Magnificent lines from Barth:
“Everyone who has to contend with unbelief should be advised that he ought not to take his own unbelief too seriously. Only faith is to be taken seriously; and if we have faith as a grain of mustard seed, that suffices, for the devil has lost his game.”
—Dogmatics in Outline
This is one of the great intuitions of Protestantism. And, of course, from a critically Catholic viewpoint, one can find fault with it: but why? To say “only faith is to be taken seriously” can be understood in the light of that Christian—and Catholic—humility which puts all its trust in God. Our “good works” are necessary, hut they are not to be “taken seriously.” The Catholic dogma of justification never told anyone that he had to take his good works seriously in the sense of trusting completely in his own righteousness, but to take one’s good works seriously is to be a pharisee. Only faith is to be taken seriously because only the mercy of God is serious. And if we put too much emphasis on the seriousness of what we do, we not only make the judgment of God the most serious reality in our life, but we are in fact judged: we are judged as men who have taken seriously something
other than His infinite mercy. He who takes mercy seriously will hardly sin seriously. He who takes his own works seriously will not be kept, by that seriousness, from sin. It is pseudo-seriousness. It is not good enough.
What about unbelief, then? If faith is to be taken seriously, it follows that unbelief is also serious. No, because in taking faith seriously it is God whom we take seriously, not ourselves, not our faith. I do not take faith seriously as something which I definitively possess, but I take seriously God Who gives me faith und renews that gift, by His mercy, at every moment, in spite of my unbelief. This I think is one of the central intuitions of evangelical Christianity, and it is something which we must all learn. It is something, too, which many Protestants have themselves forgotten, becoming instead obsessed with faith as it is in themselves, constantly watching themselves to see if faith is still there, which means turning faith into a good work and being justified, consequently by works. “To believe is to be free to trust in Him quite alone” and to be free from every other form of dependence and reliance. This is true freedom, and from it springs the capacity for every good work, for it removes all obstacles to love in our hearts.
Barth stresses the fact that God must not be regarded as “pure power’ in the sense of unbridled and arbitrary potentia. His power, potestas, is the power of love and truth. It is not the infinite, arbitrary will that flies into action unchecked by any responsibility to anything but its own whim: He is responsible to His own Love and His Truth. His power is the power of love.
“Absolute power,” power responsible only to itself is the program of the devil—it becomes the ideal of man who thinks that the “power” to sin is essential freedom.
Barth’s concept of evil: that which has been denied existence by God, and which we affirm by our own choice, thus attempting to give it existence in spite of God.
The world is the theater of God’s glory—says Calvin, following Augustine. Man is the witness of the great acts of God, and “has to express what he has seen.” It is a great conception, but it is inadequate. I like better St. Irenaeus, who brings it even closer: man himself is the glory of God, but this glory in himself is not a spectacle which man contemplates. It is something that he lives. Gloria Dei vivens homo. I think it is most important today to get away from the idea of Cod, God’s glory, God’s attributes merely as “objects” which man contemplates, and then praises. Even though man may see nothing whatever of God, his life may still be filled with God’s glory. To say that he will “know” this in another world is all right, as long as we remember that we do not know precisely what we are talking about.
Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, pages 333-4