The world with its sorrow and its happiness will always be a dark mirror to us, about which we may have optimistic or pessimistic thoughts; but it gives us no information about God as the Creator. But always, when man has tried to read the truth from sun, moon and stars or from himself, the result has been an idol. But when God has been known and then known again in the world, so that the result was a joyful praise of God in creation, that is because He is to be sought and found in Jesus Christ. By becoming man in Jesus Christ, the fact has also become plain and credible that God is the Creator of the world. We have no alternative source of revelation.
– Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline (1966 Version), p. 52
For the average guy, this might be close to the definitive Barthian statement. His theology and vision of the church were formed in contest with the NAZIs and as a consequence lost all respect for what we call “Natural Theology”; that which can be known of God from the world around us (ie- not in the Bible).
Barth always seemed to me to be on the most dubious of grounds in this assertion. In Romans 1, Paul surely is talking of some kind of natural law common to all humanity that reveals God outside the Scriptures and more crucially for Barth outside the person of Jesus. But what little I have read of him and about him assures me that we do not pay such close heed to what he has to say because he is always right. Rather, even when he is wrong there is a focus and a verve and an elegance that is seemingly right-ward.
I think we naturally have a knowledge of God, even if that knowledge is revealed only in the sense that we universally get pissed off when someone robs our place in the queue at the Post Office. But Barth’s paragraph here from the chapter “God the Creator” in the Dogmatics in Outline is thought provoking nonetheless. Is he making a broad and sweeping statement condemning all of natural theology? Or instead is he making a more humble point about the futility of specifying God? If we try to paint a portrait of God from the sun, moon, stars or our own conscience we produce a dumb, deaf and useless idol. Granted. But perhaps there is still space here to read Barth as acknowledging that even if we can’t discern the character of God from the world without the person of Jesus, the world still testifies to its Creator?
Your Correspondent, Only faith is to be taken seriously