When seeking to understand how Barth viewed the relationship between God and creation, one must return to his very unique view of revelation. God “reveals himself through himself,” which according to Barth is through Jesus Christ alone. See my former post (and comments) on Barth and revelation for how this is fleshed out in greater detail here.
Since Barth is very Christ-centered in his theology, it should come as little surprise that Barth believes that the “insight that man owes his existence and form, together with all the reality distinct from God, to God’s creation,” is founded upon the divine self-witness in Christ. What will probably frustrate many Christian philosophers, particularly those of a more evangelical stripe, is that Barth maintains that even knowing who God is as Creator is not derived from the world but is possible only through in Jesus Christ (128). This is because for Barth all revelation must be of a redemptive nature, if it is truly going to be called “Christian.” This leaves little, in fact probably no room for what we call “general or natural revelation” today.
However, why did God create in the first place? According to Veli-Matti Karkkainen’s (from now on abbreviated as VMK) understanding of Barth, Barth views God’s motivations for creation to center around Jesus Christ. It appears that God needed creatures in order that there would be the one creature Jesus Christ.
For Barth creation is the “external basis of the covenant” made with man (or Jesus?) and since it is based on grace, “creation is grace.” God’s act of creating is a “free positing of reality by the omnipotence of divine love.” God relates to the world on the basis of love, and binds himself in a covenant with creation freely and willingly. This leads to Barth’s famous understanding of God as “the one who loves in freedom (128-129).”
Finally, regarding Christ and creation, VMk points out that Barth held that if God is as has been revealed to be in Jesus, then it is inevitable that he would create distinctly from Himself. In fact, VMK points out that for Barth “Creation and incarnation flow out of God’s self-willed free decision to let the eternal intratrinitarian love extend beyond the triune fellowship.” This is the God revealed in Christ, and for Barth there is no other (129).
I must say that Barth’s view of creation was difficult for me to grasp, at least how VMK presented it. Here are the questions i’m struggling with:
1. Why does God “need” creatures?
2. In connection with that, why was it so important for Jesus to be a creature?
3. To take a different slant, what does it mean for creation itself to be a covenant?
4. Finally, is God’s covenant with Jesus Christ, or with humanity? I’m sure the answer is both, since Barth takes Jesus’ humanity seriously, but what is the chain of reasoning Barth takes to get there?
Barth lovers come to my aid in my time of intellectually confused need!