Barth on the individual, part II: we may let go of God, but God does not let go of us

It is just because man may genuinely and legitimately be an “individual” before God that if he wills to be this apart from and against God it can only be per nefas and to his own ruin. The “individual” man who desires and undertakes this posits and conducts himself as the man who is rejected by God from all eternity. It can only be man’s own godless choice that wills to be this “individual,” the man who is isolated in relation to God. He therefore chooses the possibility which is excluded by the divine election of grace. For this isolation is not intended for man in the divine election of grace (in Jesus Christ). On the contrary, it is a satanic possibility which is excluded and destroyed. And because the divine election of grace, because Jesus Christ, is the beginning of all the ways and works of God, man chooses that which is in itself nothing when he returns to this satanic possibility, when he chooses isolation in relation to God.

His choice itself and as such is, therefore, null. He chooses as and what he cannot choose. He chooses as if he were able to choose otherwise than in correspondence to his election. He chooses the possibility which God has excluded by his election. To that extent he chooses godlessly. He desires and undertakes to go into the void. In the negative act of this void choice of nothing, he is vanquished and overtaken even before he begins by that which God has eternally decreed for him and done for him in the election of Jesus Christ. The testimony of the community is addressed to this godless man, this man engaged in this negative act. It does not deny that he does this act; on the contrary, it asserts this. Nor can it reverse it. It knows and confronts man—every man—as one who is isolated over against God by his own choice, and who in and with this isolation must be rejected by God. It can do nothing else but testify to him the nullity of this choice and the futility of his desire and undertaking. It testifies to him, in opposition to his own choice, the gracious choice of God in Jesus Christ as the beginning of all God’s ways and works, and therefore the futility of his own desire and undertaking. In defiance of God and to his own destruction he may indeed behave and conduct himself as isolated man, and therefore as the man who is by God. He may represent this man. But he has no right to be this man, for in Jesus Christ God has ascribed this to Himself with all that it involves and therefore taken it away from man.

What man can do with his negative act can only be the admittedly real and evil and fatal recollection and reproduction of that which has been removed from him; but for all its wickedness and disastrous results this negative act as such can never be other than impotent. Man can do it and persist in it. He can become a sinner and place himself within the shadow of divine judgment which his powerless representation of the man rejected by God is unable to escape. He does all this. But he cannot reverse or change the eternal decision of God—by which He regards, considers and wills man, not in his isolation over against Him, but in His Son Jesus. Man can certainly keep on lying (and does so); but he cannot make truth falsehood. He can certainly rebel (he does so); but he can accomplish nothing which abolishes the choice of God. He can certainly flee from God (he does so); but he cannot escape Him. He can certainly hate God and be hateful to God (he does and is so); but he cannot change into its opposite the eternal love of God which triumphs even in His hate. He can certainly give himself to isolation (he does so—he thinks, wills and behaves godlessly, and is godless); but even in his isolation he must demonstrate that which he wishes to controvert—the impossibility of playing the “individual” over against God. He may let go of God, but God does not let go of him.

—Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II.2, 316-317