Monday, December 05, 2016

Reader Response: Church Dogmatics ch VII (13)

And so we arrive at the very last sub-section of this chapter - The determination of the rejected.  Who are these 'rejected' according to Barth?  "A 'rejected' man is one who isolates himself from God by resisting his election as it has taken place in Jesus Christ.  God is for him; but he is against God.  God is gracious to him; but he is ungrateful to God.  God receives him; but he withdraws himself from God.  God forgives him his sins; but he repeats them as though they were not forgiven.  God releases him from the guilt and punishment of his defection; but he goes on living as Satan's prisoner.  God determines for blessedness, and His service; but he chooses the joylessness of an existence that accords with his own pride and aims at his own honour" (449).  Underneath this, of course, is that the 'rejected' is, objectively, elect in Christ according to Barth - and yet, subjectively, does not and will not know that election.  What is the meaning of the life of the rejected?  "What is God's will for them?" (450)

Barth begins by stressing that the determination of the rejected is very different from the determination of the elect.  This is not a balanced equation.  There is only one will of God, which we know in Christ; hence we can only see the rejected as standing under the "non-willing of God" (450).  The rejection of each human being has been transferred to, and borne away by, Christ; "It is, therefore, the rejection which is 'rejected'" (450).  There is no independent sphere of rejection - as if God willed election on the one hand, and rejection on the other.  There is only the holy electing love of God in Christ.  "This love may burn and consume him as a rejected man, as is fitting, but even so it is still to him the almighty, holy and compassionate love of God" (450).  It is therefore impossible to consider the rejected apart from the elect - indeed, only the elect can truly know the rejected, seeing him primarily in Christ as he takes on our rejection and dies, but secondly in himself and his own godlessness, and only then thirdly in others who resist their election in Jesus Christ (451-2).  Rejection is the shadow of election, having no independent existence.

Standing in that shadow, the rejected man has three basic determinations according to Barth.  Firstly, "it is the determination of the rejected to manifest the recipients of the Gospel" (455).  He reveals in his shadowy existence the need of divine election.  He represents the lie, that man is still a sinner outside of Christ.  This "is only a representation, [and] as such it is a lie, because this man - the truly rejected - cannot be any other than Jesus Christ" (455).  In showing the nature of elect man who does not know and resists his election, the rejected reminds the elect both of who he or she is but for the mercy of God, and also continually calls the elect to witness to the gospel, and therefore to the election of this other, who does not know himself as elect.

Secondly, "the rejected has the determination constantly to manifest that which is denied and overcome by the Gospel" (456).  The gospel is made clear by the witness which this rejected man continues to bear to "himself and his false choice as the man isolated over against God" (456).  And thirdly, "the rejected has the determination, in the distinctive limitation of his existence, to manifest the purpose of the Gospel" (457).  "The rejected has no future...  But the purpose of the divine election of grace is to grant to the man who in and of himself has no future, a future in covenant with God" (457).

I wonder if we might summarise by saying that for Barth the rejected is determined as the frontier of God's election.  Without this line, this border, it would be impossible to make out the shape of God's election.  However, for Barth this is a frontier to be crossed - the elect recognise that beyond this frontier lie those who are objectively determined by their election in Christ, just as they themselves are, but are not yet living as those determined by this election; therefore they must bear witness on this frontier to the great love of God in Christ.

The long exegetical part of this sub-section (which will get only the barest summary here) has mostly to do with Judas Iscariot - "the character in which the problem of the rejected is concentrated and developed in the New Testament" (458).  Judas is an apostle and disciple, no less than the others, and indeed his solidarity with the others is stressed in the gospels.  He is one of the twelve.  The NT does not indicate that he was a false apostle; "what it does say is that it was one of the genuine apostles, one of the genuinely elect, who was at the same time rejected as the betrayer of Jesus" (459).  Judas is included in everything which benefits the other apostles - his feet are washed, he takes the Lord's Supper - but this does not prevent his sin, which "makes it clear that as far as he was concerned Jesus was present with the disciples in vain.  He protected and watched over them in vain" (465).  Still, in all this, Judas only exposes the sin of all the apostles.  They were all potentially Judas.  Apart from Jesus' special cleansing "even Peter would be in the fellowship of Judas, the fellowship of the devil" (473).

The particular form of Judas' sin was that he handed over Jesus to the priests (who handed him over to the Gentiles).  Barth notes that this language of 'handing over' is later applied to the apostolic preaching, and indeed that it finally has its root in God's handing over of his Son to death.  A positive light is thereby cast on the act of Judas, without in any way diminishing his guilt.  He in his guilt can only serve the election of God, albeit unwittingly and unwillingly.  In the end, God's election encompasses even Judas' sin.

"Jesus Christ is the Rejected of God, for God makes Himself rejected in Him, and has Himself alone tasted to the depths all that rejection means and necessarily involves.  From this standpoint, therefore, we cannot regard as an independent reality the status and fate of those who are handed over by the wrath of God.  We certainly cannot deny its reality.  But we can ascribe to it only a reality which is limited by the status and fate of Jesus Christ..." (496).  Even for Judas, in his unrepentant suicide?  "Scripture speaks of countless men, as it does of Judas, in such a way that we must assume that they have lived and died without even the possibility, let alone the fulfilment, of any saving repentance.  if there is also light for them, and hope, it can only because and if there is an eschaton, a limit, by which even their inescapable bondage is hemmed in from outside" (496).  Barth refuses to see Judas as necessarily saved - no apokatastasis - but he also refuses to pronounce him definitively damned.  His guilt, which is great, nevertheless reaches its limit in that Jesus Christ has borne the rejection which it merits.  With regard to Judas and all those who present themselves to us as 'rejected', "it cannot be our concern to know and decide what has or will perhaps become of them, for they also stand in the light of what God has done for the world" (497).

If my image above is a correct interpretation of Barth - if rejection is the frontier of election and a border which cries out to be crossed with the gospel - it is perhaps even more true, or more deeply true, to see election as the border of rejection.  What presents to us as a duality of the elect and the rejected is itself encompassed and surrounded by the election of Jesus Christ, and of all men in him.  And if we have to leave their final fate to God, we know that in Christ he is their loving God - even if that love is a fire which burns.  Yes, in Christ he is the electing God.  Even to Judas.


  1. No hopeless cases then...

    1. Well, Uncle Karl doesn't think so. I'm not sure whether I can quite follow him this far. Although I do remember having a similar thought at a funeral not that long ago: people spoke the gospel to him while he was alive, and he resisted it; now we speak the gospel over his body - he's dead but the gospel goes on... Can we be sure that the gospel isn't victorious for him, and not just over him? I wonder. But one doesn't want to engage in wishful thinking either.