God's Being Is in Becoming: God's Passion
God’s being-in-act becomes manifest in the temporal history of Jesus Christ. The temporal history of Jesus Christ is the fulfilment in time of God’s eternal resolve. The fulfilment in time of God’s eternal resolve is God’s existence as man in Jesus Christ. God’s existence as man is not only God’s existence as creature, but equally God’s handing of himself over to the opposition to God which characterises human existence. The consequence of God’s self-surrender is his suffering of the opposition to God which afflicts human existence in opposition to God – even to death on the cross.
In this sense also, God's being is in becoming. It is a being in a becoming threatened by perishing. For humanity in opposition to God is condemned to perish. And in the existence of Jesus Christ God suffers this very condemnation. ‘The more seriously we take this, the stronger becomes the temptation to approximate to the view of a contradiction and conflict in God Himself’ (CD IV/1, 185). Barth takes the passion of God very seriously. ‘The Almighty exists and acts and speaks here in the form of One who is weak and impotent, the eternal as One who is temporal and perishing . . . The One who lives for ever has fallen a prey to death. The Creator is subjected to and overcome by the onslaught of that which is not’ (176). But he categorically rejects that we must draw from this the consequence of a contradiction through which God would come into conflict with himself (185). For Barth this consequence is blasphemy. However, his rejection of this consequence does not lead to any toning down of his discussion of God’s suffering, but, conversely, to a critique of the traditional metaphysical concept of God, according to which God cannot suffer without falling into conflict with his being. In this critique, Barth’s opposition to every kind of natural theology received its most pointed statement. No concept of God arrived at independent of the reality of Jesus Christ may decide what is possible and impossible for God. Rather, we are to say from what God as man in Jesus Christ is, does and suffers: ‘God can do this’ (187). For ‘who God is and what it is to be divine is something we have to learn where God has revealed Himself and His nature, the essence of the divine. . . . It is not for us to speak of a contradiction and rift in the being of God, but to learn to correct our notions of the being of God, to reconstitute them in the light of the fact that He does this. We may believe that God can and must only be absolute in contrast to all that is relative, exalted in contrast to all that is lowly, active in contrast to all suffering, inviolable in contrast to all temptation, transcendent in contrast to all immanence, and therefore divine in contrast to everything human, in short that He can and must be only the “Wholly Other.” But such beliefs are shown to be quite untenable, and corrupt and pagan, by the fact that God does in fact be and do this in Jesus Christ’ (186).
Thus it is not a contradiction of the definition of God’s being as ‘being-in-act’ when suffering is predicated of God. God’s suffering corresponds to his being-in-act. But God’s suffering is his being-in-act; thus ‘from the very first’ God’s ‘passion’ is to be understood as ‘the divine action’ (254). It is therefore no paradox when we also speak of ‘God’s being in the act of suffering.’ This statement would be a paradox if in his essence God were a god incapable of suffering, as was sometimes maintained in the early church, following the metaphysical concept of God in Greek philosophy. On the basis of Barth’s inference from God’s being revealed to his ‘inner’ being, we shall have to understand, in God himself, too, God’s ‘being-in-act’ which corresponds to the passion of the Son of God, as in a certain sense a passive being – passive in the sense of obedience. This passivity of obedience in God is also the highest form of activity in so far as it is affirmed passivity. It belongs ‘to the inner life [my italics] of God that there should take place within it obedience’ (201). In the obedience of the Son of God to the Father, the unity of the being of God is not jeopardized through the Son’s inferiority to the Father, but the unity of the divine being is concrete precisely, indeed, in its ‘modes of being which cannot be separated, which cannot be autonomous, but which cannot cease to be different. He is God in their concrete relationships the one to the other, in the history which takes place between them’ (203).
The unity of being in which God ‘in himself . . . is both One who is obeyed and Another who obeys’ (201) distinguishes God’s ‘being-in-act’ from a being which is to be understood as ‘a divine death’ (561). Precisely because obedience from eternity is not strange to the life of God, and precisely because this being is utterly other than a ‘divine death,’ God can suffer and die as man. This innertrinitarian ability of God must not, however, be thought of as a transcendental condition of possibility for the passion of God in Jesus Christ. Rather, God’s ability means that God is Lord. ‘The image, the correspondence in which He has set it up and revealed it among us, for our salvation, for the reconciliation of the world with God, is, however, His obedience in humility’ (208).
In this obedience God suffers, in that in Jesus Christ he exists as man. And in this obedience God abandons himself to death. Passion and death are not a metaphysical piece of misfortune which overtook the Son of God who became man. God chose this ‘fate.’ In his passion and death he did not therefore somehow waive ‘His deity (as did the Japanese Emperor in 1945),’ but was rather ‘in this humiliation . . . supremely God . . . in this death . . . supremely alive,’ so that ‘He has maintained and revealed His deity in the passion of this man as His eternal Son’ (246f). And so God as God has declared himself identical with the crucified Jesus. Therefore one must not exclude from this suffering the Father who gave his Son over to suffer death. ‘It is not at all the case that God has no part in the suffering of Jesus Christ even in His mode of being as the Father’ (IV/2, 357). ‘This fatherly fellow-suffering of God’ is rather ‘the basis of the humiliation of His Son,’ in that in the giving up of his Son God suffers ‘the alien suffering of the creature, of man, which he takes to Himself in Him’ (357). Indeed, God’s fatherly fellow-suffering as ‘the basis of the humiliation of his Son’ is ‘the truth of that which takes place historically in His crucifixion’ (357).
Thus the Father, too, participates with the Son in the passion, and the divine unity of God’s modes of being proves itself in the suffering of Jesus Christ. God’s being is a being in the act of suffering. But even in suffering God’s being remains a being in act, a being in becoming. God persists in the historicality of his being. And this persistence of God in the historicality of his being allows this being to remain even in death a being in becoming. In giving himself away God does not give himself up. But he gives himself away because he will not give up humanity. The Son of God who is united with the Son of Man, the Son of God as man, is certainly dead. This dead man cannot make himself alive. Here Barth thinks in strictly anti-docetic terms. That even in death God’s being remains a being in becoming is not the work of the Son of God who died as man. But God’s being remains a being-in-act only in the constantly new acts of God’s self-affirmation. And so God’s persistence in his historicality in the face of the death of Jesus Christ is a new act also. In the face of the death of the Son of God who died as man, ‘God’s being remains in becoming’ means the new act of the resurrection, which happens to the Son of God and with him to the man Jesus. In saying Yes to the dead Son of God, God also said Yes to humanity, indeed, with the same Yes. In that here God corresponds to himself anew, he also brings humanity anew into correspondence with God. For in the resurrection of Jesus Christ humanity is given a share in the being of God which asserts itself against death. But as grace this sharing, too, belongs to God’s being-in act. And so it belongs to God’s being to become the God of every person.
—Eberhard Jüngel, God's Being Is in Becoming: The Trinitarian Being of God in the Theology of Karl Barth, trans. John Webster, 98-103.