one striving for God's reign to come to earth, bringing his peace, wholeness, completeness, and health to all aspects of life.

Serving Others From a Position of Weakness

I ran across a great quote from Karl Barth in my reading today.  In case you don't know, he is a very well-known German theologian, probably the greatest theologian of the 20th century in many minds.  He wrote a HUGE work called Church Dogmatics that I believe is supposed to be a systematic theology (expounding on all the basics of the Christian faith), and he also wrote many other works.  This quote comes from his commentary on Romans, and he is commenting on Romans 2:1, which says, "You, therefore, are without excuse whenever you pass judgment on someone else, for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things."

Barth says, "Whenever thou dost erect thyself upon a pedastal, thou doest wrong; whensoever thou sayest 'I' or 'we' or 'it is so', thou dost exchange the glory of the incorruptible for the image of the corruptible (Romans 1.23)... The removal of thyself from the burden of the world by some pretended insight or vision does but press the burden of the world more heavily upon thee than upon any other.  By striding ahead of others, even though it be for their assistance, as though the secret of God were known to thee, thou dost manifest thyself ignorant of God's secret; for by thy removal from thy fellows thou dost render thyself incapable of assisting even the most helpless among them.  By beholding folly as the folly of others, thine own folly cries out to heaven" (Romans 56).

Though I disagree with Barth when he states that this is what Paul means in 2:1, I love his thoughts.  I especially resonated with the statement that when we remove ourselves from the burdens of the world by some pretended insight, striding ahead of others even to help them, we show ignorance.  To help and serve and love others, we cannot claim positions or power or wisdom or knowledge or prerogative.  We simply must offer our help to them as one sinner serving another.  When we act like we are in some sense an expert, like we have something to offer, it is then that we are furthest from being able to make any impact on the needs of others...  It is then that our "own folly cries out to heaven"!


James Fowler September 15, 2010 at 7:16 PM  

Indeed, "our folly cries out to heaven" whenever we seek to elevate ourselves, unwilling to identify with and defer to "the least of these," our brethren by creation and/or redemption. The ecclesial community at large suffers from such an inflated perspective of self-importance in their self-determined "believe-right" and "do-right" religious conclaves, that the world around them has written them off as pompous asses unconcerned about the real needs of humanity.

Certainly not meaning to "pass judgment," but in the quest for accuracy it should be noted that Karl Barth was a "Swiss Reformed theologian," who was, indeed, likely the greatest theologian of the 20th century.

Kevin Bobrow September 15, 2010 at 8:52 PM  

Thanks for the thoughts, Jim! I agree with your commend about "self-determined 'believe-right' and 'do-right' religious conclaves." We must stop trying to "save the world" from our positions of self-righteousness and instead try to love the world through humility in the way of Christ...

And thanks for the correction! I should have known that--for some reason when I see the name Barth I always think German!


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