Jordan Tarwater

The Rev. Jordan Tarwater is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA), currently serving as the Executive Director and Minister of the Urban Outreach Center at Jan Hus Presbyterian Church in New York City.

Karl Barth Quote of the Month: Epistle to the Romans, Introduction & Chapter 1.

This is the beginning of a monthly blog series -- as I work through a study of Karl Barth's doctrines of God and theological anthropology -- in which I pick out a single quote that stood out and reflect on it briefly.

“From such supposed direct communion with God – genuine only when it is not genuine, when it is not romanticized into an ‘experience,’ when it is at once dissolved and claims to be merely an open space, a sign-post, an occasion, and an opportunity – there emerge precisely all those intermediary, collateral, lawless divinities and powers and authorities and principalities that obscure and discolour the light of the true God.”

Karl Barth, The Epistle To The Romans, 50.

I was especially taken with the role of void and vacuity within Barth’s initial construction in the Introduction to Romans. It seems to me to be central to his placement of God as that which is “beyond” and "wholly other," that it is not apprehended in experience, but is revealed in “the crater formed by the explosion of a shell,” pure void, “Gospel” (35).

So, I think this ‘genuineness’ of the true God (despite the unsavory Christian exceptionalism that follows our selected quote) opens a theologically compelling kind of qualified apophaticism – particularly in a Derridean vein of khora –  negating our “No-God,” for a receiving, creative space in which the “opportunity” of Word/Gospel/etc., might be revealed, for and in spite of us.

This void is not a transcendence of our want to “discolour the light of the true God,” but returns us always to the attempt to have an “open space,” in which we don’t get the comfort of a full vision of God, but rather always appearing as indirect, obscured, other, more.

Barth is attentive to the biblical text because of the particularity of its subject matter. For him, God is not an inert object of the human religious quest, but God is disclosed only in action in and towards the world in the form of Jesus Christ. In its spacio-temporal particularly, the Word is addressed to the world.

Because the Bible speaks of this particularity, it is grounded in the trustworthiness of divine speech. In Jesus, the action with which God is revealed. God simply doesn’t lie. It is communicative action, a speech-act of God.

It attends to an addressee — it’s not just a whirlwind to the winds, it’s to our Job-ness. Human beings are the object of divine address. Barth is actually in a hyperbolic sense anthropocentric, by which I mean he is chiefly concerned with what God is saying to humans -- in the Word written, proclaimed, and revealed.

God constitutes and sustains this relationship. Humans are not spectators, but participants in this "open space," in this pointing-beyond. This void is not derived not from its immanent characteristics or style, but in the role of the divine communicative movement into the world.