Gentleness of God

Barth cites this passage from the Epistle to Diognetus to emphasize the gentleness of God in His self-revelation in the Son. God sent His very son: “He did not, as one might have imagined, send to men any servant, or angel, or ruler, or any one of those who bear sway over earthly things, or one of those to whom the government of things in the heavens has been entrusted, but the very Creator and Fashioner of all things—by whom He made the heavens—by whom he enclosed the sea within its proper bounds—whose ordinances all the stars faithfully observe—from whom the sun has received the measure of his daily course to be observed— whom the moon obeys, being commanded to shine in the night, and whom the stars also obey, following the moon in her course; by whom all things have been arranged, and placed within their proper limits, and to whom all are subject—the heavens and the things that are therein, the earth and the things that are therein, the sea and the things that are therein—fire, air, and the abyss—the things which are in the heights, the things which are in the depths, and the things which lie between. This [messenger] He sent to them.”

Yet, the Father sent the Creator Son in a particular, unexpected manner:

“Was it then, as one might conceive, for the purpose of exercising tyranny, or of inspiring fear and terror? By no means, but under the influence of clemency and meekness. As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God He sent Him; as to men He sent Him; as a Saviour He sent Him, and as seeking to persuade, not to compel us; for violence has no place in the character of God.”

Barth ( Church Dogmatics The Doctrine of the Word of God, Volume 1, Part 2: The Revelation of God; Holy Scripture: The Proclamation of the Church , 35-6) glosses: “God could have revealed Himself immediately, in His invisible glory. Or in order to be manifest to us, the Word might have assumed the form of a being previously and otherwise foreign to us, a being belonging to some other cosmos of reality.” Instead, though revelation is “mystery,” yet as such it “does not anywhere infringe the nature and history of our cosmos.” Signs and wonders occur, but “things happen as they have always and everywhere happened since this cosmos began to exist.” God’s Word is revealed “at a definite point in space and time” where “lives and dies a human being like us.”

If revelation had taken a different form, Barth thinks, it would have been far from our salvation. If God had come “in the form of an unknown being from another world,” it would have been “the end of all things, because it would mean the abolition of the conditions of our existence.”

Gentleness everywhere here: Gentleness in not overwhelming us; gentleness in the very form of God’s self-revelation; gentleness in God’s capacity to enter creation so softly that He does not tear its fabric. Even when He comes “veiled” in humanity, “He yet does not meet us as a stranger” (37).

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