§1.5: Karl Barth and the Boston Marathon Bombing

Jason Micheli —  April 16, 2013 — 1 Comment

family-vacations-boston-marathonLike you, the news from Boston- especially the images and the ‘gruesome’ descriptions of the carnage- brought me once again face-to-face with the sin of the world.

All you need is a headline like ‘3 Dead, Including a Child’ to conclude that, of all the Christian doctrines we espouse, Original Sin is a doctrine whose existence we can objectively demonstrate.

We can’t prove that God took flesh in Mary’s womb, and neither can we prove if or how  ‘God’ created ‘flesh’ in the first place.

We have no empirical evidence that God raised Jesus from the dead, which isn’t as big a deal as it sounds when you stop to consider that before we can prove Easter we first have to prove God’s own existence.

And the jury’s still out on that one.

But we can prove ‘Sin.’ 

Sin is real. 

Sin is an actual, objective, demonstrable fact of life. 

Or is it?

As you may know, I’ve begun reading through Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics along with a group readers like you.

A number of motifs (theological dispositions) run throughout Barth’s CD like a nervous system that together give his project life and movement. Knowing these motifs can clarify your understanding of Barth.

More than that, after yesterday, I believe knowing these motifs can help Christians think through events like the Boston Marathon Bombing.

One such motif is Barth’s ‘Objectivism.’ 

The question behind Objectivism is:

‘Who sets the terms for what is real?’ 

Who’s to say the ‘real world’ is really the ‘real world?’

For Barth, Jesus Christ is the definitive, final, binding act of God’s revelation; that is, in Christ, we see all of God there is to see. There’s no other mystery behind the curtain.

God was fully in Christ, reconciling the world to himself says scripture.

If Christians believe that God was fully present in Christ, says Barth, then, because of Christ’s atoning victory, humanity is fully present in God too.

Right now. Yesterday. Today. And we’ll be there tomorrow too.

Christ changes our relationship in and with God. Objectively.

Our in-Godness, therefore, is our true reality- whether we believe in God or not.

This leads Barth to a different use of the word ‘faith.’

For Barth, faith doesn’t incorporate us into God, as we so often think. Faith is the acknowledgment that we have been incorporated into God already.

It happened on 33 AD. On the cross.

In Christ, ALL died.

We’re all of us in God because God was in Christ.

That, says Barth, is the hidden truth of our world. Our true humanity lies not in us but in him:

“never at all apart from him, never at all independently of him, never at all in and for itself”

Faith then isn’t a sort of mechanism that gains us access to God. 

Faith is more like Neo going down the rabbit hole and discovering his real world a complete fiction that hides the truth of the ‘Matrix.’  

Faith is our being awakened, having our eyes opened, to what was there all along.

We tend to think of it the other way around.

We believe more in the reality of sin than we believe in the reality of our in-Godness.

Headlines like ‘3 Dead, Including a Child’ constitute what we think is the cold, hard reality of our world.

Barth would counter us by suggesting that there would be far fewer headlines like that one if more people believed that the more realistic headline is:

‘While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’

You see, for Barth, what we take as the givenness of our sinful ‘reality’ is instead a kind no-reality. To Barth, even believing in sin constitutes a kind of unbelief.Myers Karl Barth painting 1

Because as soon as you start believing in sin as an unavoidable, inevitable given in our world, you stop trying to offer the world the more ‘realistic’ Christ. 


Looking through Barth’s eyes then, the true tragedy of events like the Boston Marathon Bombing isn’t that ours is a sinful, fallen world in need of God’s redemptive activity. 

The true tragedy is that ours is a world that has been redeemed. 

 Ours is a world where Sin has already been defeated. Ours is a world that’s loved by and is this very second- just as it was yesterday afternoon- in God. 

And yet our world doesn’t know it.

That’s what makes the victims in yesterday’s bombing just that: needless victims. 

Needless, because Sin is like the White Witch in Narnia, not realizing that Aslan (God-in-Christ) has landed and the snow (the Power of Sing) has already begun melting.

As Paul says, Christ has brought down the Principalities and the Powers.


It’s finished.

Now before you start thinking that Barth is hopelessly naive, just remember: it was Barth’s ‘Objectivism’ about Christ that enabled him to oppose Nazism.

How you define ‘reality’ in the world determines what you judge to be a ‘realistic’ response to the sin and pain in the world.

That is, if you think the way of Christ is the ‘unrealistic’ choice in this world then you’ll quickly stop bothering to abide by it.

If ‘reality’ is what you find on the front page of the NY Times then your engagement with the world will never veer too far from the ways of the world. Love, mercy and peace will always seem like hopeless ideals.

I think this morning’s headlines ably demonstrate that what our world needs is not more people who believe in the cold, hard reality of sin and death.

I think the morning headlines show just how badly our world needs more people who define ‘what’s real’ in terms of Jesus Christ.

Our world needs more people who practice mercy, show compassion, and offer peace. 

Our world needs more people to tell the world that it’s the world: that its loved, that it’s redeemed, that it’s in-God. 

And because we exist in him, we’re most ourselves when we exist like him. 

For others. 




Jason Micheli


One response to §1.5: Karl Barth and the Boston Marathon Bombing

  1. Jason,

    I love this Barth stuff.
    You make me feel like I am looking at a prism from a different angle every time you write about Barth. Its just great. Wow and wondrous.

    I used to be a news junkie (of sorts). MSNBC, ABC, and The Drudge Report online. CNN, FOX, some Morning Joe, as much Hannity as I could stomach (which is not much), Bill O’Reilly. –lots of NPR and even some Rush Limbaugh if I happened to be borrowing my father-in-law’s car and didn’t want to risk changing his radio dial and then forgetting to change it back for him.

    I don’t know which scared me more, Rush Limbaugh or the notion that I wouldn’t get Grampe’s car back to him exactly as he had loaned it.

    I liked to gather both sides–all sides, as many as revealed themselves. I wanted to see what all the crazies were saying about politics, all that went on in the world, anything that happened. I liked to be “in the know” . If some disaster happened, I wanted to know about it right away.

    Funny thing, though, because I can’t really say when or how it happened, or that at the time I really even noticed it was happening. As my faith grew, my rabid interest in all things news shrunk. A ton. It just began to feel like a bunch of wheel spinning listening to them all. Way too much of an investment of my time and for what?

    Even before I read Barth, I guess, I may have “gotten him” on this.
    All that stuff isn’t real. Reality is God inside us and what we do with it for and towards others. Gods indwelling shapes (or should shape) our reality. All else is reified chimera.

    I am so disheartened with frustration when there are things like the Boston bombing. I just get this big sad balloon of “WHY?” in my gut at the ignorance of it all. Why can’t these people know that God is already in them? has ALWAYS been with them? Sigh.

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