Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Barthian & Calvinian Devotional Moment

This is the kind of stuff every Christian should appreciate Karl Barth for:

Lecture V

(Art. 203)

The Way Of Man

2. By revealing Himself to man in Jesus Christ, God brings against man the accusation that his own way is the way of ingratitude towards God's grace. Man, unfaithful to his calling, which is to serve God's glory, makes himself the lord of his life, as if he were God. What he does thereby, he would have to be, without prospect of deliverance, if God withdrew His hand from him, viz. deprived of his own glory, i.e. a prisoner to the contradiction of his own nature, lost in a world which has ceased to have a lord and therefore ceased to have a meaning for him and subject to vanity. Man's own way is the way of sin, i.e. of offence against God, which only God can make amends for. [Karl Barth, The Knowledge of God and the Service of God According to the Teaching of the Reformation: Recalling the Scottish Confession of 1560, The Gifford Lectures Delivered in the University of Aberdeen in 1937 and 1938, p. 7 (Nook edition)]

And follow this with John Calvin:

Book One

The Knowledge of God the Creator

Chapter 1
The Knowledge of God and That of Ourselves are Connected. How Are They Interrelated

I. Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God
Nearly all the wisdom of we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern. In the first place, no one can look upon himself without immediately turning his thoughts to the contemplation of God, in whom he "lives and moves" [Acts 17:28]. For, quite clearly, the mighty gifts with which we are endowed are hardly from ourselves; indeed, our very being is nothing but subsistence in the one God. Then by these benefits shed like dew from heaven upon us, we are led as by rivulets to the spring itself. Indeed, our very poverty better discloses the infinitude of benefits reposing in God. The miserable ruin, into which the rebellion of the first man cast us, especially compels us to look upward. Thus, not only will we, in fasting and hungering, seek thence what we lack; but, in being aroused by fear, we shall learn humility. For, as a veritable world of miseries is to be found in mankind, and we are thereby despoiled of divine raiment, our shameful nakedness exposes a teeming horde of infamies. Each of us must, then, be so stung by the consciousness of his own unhappiness as to attain at least some knowledge of God. Thus, from the feeling of our own ignorance, vanity, poverty, infirmity, and---what is more---depravity and corruption, we recognize that the true light of wisdom, sound virtue, full abundance of every good, and purity of righteousness rest in the Lord alone. To this extent we are prompted by our own ills to contemplate the good things of God; and we cannot seriously aspire to him before we begin to become displeased with ourselves. For what man in all the world would not gladly remain as he is---what man does not remain as he is---so long as he does not know himself, that is, while content with his own gifts, and either ignorant or unmindful of his own misery? Accordingly, the knowledge of ourselves not only arouses us to seek God, but also, as it were, leads us by the hand to find him.

2. Without knowledge of God there is knowledge of self
Again, it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God's face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself.... [John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion V. 1, edited by John T. McNeil, 35-7]

We could reflect on the methodological disparities that inhere between Barth and Calvin reflected in the varied ways that they discuss the same issue; i.e. knowledge of self, only through knowledge of God in Christ. But let's not. Instead I want to do more of a devotional reflection at the behest of these two teachers of the Church of Christ.

Humanity lives in a state of contradiction, constantly! We see the fall out of humanity living out the 'contradiction of their own nature' everyday. Of course, what's the problem? I mean the world can recognize, with utmost fealty to their own natures that they alone are the master's of their universe; even if that results in the hellish and deleterious havoc we see played out in the world over and again. At least they are master's of their universe, at least that's what they think.

So what's the answer to this sorry state of affairs? Jesus. And yet having knowledge of ourselves is not enough, which is what both Barth and Calvin know; that stops short, if we stop there. The answer isn't to have knowledge of ourselves, full stop; the answer is to have knowledge of ourselves in the face of Jesus Christ. Because what comes loaded in this knowledge is a recreation of ourselves in an through the humanity of Jesus Christ; through his resurrection.

Anyway, I don't have anything more profound to offer than what I just did. But I think the two quotes from Barth and Calvin are worthy of our prayerful and thoughtful reflection, this day.

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