Karl Barth Quote of the Month: Epistle to the Romans, "The Voice of History, The Coming Day,"115-64.
“The voice of the law and the history of salvation lay emphasis upon the significant word reckoned; and we must follow up the hint which they provide. They are not concerned with the peculiarity of Abraham’s directly visible status. His righteousness is clearly distinct from his circumcision. In any case, his circumcision is not the divine reckoning neither is circumcision the divine action which makes him what he is.”
Karl Barth, Romans, 127.
While this notion in a straightforward reading of what Barth is doing makes perfect sense – negatively contrasting the “sphere of visible religion” with the “reckoned righteousness of God” – I was taken with the phrasing of “not concerned with the peculiarity,” and I think safe to read, the particularity, of Abraham (128). Barth writes further “even in the temporal sphere the call of God in actual fact precedes the contrasts” and that “the call and faith of Abraham without doubt constitute the pure Beginning” (128). This is “the divine transaction in men which can never become a matter of history” (129). He writes further that the Word according to grace, “cuts down vertically from above, through every particular human status. Through the emergence of that status which men have in God, every human status is established by dissolution” (139).
What this reflection leaves me pondering is the kind of evental character of “call,” reckoned righteousness, in Barth. Thinking with Alain Badiou, the event is a kind of miraculous, irreducible occurrence at the edge of the void – beyond any law – that takes place in, but not of, a situation. It claims our fidelity, gifts us our subjectivity, and breaks us from the order of how things are. There are also definite allusions here to a potential reading of Barth as co-optable by womanist theologians – in the way that Abraham’s faith is available to all persons – that meshes well with the work of Patricia Collins and Traci West, among others.
I wonder if God in Barth might be a (backdoor) theological means to argue for a kind of radical universal politic -- in that God’s call “precedes the contrasts,” we have a kind of singularity in occasion, but one in faith that is open to be universal in scope. Can we honor our particularities and still have a universalist politics? While Badiou has been by many rightly critiqued that this kind of universal political form is easily distorted into destructive arenas, that which he names as ‘Truth,’ I think one could easily ground in God in a Barthian sense a politics of the event with, over, and against the reliance of movements on pure identity politics. Is a Barthian politics what we need? Maybe not. But this “wholly other” grounding, this “pure Beginning,” rang of at least some subversive theological potential for me.