Barth to the Hungarian Youth of 1948: On Human Freedom

Freedom is such a misunderstood concept, by believers and non-believers alike. To be sure, in the Bible, when human freedom is referred to it is not in reference to some sort of abstract, philosophically conceived idea of ‘free-will’ or some such nonsense; no it is in reference to what it means to truly and genuinely live before God. In our modern/post-modern 21st century we have barthsoldierall become mired down by being so “free” that we haven’t stopped to notice that we actually live in bondage to ourselves. This is precisely what Barth was attacking as he finished up his talk with some Hungarian youth back in the Spring of 1948. He said:

I have almost finished. If your freedom is to be strong and genuine it will have to have a foundation. What was called freedom in the European age now passed collapsed, and was bound to collapse, because for a long time and at an amazingly deep level it had degenerated into a freedom for godlessness and inhumanity—not merely in its secular and evil form but in its religious and moral form too. Do not hesitate to describe and treat anyone as a ‘reactionary’ who attempts to commend this kind of freedom to you under whatever name. Freedom means freedom for God and one’s neighbor. Wherever it is something different from that it is not freedom for responsibility. In the freedom for God and one’s neighbour you will find the right words and instinctively take the right steps and grow into defiance against the idols of yesterday and those of today. You will not become doctrinaires! The New Testament calls this freedom the freedom of the children of God, our freedom in Jesus Christ. Why? Because as true God and true man Jesus Christ has brought God and man together. ‘If the Son shall make you free ye shall be free indeed.’ This Word was also spoken to our generation. We did not understand it very well. Will it be granted to your generation to understand it a little better? May it be granted to you! What is certain is that we the old and you the  youth of today, are members one of another as we listen to the Word.[1]

[1] Karl Barth, Against the Stream: Shorter Post-War Writings 1946–52 (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1954), 61.

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