Orders of creation: what are they good for?

Barth gets down on both Brunner and Althaus for describing orders of creation as distinct elements of divine command. I've been trying to reconcile his horizontal/vertical notion, and his complaints against orders, with his sublation of them in use. Here's what I've got so far:

The command of God and the human existence form the constant contours of any ethical event. They are the horizontal in which such events are vertical. It is necessary for us to respect the command of God, and to act according to it as we understand ourselves to be free in it. To act without fear or subjection to condemnation. It is necessary for us to respect also the synchronic state in which we are called to act -- the state of the world in which ethical action is inscribed, the state of the game in which we move. Respect, but not revere. Ethical action happens in the world conditioned by that state, and it is with respect to others conditioned by that state that we act.

Now, I'm reminded of the Matrix, but only to the extent that under the gospel, we are called to play the game without believing the game. To know it's a game, and treat it as such. The world likes law ethics. Authority, rule, power, hierarchy -- it's the game. We have a great deal of trouble conceiving of freedom. But we are not constituted by the game. We are not made by its rules, and will not be unmade by them in any ultimate sense. We are constituted by God's economic actions, in creation, reconciliation, and redemption. We are essentially sanctified as human beings and moral agents when seen through these constitutive relationships.

A few Sundays ago, I had the notion, watching the procession to and from communion, that this is the order in which we exist. Worship is not a thing we do, a game we play -- though the forms of the liturgy may indeed be things we do and games we play. The actual work of leitourgia and diakonia in koinonia involve human beings as God constitutes them, working as such in situations which are constituted by the world.

What business have we calling those situations divine mandates?

And yet Barth goes about trying to find elementary ways in which human existence is conditioned by its creation. We get 4: freedom before God, freedom in relationship, freedom for life, and freedom in limitation. As Barth sees them, these are human existence in relationship to God, first, to fellow humans, second, and within the sphere of all created life, third. I can't fault the ordering, even if I can fault some of the consequent positions (my least favorite being the notion that human beings of the same sex are not existentially "other," and that homosexuality is therefore idolatrous love of self). Barth nests what would otherwise fall into "orders" underneath this situation of human existence, so that any cultural constructs fall into much lower places than the theological priority of the order of relationships from God on down through creation. And fourth, given the properly situated human existence, we get vocation, what to do with the unique nature of your human life in its time and place and environment.

The command of God doesn't change for all this. It still is what we understood it to be in I/2 and II/2. It is Jesus Christ as God for us, and as us for God. It is the conviction that we truly are what God calls us, and therefore not under law, not subject to homo homini lupus est, as Hobbes would have it. We don't need a social contract to take away our vicious nature and rule and direct it for the good of all. In Christ, we are not vicious. We are free and responsible -- that is, responsive -- creatures. For it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us, and this makes true, ethical human being -- which is human doing.

The problem with the theology of orders is that it presumes that we need law. It presumes that our human being -- and therefore doing -- is utterly defective. It denies the truth Luther affirms, of humanity in Christ as simul iustus et peccator. It presumes that sexual expression, for popular example, will inevitably go toward the bad, and must be ruled toward the good. That freedom is always libertine, and never Christian. And so the command of God is naturally invoked in support of whatever orders keep us in line.


Popular Posts