Thursday, February 16, 2017

God's Borderless Realm - A Conversation with Karl Barth


We've been hearing a lot lately about walls and borders.  Now, I'm not against national borders, but I think we need to put them in perspective. As a Christian, if I a embrace the concept of the kingdom of God, then I need to let go of a nationalistic vision. I need to embrace the premise that all humanity is created in the image of God. I need to affirm the premise that God is no respecter of borders. 

I say this to introduce something that Karl Barth shares in one of his World War I sermons.  I'm currently reading a recently published collection of sermons preached by Karl Barth at the beginning of World War I. The book is appropriately titled A Unique Time of God, because Barth, who opposed the war, believed that this was a "unique time of God," in which God's judgment was being revealed on a continent that had let racial/ethnic based nationalism lead to unnecessary power struggles.  

In a sermon preached August 30, 1914, some three weeks into the war, which would devastate Europe and set the stage for the carnage of World War II (as well as the Holocaust), he shares this timely word:

It is simply out of the question that God "helps" the Germans or the French or the English. God does not even "help" us Swiss. God helps justice and love. God helps the kingdom of heaven, and that exists across all national boundaries. "God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). The foolish mixing of patriotism, war enthusiasm, and Christian faith could one day lead to the bitterest disappointment. "He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord has them in derision" (Ps. 2:4). We will not join in drinking this intoxicating potion. We want to look steadfastly and unwaveringly here to God, who loves everyone equally, who is above all the nations, from whom all have similarly departed, and from whose glory they have fallen short (see Rom. 3:23) -- the God who in like manner wants to draw all people to himself and gather them under the rule of his good and holy will. [A Unique Time of God: Karl Barth's WWI Sermons. William Klempa, ed, WJK Books, p. 100], 
In all our nationalistic fervor, claiming that perhaps God blesses us, Barth suggests that we take a broader perspective. In the sermon he reminds his own community, which was German, that Switzerland included among its citizenry German, French, and Italian. If they were to embrace their own land, then they couldn't and shouldn't take sides. But, even the Swiss had no reason for pride, for God is bigger than Switzerland. So, perhaps we might take a bit of wisdom from the great Swiss theologian for our own times, and affirm God's greater vision of a borderless realm.

Note: a full review will be forthcoming.

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