“The Wrath of God,” According to Barth

I have been eager to read Barth’s commentary on the next few verses of Romans, because of his infamy for vehemently denying general revelation as a means to discovering anything about God.

Romans 1:18-21 | “The Night: Its Cause”

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.

For Barth, it seems that general revelation may not communicate anything substantial or definite about God, except that He is utterly unreachable and totally transcendent:

And what is clearly seen to be indisputable reality is the invisibility of God, which is precisely and in strict agreement with the gospel of the resurrection–His everlasting power and divinity. And what does this mean but that we can know nothing of God, that we are not God, the the Lord is to be feared?

Barth’s primary reason for rejecting general revelation as a means to saving knowledge of God stems from his reaction against the self-sanctifying message of the state-church of his era. He finds in Paul’s words, “against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth,” the biblical grounds for his position.

Our relation [“on this side resurrection”] to God is ungodly. We suppose that we know what we are saying when we say ‘God’. We assign to Him the highest place in our world: and in so doing we place Him fundamentally on one line with ourselves and with things…we assume that we are able to arrange our relation to him as we arrange our other relationships…Our well-regulated, pleasurable life longs for some hours of devotion, some prolongation into infinity. And so, when we set God upon the throne of the world, we mean by God ourselves…That is our unrighteousness.

Our unrighteousness is our worship and service of ourselves, especially when we do so under the auspices of religion, which misrepresents God. This, for Barth, is what Paul means when he writes about “suppress[ing] the truth.” For Barth, then, God’s wrath–“the righteousness of God–apart from and without Christ”–is bent against us when we exalt and serve ourselves in God’s name.

Fugitive is the soul in this world and soulless is the world, when men do not find themselves within the sphere of the knowledge of the unknown God, when they avoid the true God in whom they and the world must lose themselves in order that both may find themselves again. This is the Cause of the Night in which we are wandering.

Nevertheless, even though this is the pervasive and enduring state of depraved people, Barth holds onto the revealed truth of God in Christ: “For the wrath of God cannot be His last word, the true revelation of Him!” Thanks be to God!

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