Can God Speak A Word To Men and Women?
In the earliest pages of the Church Dogmatics Karl Barth wrestles over the question of the possibility of God’s revelation, that God can speak to creatures and that we can hear Him. There is an infinite qualitative divide between the being of God, the Creator of all, and the being of human creatures. Even what we think of as “being” is not a thing shared in common. From our standing point, there is nothing to enable us to begin to speak theologically. God must make Himself known.
But how is this gap between the Creator and creatures to be overcome? How is fellowship to be established?
Barth’s doctrine of revelation, of course, centers not on nature or on a given text, but first and most fundamentally upon the incarnation. It is in Jesus that this fellowship is established, that communication is made possible, and so here that we are able to come to know God. Jesus alone is the place of the triune God’s Self-disclosure.
But this, too, involves the taking on of creatureliness — a human nature which is other than God. But can that which is finite contain the Infinite? It is a mystery that in the incarnation
the principle ‘finitum non capax infiniti’ is abrogated. Naturally this is true too. But the abrogation of this principle is not the real mystery of the revelation of the Son of God. The real mystery is the abrogation of the other and much more incisive principle: ‘homo peccator non capax verbi divini.’
God’s power to establish intercourse with us is also called in question of course, but in the long run not decisively, by the fact that He is infinite and we are finite, that He is Lord of life and death and we live as those who are limited by death, that He is the Creator and we are those who have been called out of nothing into being and existence. God’s ability is decisively called in question, however, by the fact that we are God’s enemies. (Church Dogmatics I/1, 407)
Barth says that the greatest obstacle in the possibility of God’s communicating with creatures is not that they are finite, creaturely, i.e. that their being is utterly unlike the divine being. The greater mystery is that humankind is sinful — homo peccator, enemies of God. This is what God overcomes in the incarnation of Jesus Christ — not just that creaturely existence is ontologically disparate from the life which God enjoys in Himself from all eternity, but that we live these lives in active opposition to the will and the love of the Creator.
Think with me, then, through the history of salvation: the promises to Abraham and Israel, the hopeful words of the prophets, the annunciation to Mary, the birth of a child in Bethlehem, the voice of one crying out in the desert, the way to Jerusalem, the hours hanging on the cross … In becoming human God overcomes the distance that accompanies our creatureliness, our finitude. But the greater mystery of the incarnation, of God’s coming to us and revealing Himself to us, of His making theological speech possible, is that God overcomes our opposition to Him.