Barth – Credo – “Creator of Heaven and Earth”

The confession of belief in God as “Creator of Heaven and Earth” (Latin: Creatorem coeli et terrae) is not meant to be a statement of a Christian “world view,” Karl Barth argues. Rather, it is a statement about God, and most specifically, about God’s relation to us and our world. The doctrine of God as creator captures the belief that were it not for the Father Almighty, we would not exist. Therefore, we are “completely and absolutely bound” (29) to the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Interestingly, the doctrine of Creation has traditionally placed “man” at the centre of the creation account, as if humanity were to be understood as “the creature and the partner of God” (30). Yet the creed is strangely silent here about the creation of the humans. Why is this the case? As Barth puts it:

Will [man] recognize, fear and love God as God the Creator, without at the same time recognizing, as he looks down to earth and up to heaven, his own littleness and insignificance, both in body and soul, even within the creaturely sphere? Without indeed mentioning man, and significant in its failure to mention man, the statement that God created heaven and earth says the decisive thing even about him, and precisely about him. Of these two worlds he is the citizen, encompassed in truth with a special mystery, or the wanderer between these two worlds which indeed in God’s sight are only one world, the created world. (30)

[In other words, the absence of a statement about “humanity” in the first article is not a fatal omission, but an implicit setting of humanity into unity both with the rest of creation and with God the Creator. Humans are both included in “heavens and earth” as “created,”–“Not-God”–and also as possessed and owned by God.]

There is, Barth says, a “double content” arising out of the statement, “God is the Creator of the World”:

  1. God is related to the world, not in a manner of equilibrium or parity, but one in which God has absolute primacy over it in freedom. “Heaven and earth are not themselves God, are not anything in the nature of a divine generation or emanation, are not, as the Gnostics or mystics would again and again have it, in some direct or indirect way, identical with the Son or Word of God” (31). The world is characterized as: not God, not eternal, not a movement of God himself. [It’s hard not to hear the dialectical echoes of Römerbrief here!] Rather, the world is a “free opus ad extra, finding its necessity only in His love, but again not casting any doubt on His self-sufficiency: the world cannot exist without God, . . . but He could exist very well without the world” (31-2). Therefore, Barth insists, the meaning and end of the world “is not to be sought in itself.” Rather, “We must believe that the world as he created it is appointed to serve His glory, and we must not allow ourselves to be misled here by our feelings and reflections over good and evil, however justified” (32-3).
  2. Though there is an asymmetrical relationship between God and the world, the world nevertheless has a reality of its own, willed and upheld by God. That is to say, the world is both dependent God for its existence and yet has a relative independence given it by God. Simultaneously, the world stands bound to God who is its Creator, and yet never does the world become a “part” of God; never does the world and God fuse together: “God never and nowhere becomes the world” (34).

    This raises the question of the doctrine of Providence. How does God remain both sovereign over the world as its Lord, and yet allow the world its “relative independence”? Barth rejects the “Pelagian doctrine of freedom, the fatalistic doctrine of necessity, the indeterminism of the old Lutherans and Molinists and the determinism of Zwingli” because they represent “misreadings” of the doctrine of the human freedom of the will (35). He is more comfortable [not surprisingly] with Calvin’s answer in this regard, which allows a degree of human freedom, but not in such a way that it sets it alongside the “freedom of God” as if human freedom was a “god alongside of God” (35).

Barth concludes this chapter by describing what he sees as two limits of the doctrine of Creation.

  1. There are some questions of  faith that are not to be answered from the perspective of the doctrine of Creation, “as least not unequivocally and completely” (36). Barth includes the questions of sin, evil, death, and the Devil as “impossible possibilities” that cannot be explained from the perspective of God as Lord and Creator; “it cannot be said that God willed and created these possibilities as such” (36). Barth insists, “Dogmatics must not at this place carry the Creation-thought right to the end of the line. It must rather explain these possibilities as being such that we have indeed to reckon most definitely with their reality, but are unable better to describe their real nature and character. . . . These possibilities are to be taken seriously as the mysterium iniquitatis [“mystery of uneveness or injustice”]. The existence of such a thing, however, is not to be perceived from creation, but only from the grace of God in Jesus Christ” (37).

    [Aha! Barth finally returns to the question of the “chief problems of Dogmatics” and makes a bold pronouncement: You cannot answer the question (at least not satisfactorily) of why sin, evil, death and devil exist on the basis of a doctrine of Creation or providence. Yet, this has precisely where the bulk of systematic theology seems regularly to go! What is surprising, of course, is that Barth does deal with his famous doctrine of “Nothingness” in §50 entitled, “God and Nothingness” in the third part volume of his doctrine of Creation, written some 15 years after Credo (1950). An interesting question is: Is this a departure of Barth’s against his own good advice?]

  2. There are also some answers to the faith that should not be sought within the framework of the doctrine of God as Creator. These include the doctrines of miracles, prayer, the Incarnation, and the Church. Barth is insistent that it is inappropriate to develop these doctrines as an extension to the doctrine of God as Creator. This is because they are “very special forms of divine immanence in the world” (38). Here Barth’s argument is worth hearing in full:

These things [miracles, prayer, etc.] pass beyond our range of vision because they are all bound up with the central mystery of the Incarnation, which is most assuredly misunderstood if with Schleiermacher it is understood as the completion and crown of creation. It is not that in Christ creation has reached its goal, but that in Christ the Creator has become–and this is something different–Himself creature; the creature has been assumed into unity with the Creator as first-fruits of a new creation. Projecting our thought ‘consequently’ along the ling of the creation dogma, we should have in one way or another to deny the Incarnation, Miracle, prayer, the Church.  . . . In truth it is just in the knowledge of Jesus Christ that we stand at the source of the creation, faith and dogma. (38)

[Barth’s christocentric method come to the fore in this chapter. As for me, I find his argument quite convincing: prayer, miracles and even the Church are special forms of divine immanence that cannot be understood in terms either in light of God as Creator, nor even in a doctrine of providence, but only in light of Incarnation. Though I can’t even begin to spell the implications of this out in full, let’s take “prayer” as an example. The prayer which Jesus taught his disciples, of course, begins with “Our Father.” But such a prayer is a strictly novel in the Jewish context of his day, not an extension of the doctrine that God is Creator (even though God as Father in the OT does sometimes stand in as a shorthand expression for “God is the Creator). On the contrary, our ability to know what is “meant” by saying, “Our Father” can only be discerned in and through the fact that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Father, in whose name we pray. Prayer, in other words, to God is not possible just because God is the one who created all things–a deist theology of God as creator has no real room for prayer because God is “absent” and “removed;” rather, prayer is possible to the Father only in light of the fact that Jesus is His Son in the flesh. Overall, a fascinating chapter!]