The Descent Of God

From “The Humanity of God”
by Karl Barth, 1886-1968

Beyond doubt, God's deity is the first and fundamental fact that strikes us when we look at the existence of Jesus Christ as attested in the Holy Scripture. And God's deity in Jesus Christ consists in the fact that God himself in him is the subject who speaks and acts with sovereignty. He is the free one in whom all freedom has its ground, its meaning, its prototype. He is the initiator, founder, preserver and fulfiller of the covenant. He is the sovereign lord of the amazing relationship in which he becomes and is not only different from man but also one with him. He is also the creator of him who is his partner. He it is through whose faithfulness the corresponding faithfulness of his partner is awakened and takes place.

In the existence of Jesus Christ, the fact that God speaks, gives, orders, comes absolutely first, that man hears, receives, obeys, can and must only follow this first act. In Jesus Christ man’s freedom is wholly enclosed in the freedom of God. Without the condescension of God, there would be no exaltation of man. As the Son of God and not otherwise, Jesus Christ is the Son of Man. This sequence is irreversible. God’s independence, omnipotence and eternity, God’s holiness and justice and thus God’s deity, in its original and proper form, is the power leading to this effective and visible sequence in the existence of Jesus Christ: superiority preceding subordination. Thus we have here no universal deity capable of being reached conceptually, but this concrete deity, real and recognisable in the descent grounded in that sequence and peculiar to the existence of Jesus Christ.

But here there is something even more concrete to be seen. God’s high freedom in Jesus Christ is his freedom for love. The divine capacity which operates and exhibits itself in that superiority and subordination is manifestly also God's capacity to bend downwards, to attach himself to another and this other to himself, to be together with him. This takes place in that irreversible sequence, but in it is completely real. In that sequence there arises and continues in Jesus Christ the highest communion of God with man. God's deity is thus no prison in which he can exist only in and for himself. It is rather his freedom to be in and for himself but also with and for us, to assert but also to sacrifice himself, to be wholly exalted but also completely humble, not only almighty but also almighty mercy, not only lord but also servant, not only judge but also himself the judged, not only man’s eternal king but also his brother in time. And all that without in the slightest forfeiting his deity! All that, rather, in the highest proof and proclamation of his deity! He who does and manifestly can do all that, he and no other is the living God. So constituted is his deity, the deity of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In Jesus Christ, it is in this way operative and recognisable. If he is the Word of Truth, then the truth of God is exactly this and nothing else.

It is when we look at Jesus Christ that we know decisively that God's deity does not exclude, but includes his humanity. How could God’s deity exclude his humanity, since it is God's freedom for love and thus his capacity to be not only in the heights but also in the depths, not only great but also small, act only in and for himself but also with another distinct from him, and to offer himself to him? In his deity, there is enough room for communion with man. Moreover, God has and retains in his relation to this other one the unconditioned priority. It is his act. His is and remains the first and decisive Word, his the initiative, his the leadership. How could we see and say it otherwise when we look at Jesus Christ in whom we find man taken up into communion with God?

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