In §16.1 Barth pointed out relentlessly that Jesus, the God-Man, is the singular revelation around which all Christian speech of God must cohere. Nevertheless God’s revelation also comes to people who receive and respond to it.
The question asked by Barth in §16.1 is this:
Just how is it that people hear the Word of God (Christ) in the word of God (scripture)?
How is it that some hear God speak?
In §16.2 Barth turns to the question begged by those former questions:
Why is it that others do not hear God speak?
If the whole ball of wax- our fulfillment as creatures of God, our salvation and our being caught up in the redemptive story- hinges on our hearing the Word of God then how come some hear but some do not?
Is it their fault for not hearing? Their hardness of heart, to use scripture’s language?
Or is their not hearing God’s choice? Does/did God harden their heart, to use scripture’s language?
In my own Anglican/Wesleyan tradition, the salvation made possible through Christ’s atoning work is freely available to all. We’re all able, to use Barth’s terms, to hear God speak.
In the Calvinist tradition, towards which Wesley felt little sympathy, this question is answered by the ‘L’ of TULIP: Limited Atonement. That is, Christ died for some, not all. And thus with floral imagery, Calvinists skirt the logical problem of why some do not believe, do not hear God speak: Christ didn’t die for them. They do not belong to the eternal elect.
And if God didn’t choose you for salvation- the pretty flower imagery runs out of gas right about here- God chose you for damnation.
Don’t believe? Scratch your head when your religious friends share how God spoke to them in prayer last night? Wonder what the catch is when everyone responds ‘Thanks be’ to the churchy cue: ‘The Word of God for the People of God?’
Don’t worry. It’s not you. It’s God.
He chose you for damnation.
Before the foundation of the world.
A Swiss Reformed pastor, Barth’s tradition was steeped in Calvinism, but in §16.2 Barth again charts new ground.
As he did in §16.1 Barth responds by way of the Holy Spirit.
Too often the question is posed rigidly (and simplistically) by both Wesleyans and Calvinists, as though it’s an either/or dichotomy of ‘free will’ versus ‘predestination.’ Either we’re free to choose or not choose God or God chose for all of us before all time.
Barth pushes back by arguing that any freedom we have to hear or be for God is a freedom that God gives to us by the power of the Holy Spirit.
We’re free says Barth only because God the Holy Spirit makes us free, which is Barth’s way of channeling Luther who himself channeled Paul: it’s only in slavery to God that we’re ever really free.
It’s what Paul means when he speaks of Christ transferring us from one kingdom to another Kingdom.
It’s what Paul intends by marrying language of our submission to Christ as a consequence of Christ having set us free from the powers of Sin and Death.
What the typical ‘free will vs predestination’ debate misses is the New Testament belief that we are free only to the extent that we participate in the freeing work of Christ. We need to rethink what sort of freedom we do and do not have inside and outside of Christ. Too often Wesleyans overestimate human freedom while just as often Calvinists do away with it altogether, as though all of life were an episode of Lost.
Those who follow Wesley need to hear Barth’s reminder that the freedom that comes to us through the Spirit is a freedom that comes to us from outside ourselves.
It’s not something which we’re naturally imbued.
We’re not all born free, theologically speaking.
Those who follow Calvin, on the other hand, need reminding that this freedom from outside ourselves does actually to us.
In the end, Barth doesn’t really answer the question (Why Do Some Not Hear God Speak?) so much as he muddles it. With Barth, human freedom (or lack thereof) is such that you can’t easily accuse someone of being hardhearted. Then again, with Barth, the Spirit does give freedom to hear so it’s not simply that God has hardened every unbeliever’s heart.
The answer, as it should, is more mysterious.