Barth and Heaven

November 24, 2015

Barth - CD III.3

Given the recent interest in matters pertaining to the afterlife and heaven, I decided to skim through Barth’s section on the kingdom of Heaven in Church Dogmatics III.3. To be clear, I was only able to skim, as I have other responsibilities at hand, so I am not able to give a distillation of the material.

In the process of skimming, I came across the following paragraph in an excursus, and I thought y’all would enjoy it. For Barth, heaven is “inaccessible” though “a created place like earth itself and the accessible reality of earth which we can explore and describe or at least indicate.”

Enjoy:

We have not so far considered all the biblical statements from which it emerges that the Old and New Testaments see heaven as a cosmic reality constituted and consolidated by the fact that, as there is an operation of God from heaven, so there is a being of God in heaven. …To the real whence of the divine activity there necessarily corresponds a real Where of its origin, a real place of God as its Subject and Author. This real place of God as the Lord acting in the world is heaven. Even heaven would not be a cosmic reality in the biblical sense if it were only the Whence of the divine activity and not as such also the Where, the place of its Subject and Author. The former itself would not be true without the latter. Heaven is a place: the place of God in view of which we have to say that God is not only transcendent in relation to the world but also immanent and present within it; the place of God from which His dealings with us, the history of the covenant, can take place in the most concrete sense, and His majesty, loftiness and remoteness can acquire the most concrete form, where otherwise they would simply be a product of human fantasy. As the place of God heaven is, of course, a place which is inconceivable to us. It cannot be compared with any other real or imaginary place. It is inaccessible. It cannot be explored or described or even indicated. All that can be affirmed concerning it is that it is a created place like earth itself and the accessible reality of earth which we can explore and describe or at least indicate; and that it is the place of God. The final point is the decisive one. And for good reasons the Old and New Testaments do not hesitate to speak of the fact that God is in heaven and heaven is the place of God.

[Karl Barth, CD III.3, p. 437]

On a related topic, I once posted on Barth’s doctrine of angels: “To deny the angels is to deny God Himself.”

5 Responses to “Barth and Heaven”

  1. So in short? Barth, “heaven is, because God is.” If you get the chance, man, it’d good to read more of your thoughts on this.I’m not there yet. Still finishing off II.1 and onto II.2

    • Kevin Davis said

      Yes, heaven is because God is, but Barth is speaking here of heaven as “a created place,” which means that he is not strictly identifying God’s existence and the existence of heaven; rather, it is in relation to our creation that God has his own created reality known as heaven.

      I am particularly interested in how Barth is not embarrassed about God having an alternate reality distinct from our created reality but presumably “like” it in some respects as a created reality. The distinction between these two realities is important: God’s metaphysical reality is not reduced to creation’s “becoming” into its fullness.

  2. Wyatt said

    Barth made similar statements about the existence of Eden in CD III/1. He said the four rivers were described in a way that could never reveal the location of Eden but it did exist. Still could be the historic vs historical difference in the German words for history. The issue is that heaven as part of Creation also is finite and is rolled up into Eternity with Barth. I’m still sore about what Barth wrote about the Ending time for earth and heaven

    • Kevin Davis said

      I would have to look at III.1, but I didn’t think that Barth believed in Eden as a literal place at all, not merely whether anyone could know the location or not. I’m open to be corrected on this.

      Anyway, I think Barth’s treatment of time is speculative but ultimately not too far afield. He has no interest in denying the continuity of our life with God after our death, once we understand that creaturely “time” is an extension of God’s “eternity,” where the latter defines and determines the former. The “rolling up” of time into eternity is simply the consummation of all things, and it is not the annihilation of the creature, as I have already said in our previous exchanges.

    • Boyd said

      I’m not sure why this is such an issue for you, Wyatt. On this and the afterlife stuff, you seem to persist in this false dichotomy that either: a) history must proceed *exactly* as it does on earth, or b) there is no life at all. Those are not the only options.

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