Home » Barth » The Gospel of God’s Love According to Thomas Torrance and Karl Barth

The Gospel of God’s Love According to Thomas Torrance and Karl Barth

This post is going to consist of two quotes; the first will be from Thomas F. Torrance, and the second from Karl Barth. The one from Torrance is the quote that I have from him in my sidebar taken from his The Mediation of Christ. The quote from Barth will be from his Church Dogmatics II/2, and it is probably the sweetest theologically rich unpacking of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that I have ever read from anyone. The Barth quote, while only one paragraph is very long, and so I will not be providing any commentary or anything other than what I am writing right now to introduce what I am sharing.

torranceyoungIf you have ever really wondered what drives me in my approach to the Gospel (I am sure it keeps you tossing and turning at night), then you will want to read what I share from both Torrance and Barth.

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God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.[1]

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We did not form at random the concept of the election of grace. In it we described the choice of God which, preceding all His other choices, is fulfilled in His eternal willing of the existence of the man Jesus and of the people represented in Him. If we are to understand and explain the nature of this primal and basic act of God, we cannot stop, then, at the formal characteristic that it is a choice. We must resist the temptation to absolutise in some degree the concept of choosing or electing. We must not interpret the freedom, the mystery and the righteousness of the election of barthyounggrace merely as the definitions and attributes of a supreme form of electing posited as absolute. We must not find in this supreme form as such the reality of God. Otherwise we shall be doing what we ought not to do. We shall be forging and constructing (out of this very characteristic) a supreme being. And it is difficult to imagine how the description of the activity of this being can ever become a Gospel. If the distinctive and ultimate feature in God is absolute freedom of choice, or an absolutely free choice, then it will be hard to distinguish His freedom from caprice or His mystery from the blindness of such caprice. It will be no less hard to maintain His righteousness in any form except that of mere assertion. It will then be difficult to make it clear that God is not merely a tyrant living by His whims, that He is not merely blind fate, that He is something other than the essential inscrutability of all being. It cannot well be denied that there has taken place such an absolutising of the concept of electing, or of its freedom, with the accompanying influence of a non-Christian conception of God, in the history of the doctrine. Nor can it be denied that as a result the utterances on the subject have to a greater or lesser extent been obscured, and in any case fairly generally distorted. As against that, we must take as our starting-point the fact that this divine choice or election is the decision of the divine will which was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and which had as its goal the sending of the Son of God. As such, it has always in God Himself, as a spontaneous opus internum ad extra (internal work outside of himself) of the trinitarian God, and to that extent originally and properly, the character of grace. Its freedom is indeed divine and therefore absolute. It is not, however, an abstract freedom as such, but the freedom of the One who loves in freedom. It is He Himself, and not an essence of the freedom of choice, or of free choice, who is the divine Subject of electing which takes place at this point. We must not seek the ground of this election anywhere but in the love of God, in His free love—otherwise it would not be His—but still in His love. If we seek it elsewhere, then we are no longer talking about this election. We are no longer talking about the decision of the divine will which was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. We are looking beyond these to a supposedly greater depth in God (and that undoubtedly means nothingness, or rather the depth of Satan). What takes place in this election is always that God is for us; for us, and therefore for the world which was created by Him, which is distinct from Him, but which is yet maintained by Him. The election is made with a view to the sending of His Son. And this means always that in Him and through Him God moves towards the world. It means not merely that He creates and sustains the world, but that He works on it and in it by (miracle of all miracles) giving Himself to it. It means that the will for fellowship, which is His very being and to which the world owes its existence, is actively demonstrated to the world in a way which surpasses anything that could be expected or claimed. If we describe this movement as election, then it is only because we would thereby emphasise that it is the active demonstration of His love. Would it be love—the love of the personal God, and as such real love—if it were not an electing? As electing love it can never be hatred or indifference, but always love. And the active demonstration of that love is this: ‘God so loved the world, that he gave everlasting life” (Jn. 3.16). Whatever may be the inner link in God’s election between that giving of His only-begotten Son and the faith in Him by which the intended salvation is effected, this much is certain, that in this election (in giving Himself to this work, in electing as the object of this work the man Jesus from among the world of men, and in Him the whole race) God loved the world. It is certain that this election is a work in which God meets the world neither in indifference nor in enmity, but in which at the very highest and lowest levels (in the giving of His only begotten-Son) He is for this man Jesus, and in Him for the whole race, and therefore for the world. That God wills neither to be without the world nor against it can never be stated more clearly or forcibly than we speak of His election. At bottom, then, to speak of the election means necessarily to speak of the Gospel. In our teaching concerning the election we must always bring in the fact, definitely and basically and as the meaning and substance of all our assertions, that of and from Himself God has decided for this loftiest and most radical movement towards His creation, ordaining and constituting Himself its Friend and Benefactor. It is in this way, in the form of this election, that God has made His decision. And the tidings of the divine decision in this form are glad tidings. It is as such and in such a sense that they must be delivered: without any concealment of the fact that God does elect (for what need is there of concealment?); without any transmutation of God’s way of loving the world into some other way, a general “loving” which involves no election and which is not really love; without any suppression or obfuscation of the fact that in this way and in the form of this election God has truly loved the world. In this form and this form alone the tidings of the divine decision made in Jesus Christ are glad tidings directed to all men, directed indeed to the whole world. It is also true that in the world there is opposition to the love of God, indeed that this opposition constitutes the being of the world as such. The text itself points indirectly but quite definitely to this fact when it says: “Whosoever believeth in him should not perish.” But the will and the power of God smash this opposition. Where the opposition does not break down in faith in the Son given, even the love of God must itself be destructive. To an opposing world the election must of the same force and necessity become non-election, or rejection. And it is for this reason, and to this extent, that there does exist a definite sphere of damnation ordained and determined by God as the negation of the divine affirmation, the work of the almighty non-willing which accompanies God’s willing. But the divine affirmation, the divine willing as such, is salvation and not damnation. The divine election as such does not negate creation but affirms it. The message of God’s election means always the message of the Yes determined and pronounced by God. Another message can, of course, be given apart from that of God’s election, e.g., the message of the blind election of fate, or of the supposedly most enlightened election of our own judgment. Here we shall be told something quite different from the divine affirmation. But we cannot hear of God’s election without also hearing God’s Yes. If we truly hear, then in face of this election and its meaning it is not possible for us not to be able to hear or obey that Yes, not to will to be amongst those who are affirmed by God. This is not a possibility but an impossibility. It is a turning in a sense of that election into nonsense. It is a descent into the abyss of the divine non-willing and the divine non-electing. Even in such a descent the creature cannot escape God. Even in this abyss it is still in the hands of God, the object of His decision. Yet that does not mean that it has been flung, or even allowed to fall, into the abyss by God Himself. God is and God remains the One who has decided for the creature and not against it. It is by love itself that the creature is confounded. Even there, in the midst of hell, when it thinks of God and His election it can think only of the love and grace of God. The resolve and power of our opposition cannot put any limit to the power and resolve of God. Even in our opposition there comes upon us that which God has foreordained for us. But that means that what comes upon us cannot alter in the slightest the nature and character of the foreordination which is God’s decree. In that decree as such we find only the decree of His love. In the proclaiming and teaching of His election we can hear only the proclaiming of the Gospel.[2]

[1] T. F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 94.

[2] Karl Barth, CD II/2, 25-28.

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