Barth’s Argument from Contingence: Creation’s Inner-Reality

In Barth’s Church Dogmatics III/1 we get into his doctrine of creation. As I was reading along, as is typical when reading Barth, I was struck with something he noted in regard to creation’s beginning; with reference to creation’s telos. Here he presents what sounds something like an argument from contingence, in regard to God’s Word as the inner ground and reality of the externally created order. Unlike the proof for God’s existence, like we often come across in philosophical or apologetic theologies—indeed, where an argument from contingence is used to argue for the universe’s non-contingent fund, namely, God—here Barth is arguing for our existence. He is emphasizing the fact that humanity, that the earth, that the universe has no-inner or independent telos; that outwith a loving Creator God who is Father of the Son, such humanity, and the rest of the creaturely order, simply reduces to annihilation, abyss, and futility of dread. Barth writes:

The creature is not self-existent. It has not assumed its nature and existence of itself or given it to itself. It did not come into being by itself. It does not consist by itself. It cannot sustain itself. It has to thank its creation and therefore its Creator for the fact that it came into being and is and will be. Nor does the creature exist for itself. It is not the creature itself but its Creator who exists and thinks and speaks and cares for the creature. The creature is no more its own goal and purpose that it is its own ground and beginning. There is no inherent reason for the creature’s existence and nature, no independent teleology of the creature introduced with its creation and made its own. Its destiny lies entirely in the purpose of its Creator as the One Who speaks and cares for it. The creature’s right and meaning and goal and purpose and dignity lie—only—in the fact that God as the Creator has turned toward it with His purpose. Any other attitude than that of God’s free acceptance of this turning towards it and therefore of this advocacy and care; any claim to a right inherent in its being and nature, to a meaning which has not first been received, to a goal which it  has fixed for itself, to a purpose which it has in and for itself, to a dignity independent of the free will of its Creator—all this is just as meaningless as the illusion that it came into being of itself, that it consists in itself and that it can sustain itself. By its very creation, and therefore its being as a creature, all such views are shown, like illusion, to be basically impossible, and thus disclosed as falsehoods.[1]

There is something inherent to human being, to creaturely reality that points away from itself, and to its ultimate ground in her Creator. As the Teacher writes, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Eccl. 3:11). Even so, knowledge of the Creator is not inherent to an abstract or naked humanity; it requires that He, the hidden God (Deus absconditus) become the revealed God (Deus revelatus), which is exactly who Jesus Christ is. It because He freely chose to create, first as He elected our humanity as His own in Jesus Christ, indeed as the Son is the imago Dei for us, that humanity comes to have knowledge of their telos. Without this ground of being and relationship the human squirms around as if a babe thrown to the side of a dusty road simply waiting for the inevitable end,

And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born.

“And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I made you flourish like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full adornment. Your breasts were formed, and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare. (Ez. 16:1-7)

And yet He passed by, He came and found us and has since elevated us to Himself in the exaltation of humanity in the vicarious and resurrected humanity of Jesus Christ. Creation itself groans under a futility waiting to be released at the revealing of the sons of God. We have been given the arrabon, the guarantee of the Holy Spirit as the deposit of Hope that God is for us in Christ. So, we groan with hope, with words unutterable, even as the Spirit within straightens them as words of an arrow that pierces the warm heart of the Son as He reposes in the bosom of the Father as our faithful and high priest. The operative word for the Christian is that we live with hope, because God is the God of Hope; and He never disappoints. Hold onto this purpose, even as God in Christ blows His life into us afresh anew by the Spirt who hovers over our hearts bringing new life from Christ’s new creation for us.

[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III/1 §41 The Doctrine of Creation: Study Edition (London: T&T Clark, 2010), 93-4.

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