Several years back a kind family friend gave me Karl Barth’s Dogmatics in Outline. I paged through it at the time, but never sat down and read it in-depth in the midst of moving to Texas, setting up my own apartment, starting a new job, and wedding planning. Originally given shortly after World War II as a series of lectures in half-destroyed Bonn University, the book works its way through the Apostles’ Creed statement by statement, laying out the core doctrines of Christian theology.
Barth, like many academics, occasionally loses himself in flights of convoluted grammar, five syllable technical terms, and an intermixing of Latin, Greek, German and English, but always descends back to earth with a lucid and thoughtful point about our faith.
Looking at the beginning of the creed, he points out that “I believe” is the only subjective statement in the creed, the only thing that talks about “me.” Rather than focusing on ourselves, how we feel, and what we think, the creed immediately dives into “I believe IN….”:
“But this ‘I believe’ is consummated in a meeting with One who is not man, but God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and by my believing I see myself completely filled and determined by this object of my faith. And what interests me is not myself with my faith, but He in whom I believe.”
Most of us have questioned for ourselves and been asked by others “but how do I know that Christianity is true?” It’s a good question, and there are many solid arguments and volumes of historical evidence for the veracity of scripture. However, no system of proofs, however watertight and well-thought out, will 100% prove Christianity and satisfy our minds. You cannot argue someone into a final proof that makes them believe in God. Whatever knowledge you carry and whatever reasons have directed you toward the truth, the last step, the step of Faith, crosses over the border of the known and the unknown into the arms of the Father. Scripture tells us “For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Cor 13:12).
“The glory of faith does not consist in our being challenged to do something, in having something laid upon us which is beyond our strength. Faith is rather a freedom, a permission. It is permitted to be so – that the believer in God’s Word may hold on to this Word in everything, in spite of all that contradicts it. It is so: we never believe ‘on account of’, never ‘because of’; we awake to faith in spite of everything. Think of the men in the Bible. They did not come to faith by reason of any kind of proofs, but one day they were so placed that they might believe and then had to believe in spite of everything…When we believe, we must believe in spite of God’s hiddenness. This hiddenness of God necessarily reminds us of our human limitation.”
And finally, Barth states that though it is possible for a human to imagine a supreme being with power over everything in the world, that does not mean we can imagine and understand God for ourselves. How many times has someone said “Well that’s not my God. My God would never….” The problem is, God is not who I want him to be, a little play-dough deity I can shape as I will. God decides who and what he is.
“This absolute and supreme being [that man imagines for himself], the ultimate and most profound, this ‘thing in itself’, has nothing to do with God. It is part of the intuitions and marginal possibilities of man’s thinking, man’s contrivance. Man is able to think this being; but he has not thereby thought God. God is thought and known when in His own freedom God makes Himself apprehensible…God is always the One who has made Himself known to man in His own revelation, and not the one man thinks out for himself and describes as God. There is a perfectly clear division there already, epistemologically, between the true God and the false gods.”