayer speaks in faith knowing that it is certainly answered already, even when it does not see. It lives confidently on the "already" during the "not yet"; but it is not inhumanly lazy, for it moves in the direction of what it prays for, as much as it is able. In his last major writing, Barth sought one concept to characterize human being as it is shaped within the freedom of the command of God and finally settled on invocation: calling on the Father, not talking about God as Father (Barth 1981a: 36, 42f.). Then he developed an intensely spiritual and political reading of the first clauses of the Lord's Prayer. The theologian, in politics and out of it, is not just a theorist, or a teacher, a witness, or a pastor, but one who prays. The one who prays to the Father cannot but look for the kingdom to come. Movement, change, expectation beyond what has already been seen, is intrinsic to prayer to the Father of Jesus Christ.

The movement which analogy implies is not a smoothly peaceful spiritual progress toward God. Barth pictures the movement in political and conflictual idiom. God comes to battle with a world in rebellion, in denial of its true Lord, where its creatureliness is in disorder. In Church and State, looking for "an actual, and therefore inward and vital, connection" between the kingdom of Christ and the kingdoms of this world (Barth 1939: 9), Barth drew upon K. L. Schmidt's lecture on "the conflict of church and state in the New Testament community" to understand the state as angelic power, whose authority belongs to Jesus Christ, so that "in its comparatively independent substance, in its dignity, its function and its purpose, it should serve the Person and the Work of Jesus Christ, and therefore the justification of the sinner" (Barth 1939: 29; Moltmann 1984: 85). This early treatment of the New Testament theology of the powers, which became an influential way of thinking about politics thereafter, seems to have been overlooked in Wink's remarkable study (Wink 1984: 6). In The Christian Life, God's "struggle for human righteousness" begins with the "revolt," by which God does not disrupt an existing order, but rather acts "against the disorder" which is produced by various "lordless powers" shaping the human world in contradiction to the kingdom of God (Barth 1981a: 205ff., 232-4). The Blumhardts' affirmation "Jesus is Victor" not merely inspired Barth throughout his life (Barth 1919; 1981a: 256ff.) but was the clue to his relating unabridged faith to the realities of politics.

Conflict and struggle were more than a picture borrowed from politics to explain faith. Barth took his rifle to the mountains in readiness to resist a German invasion of Switzerland. He knew conflicts were inescapable in human experience: "How could the Christian community possibly contract out of such situations?" Barth contracted into them, within the frame of an analogy between God's anger and judgment, which lasts for a moment, whereas his mercy is for eternity. So "violent solutions" to political conflicts have their place, but only "when they are for the moment the ultimate and only possibility available." "May the Church show her inventiveness in the search for other solutions before she joins in the call for violence!" The perfection of the Father in heaven demands "the earthly perfection of a peace policy which really does extend the limits of the humanly possible" (Barth 1954: 41; 1961: 450-70; 1971: 71-85). Extending the limits of the humanly possible: that is the service of God through the obedience of faith in political practice. It is the political meaning of Christology.


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