Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Basis of Everything That is Important To Me

The following is a selection is from a brief essay by my systematics professor on the influence that the medieval theologian Anselm of Canterbury had on the twentieth-century German theologian Karl Barth.  It essentially outlines exactly what reading the Bible means to me and is like for me, and by extension describes the process by which I have any knowledge of God at all.  I am learning that theology can be deeply edifying.

"Although Anselm begins with God's remoteness... he does not stop there.  The theologian pores over Scripture in the hope that God will reveal his very Self through the Scriptural medium.  That this may occur is not, in the first instance, due to any inherent power of the biblical words.  The Scriptures, like any other created reality, cannot reveal god.  If God does reveal his very Self it will be an act of grace.  Therefore Anselm begins with prayer.  Anselm prays because he knows that he cannot know God unless God takes form within the written word.  'What is at stake here is not just the right way to seek God, but in addition God's presence, on which the whole grace of Christian knowledge primarily depends, the encounter with him which can never be brought about by all our searching for God however thorough it may be, although it is only to the man who seeks God with a pure heart that this encounter comes.'*  When God reveals himself he does so by taking form within the written Word.  This is an event; it happens from time to time.  In the moment of speaking, God reveals the Word as Scripture.  As the theologian hears this Word, he grasps the underlying intelligibility of Scripture and formulates it in theological statements.  The statements themselves are comprehensible only when they are also illumined by God as revelatory words.  This happens as God the Word binds himself to the biblical work, similar to God the Word having bound himself to the human nature of Christ.  By the communicatio idiomatum, the divine Word was comprehensible as human words.  Similarly, the divine nature, God the Word, becomes comprehensible as the words of Scripture.  In this way real knowledge of God occurs, a knowledge which is known by the categories of the understanding grasping the intelligibility of the biblical words.  This knowledge depends, in the final analysis, on God's grace.  Without grace, Scripture is silent.  The knowledge of God and the faith to believe it 'does not come about without something new encountering us and happening to us from the outside... The seed to be received is the 'Word of God' that is preached and heard; and that it comes to us and that we have the rectitudo volendi to receive it, is grace.'**  In short, Anselm proposed a doctrine of revelation which depended upon God's act, an event in which God took form within the spatial and temporal existence of the believer to reveal his very Self speaking as the biblical words."

~Robert Sanders, "Barth's Encounter with Kant:  Liberalism, Its Rejection, and Anselm"

I wonder if it's really true, as Barth says, that God only reveals himself to those with a pure heart.  It seems to me that God is in the redemptive business of revealing himself to those with wicked hearts and thereby purifying them.  I know that he reached out to me when I was thinking and acting any other way but pure--and that he continues to reach out to me even as I continue to need purifying.

*Karl Barth, Anselm: Fides quarens intellectum, trans. Louise Smith (New York:  Harper and Row, 1962), 38.
**Ibid., 171.

4 comments:

Kathryn Marie said...

Hey mike, thanks for posting. Enjoyed this!

Lindsey Kayleen Thompson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lindsey Kayleen said...

I've had similar thoughts when I hear people say that God only speaks to people with a pure heart. I think the thing that bothers me about it is that there's this assumption underneath that implies that your heart has to be pure in a virtuous way, which is something that seems so impossible for me to maintain for any length of time. And yet God still speaks to me.

To be honest, I don't think God's all that picky about what it is that's pure about our hearts...as long as our hearts are pure SOMETHING. I think that if you're telling God the truth, He'll tell you the truth. And if what's true is that I am irreverent and faithless, and I have the courage to admit that to His face, then he'll still count it as a prayer and talk back.

Mike Rad said...

KK (i.e. Kayleen), too bad blogger doesn't have a like button, cause I succinctly agree. I think it's part of worshiping God in truth.