The Rejected Prince of Peace? A Conversation with Karl Barth
On Monday I posted my review of Karl Barth's book of World War I sermons titled A Unique Time of God. I found the message of Barth's sermons preached as Europe was throwing itself into a most destructive war that would set up an even more destructive war to be rather relevant. It's not that everything is the same, but I found Barth's passionate plea for peace, even as he was willing to pronounce judgment on the world around him to be powerful. One thing you will notice if you read the sermons is that he doesn't spare the churches. In fact, he doesn't spare his own teachers, who backed the Kaiser's war effort without any qualification. Barth preached to a congregation that existed in a neutral country, but the war was nearby, and it was easy for nationalist passions to cross the border into Switzerland.
In the last sermon in the series, preached on Reformation Sunday, November 1,1914, Barth threw up his hands in disgust at the seeming rejection of Jesus in favor of a war Spirit. I want to share this paragraph from that sermon and invite us all to consider his plea to attend to the message of the Prince of Peace:
At present, we live in a world that does not believe that Christ is sent by God. Yes, it seems to believe in Jesus. It builds churches in his name. It reveres his cross. It calls itself by his name. But in deed and in truth it has rejected the prince of peace. It considers it a matter of foolishness that there could be a truly inclusive community of love, of love of all people; instead it preaches hate and so inflames the passions of one nation against the other. It does not want to be a great in spirit and greatest in service but great in the might that is based on power, and it prides itself that it is so dispassionate and free of fanaticism. It does not see that "righteousness exalts a people and a nation" (see Prov. 14:34) but boasts instead in its financial wealth, the number of its soldiers, and the size of its cannons. It supposes that the saber rather than the cross has the last word and proclaims over against Jesus: "Those who want to follow me must assert themselves and defend themselves as best they can" (see Matt. 16:24). So the word has rejected Christ. And as a consequence the word is now at war. [A Unique Time of God, p. 167].
Does this sound familiar? Do we, in our time, claim to believe in Jesus and yet fail to follow him. Have we decided that way of Jesus is not relevant for our day? While we may not be, at the moment, fully engaged in war, we have been at war for almost the entirety of the 21st century. World War I was supposed to be the war that ended all wars, but the spirit of war doesn't seem to be going away. We choose the saber rather than the cross. I'm not consistent pacifist, neither was Barth, but I agree with him that we have a tendency to reject the idea that an inclusive community of love is possible, and thus we fall into the trap of preaching hate. God help us! God forgive us!