More Keys to Barth's Creation

So we've said that Barth's doctrine of creation relies upon a specific, developed understanding of the Word of God (and also on a specific set of scriptural hermeneutics -- which are often more about practice of exegesis than theory), and that it relies upon a specific developed understanding of the doctrine of God. That God, as God, is first of all what God does, but that that is revelation and command in Barth (as opposed to creation in Thomas). And so, when Barth touches down from the heavens to the Earth, beginning logically with creation, what follows is a discussion of this God as creator, and then as reconciler -- but unfortunately not as redeemer, though that was the plan. (Don't complain; when anyone complained that the next bit wasn't out yet, he'd ask if they had finished the rest already. I'm not worried; there's quite enough here -- an embarrassment of riches. It's like complaining about the works that Bach didn't write.)

Anyhow, on to fresh meat. It is self-evident to anyone who has looked that Barth's creation is anthropocentric. It is to the same degree Christocentric, as we are speaking about the divine-human relationship vis-a-vis the creature as creature. But these -centrisms can be mistaken for exclusive concern, which is normally what I hear when someone complains about anthropocentrism or Christocentrism. That Barth is missing the other bits, or not giving them their due, by means of his consistent bias towards man and Christ. There is some truth there; Barth is doing Church Dogmatics from scriptures and tradition composed by human beings. He is doing dogmatics as a diagnostic evaluation of the speech of the church, proceeding from its basis out toward its actions. These are human thoughts, human concerns, human disagreements, human actions. Hence human dogmatics and human ethics. We are not concerned with diagnosing or correcting the thoughts, words, and deeds of any other creature on earth or under heaven. Only ours, but therefore also ours with respect to God and all creation. Because nothing else, save God, is a relevant ethical agent, and the witness we have to God's agency is overwhelmingly concerned with God's agency for specifically human creatures. (The justification for III.2 as theological anthropology, in a nutshell.)

This is not to exclude the vast non-human creation, but the examples I can think of in our witness use non-human creation as a teaching example for human creatures. Scripture speaks of God's providential concern for birds and flowers and grasses, all of which are content to be creatures who faithfully rely on that providence. The pistis of nature is to be creatures before the Creator. And again scripture speaks of lions and vipers and asps and various other threateningly violent creatures -- who on the mount of the Lord return to right relationship with God and one another, and receive God's sufficient provision. Francis is not wrong, for preaching to non-human creatures -- for every creature benefits from hearing the gospel -- but their obligations, and the working out of God's covenants with them, are not in our purview.

And so it is important to note how Barth begins III.1 in order to get the placement of III.2. The best we get in the creeds for article 1 is "Creator of heaven and earth; of all that is, seen and unseen." Nicaea preserves the merism of the Hebrew, and translates in addition its universal import. And in following the Genesis stories, Barth does what the text does: he places human beings on earth and under heaven, in the midst of the creation. In the merism, which brackets the whole, the imposition of a central term gives the epitome of the whole. Humanity is not the sum total of creation, but the key by which it is indexed. And so to speak of Christ as the second Adam is to speak of both the creation as act and the restoration of the proper order of creation. Christ is not the sum total of God's actions for creation, but the epitome; not the sum total of right creation, but its epitome as right humanity.

And so when Barth speaks of Christ as the root of the covenant with creation, and then of "creation as the external basis of the covenant" and "the covenant as the internal basis of creation" (41.2 and .3) -- besides engaging in a questionable reading of Christ into Genesis, following John all too thoroughly -- he speaks emblematically of the human creature as sharing in the problems of disordered creation and the blessings of covenant, and then quite particularly of human problems centered on das Nicht und das Nichtige. We are bound up in the root of the problem that God's "Yes" in Christ solves, built as it is out of the "Yes" in creation. The "Yes" of creation is the "Yes" of divine love creating its beloved object, and the "Yes" of covenant in every time and place is the "Yes" of that divine love relating to its beloved object. And so the beloved creation is the external object of God's love, and the love of God is the internal logic of both its existence and its maintenance in relationship. If there are "No"s, they are bracketed and encompassed by God's ultimate affirmative intention, because creation even in its free capability for disorder is nothing but God's creation, and God is nothing other than its free and loving Lord. No wonder the "No" of creation, the apparent sin and evil and disobedience, is "impossibility."

And yet it is our situation. Humanity is the best example of das Nichtige in creation, the best example of the heights and depths of disorder-into-world. The creature, apart from the Creator, is impossible. And yet it insists, as though it were self-creating and self-revealing and self-sustaining, when it is merely self-ordering. But it is not necessary that the virtue of self-ordering dynamism be turned to vice; it merely happens, in separation from God, that we become vicious creatures. Just as the lion and the adder have become vicious creatures, though we have far more capability and far greater scope of effect. We are emblematic, the epitome of sundered creation as sinful humanity, and God's redemption in Christ is likewise emblematic in the assumption of full and proper humanity as full and proper and obedient creation. Jesus Christ is that wirklich Menschlichkeit just as he is the wirklichkeit Gottes. And as such he is that wirklich Geschöpf precisely as he is der Geschöpf Gottes. And just so is Christ emblematic of humanity, and therefore of all creation in right relationship with God. Heaven and earth are set right by setting the center right, and this change effects change outward into the whole.


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