What Karl Barth says about revelation
“Revelation is God
’s self-offering and self-manifestation.” - - - from line 5, page 36 of Karl Barth
, “The Revelation of God as the Abolition
,” in John Hick
& Brian Hebblethwaite
, eds., CHRISTIANITY
AND OTHER RELIGION
In this sentence, Barth is trying to give us a deeper meaning for a word that, for Christians, is typically used interchangeably with the word ‘Scripture.’ Revelation is construed as being the Bible, and Barth, far from denying this, rather wants to give a stronger definition, a definition that tells more about what this thing is. In calling Revelation God’s self-offering and self-manifestation, Barth is describing not only the Bible, but rather God’s action also in orienting us towards himself, through scripture, but also through manifest action in our lives. Barth uses the example of getting hit in the head with a stone to describe this action. In using this example, Barth wishes to say that God’s action in this manner is shocking, surprising. God, in a manner of speaking, can thrust His way into our lives, and demand that we take notice. This is an action of grace. That is to say, humans are totally dependent on God for knowledge of God. There is no way for humans to obtain any real knowledge of God through their own devices, and God’s self-offering to humanity, His self-manifestation through events of history, through scripture, and particularly through Jesus Christ, is the only conduit for information, communication between God and humanity. God gives Himself to humanity because it is the only way for humanity to be reconciled to Him.
Human religion, Barth says, is a series of systematized attempts to draw ourselves closer to God, or to draw God closer to us, or perhaps even to get God to do what we want. These attempts do nothing of the kind, however, and are merely useless artifices that in fact stand opposed to God’s self-offering. These constructs exist to perform an unperformable task, and thereby stand opposed to God’s action because implicit in that action is the idea that humanity is helpless to reach God without God’s complete intervention. Religion, however, implicitly asserts an ability on humanity’s part to reach God through correct practice. The clash here tells us, Barth says, that religion, in conflict with revelation, can only be untrue. There is no such thing as ‘true religion,’ if one talks of any religion as having any kind of truth innate to itself. Rather a religion can only become true in the same way a sinner can be justified. This is from the outside, by God’s self-offering. It is through the deed God has done, the reconciling of humanity to himself, that religion receives truth. Religion is called to new life and sanctified by this self-offering. It is judged, condemned, pardoned and conformed to revelation as a sinner is to Christ. Revelation transforms religion into something new. It conforms religion to its truth.