God Justifies Himself – (Barth Reflections from CD IV.1 §61)

Kõnnu_Suursoo._10Happy Palm Sunday!

Today, as with two weeks ago, I’m continuing by writing my way through Karl Barth’s masterful volume in the Church Dogmatics: volume IV.1, on the doctrine of reconciliation. It has been a fitting read as we come into Holy Week, and the celebration of Easter.

This week, I’m examining a different aspect to the justification which takes place in the atonement through Jesus Christ. Often one sided as the justification of man, Barth in §61, under the heading of The Justification of Man, begins first with the justification of God. In short, he argues that the “backbone of the event of justification” is the justification of God Himself, that He is just in Himself and in the right. Here, then, are some insightful quotes from Barth and reflections on the subject. Enjoy!

(As before, all quotes are from the Hendrickson Publishers 2010 Edition. All bold texts are my emphasis.)

The Justification of God

The God who is present and active in the justification of man, and therefore as the gracious God, has right and is in the right. Not subject to any alien law, but Himself is the origin and basis and revealer of all true law, He is just in Himself. This is the backbone of the event of justification. (pp.530-1)

God Himself is law. (p. 529) And God is in complete harmony with Himself. On the cross God proves this, revealing this fact in stark contrast with our inconsistency, our pride, and our sin. God shows Himself to be just in and through Jesus Christ. He shows Himself to be faithful despite our unfaithfulness.

In the revelation and efficacy of the grace of Jesus Christ proclaimed in the Gospel what comes first is not the justification of the believer in Jesus Christ but the basis of it—that God shows Himself to be just. […] The faithfulness of God Himself, cannot be destroyed  by any unfaithfulness of man. […] In the first instance God affirms Himself in this action, that in it He lives His own divine life in His unity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But in it He also maintains Himself as the God of man, as the One who has bound Himself to man from all eternity, as the One who has elected Himself for man and man for Himself. (p. 532)

The grace God shown in justification is not an alien grace to the nature of God’s eternal being. God is gracious in Himself from before all time. He does not become gracious for our sakes. And if this were true, God would remain untrustworthy. If God only becomes gracious He may also someday become ungracious. Which leaves us with no assurance of God’s goodness or favor towards us, thus voiding the very Word spoken in Jesus Christ. So we must say this is true, that God is gracious in Himself from before all time. And Barth here seems to be affirming the importance of this. God first justifies Himself as the God who is faithful in Himself, and “in the exercise of His Godhead” He, for the sake of all flesh, became flesh. (pp. 532-3) That is, in other words, as God is in Himself He is towards us, He is faithful because He is faithful to Himself, and He is gracious because He is the gracious One.

And as this faithful One, God has taken our condition serious as His own. As Barth writes of mans rebellion, “He takes it so seriously that He encounters it in His own person.” (p. 533) We cannot undo this faithfulness. And in spite of our unfaithfulness to God, God remains wholly determined to us. We cannot disrupt this “self-determination of God”. (p. 534) Mankind belongs to God, as God has determined mankind for Himself and Himself for mankind. We cannot escape this determination, we cannot escape God’s being for us. This is the justification God makes of Himself, that He will not abandon His eternal will for mankind.

In a fascinating paragraph, Barth takes this justification of God in terms of immutability. Writing:

One thing is certain. It can be true only on the presupposition that God as God is in Himself the living God, that His eternal being of and by Himself has not to be understood as a being which is inactive because of its pure deity, but as a being which is supremely active in a positing of itself which is eternally new. His immutability is not holy immobility and rigidity, a divine death, but the constancy of His faithfulness to Himself continually reaffirming itself in freedom. His unity and uniqueness are not the poverty of an exalted divine isolation, but the richness of the one eternal origin and basis and essence of all fellowship. The fact that according to His revelation God is the triune God means that He is in Himself the living God. (p. 561)

God is immutable not in the sense that God is a static, unmoved mover, but that God is the living God, the God who is in freedom faithful. This God is the basis of all fellowship, as the living God, the Triune God.

It is this God who has justified Himself in Jesus Christ, as our God, as the One who is faithful towards mankind because He is first faithful to Himself. This beautifully reaffirms the Trinitarian life of God as the origin for the good news of Jesus.

Jesus came as a man and died in our place because that is what the Triune God is like. It is the overflow of who God is. This is who God has revealed Himself to be in this justification. He is our God, faithful to mankind, despite all our unfaithfulness. He is the immutable, living, Triune God of grace. He has always been this God, and in Christ He has justified Himself as this God, reaffirming His faithfulness to mankind.

Here’s one final quote to bring this home to the radical love of this Triune God, this God who is faithful to us in Jesus Christ.

God does not merely confront him as God and Lord and Judge, but as such He effectively takes His place at the side of sinful man, indeed, He takes the place of sinful man, representing him against Himself. His eternal Word becomes flesh. He Himself in His Word becomes man. Why? In order that He may not only conduct His own case against all men, but take up and conduct the case of all men, which they themselves cannot conduct, in that process between Him and them. In order that He may be for them what they cannot be for themselves—an active subject and a passive object in that conflict… Not from His own side. Not as God, Lord and Judge. But from their side. As the God, Lord and Judge who is man, servant and judged. In general terms, what has taken place in Jesus Christ is the divine participation in the situation of the man confronted by His right… It is as God identifies Himself with man—His participation and intervention is as direct and complete as that—it is as He becomes a man and as this man the Representative of all men, it is as He makes His own the cause of all men that justification can and does take place. (p. 551)

God is justified in Jesus Christ. God is faithful and gracious in Himself, and therefore He is faithful and gracious to mankind. He is so for us in this way and is so self-determined to be faithful to us that He has taken up our condition as His own. God became a man. He participated in our life; He made our cause His own. And in this He justified Himself as this faithful One.

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