Some more advice from Uncle Karl

by Kim on July 28, 2010

Dear Mr. N.N.,

You very kindly sent me your writing along with an accompanying letter. I thank you for this but I also have to admit quite openly that I took no pleasure in reading it.

As opposed to what you learned from the other side, I have to say that precisely ‘in essentials’ I am not one with you and that I do not expect this publication of yours to have any salutary effect.

Why not? Because I do not detect in your work the slightest trace of what is called in holy scripture the peace of God that passes all understanding.

You say many correct things. But what is correct is not always true. Only what is said kindly is true. You do not speak kindly in a single line.

You utter a powerful No on all possible sides. It is indeed necessary to say No too. But the right No can only be one which derives from and is upheld by an even more powerful Yes. I hear you say only No.

You accuse. That too has to be done. But again, if this is Christian accusation, it has to be enclosed in the promise, in the glad tidings of God’s grace. In you it is naked accusation.

You demand that others repent. Sometimes one must dare to do this. But only he may do so who himself repents and lives in repentance. You preach down from your high horse, righteous amid the unrighteous, pure among the impure..

Dear Mr. N.N., I am in my eighty-third year; I am ahead of you by many years along with their experience of life, and I can only say: It cannot be done as you are trying to do it in your book. A Christian should not speak as you do either to his fellow Christians or to his fellow-men, nor should the church speak thus to the world.

I hope you will not feel dressed down by what I say as you were by that Zurich pastor. I concede that you mean well. But in my serious opinion you must mean well in a better way….

Karl Barth, from a letter to N.N. in Switzerland, in Karl Barth: Letters: 1961-1968 (1981), pp. 328-29.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1

dh 07.28.10 at 11:02 pm

BTW Kim, I was wondering who “NN” was and what book “NN” wrote that got Uncle Karl to “sleep on the wrong side of the bed”? (I’m not attacking the person. I’m just trying to be humorous.) :) We all need some humor and I would hope that Uncle Karl would understand. :)

2

Pam 07.29.10 at 8:27 am

Sounds like this is about “grace” or rather lack of it. It can be handy to have a wise uncle in the family.

3

PamBG 07.29.10 at 12:48 pm

You say many correct things. But what is correct is not always true. Only what is said kindly is true.

I like this idea a lot although I don’t always live up to it. But I think that “this is most certainly true”.

4

Simon 07.29.10 at 1:08 pm

Some sound advice for one protagonist with this blog there.

5

Kim 07.29.10 at 1:23 pm

Absolutely, Pam BG. I’m quite sure that the octogenerian Barth himself, remorseful over his own lapses in polemical kindness down the years, was addressing his words to himself as well as to N.N. (who I suspect was some raving evangelical). The big ask is: How does one be justly angry kindly? And I guess the answer is similar to the one concerning loving someone you don’t like, or even can’t stand: you try at least to bracket the emotion and write to and work for the bastard’s good.

6

PamBG 07.29.10 at 3:19 pm

The big ask is: How does one be justly angry kindly? And I guess the answer is similar to the one concerning loving someone you don’t like, or even can’t stand: you try at least to bracket the emotion and write to and work for the bastard’s good.

I think that’s pretty much it.

Unfortunately most of us - myself included - don’t really engage in genuinely righteous anger. We just get angry at people who don’t agree with us.

I think that God is a “constructive” God. And “constructive” to me, is not about nicey-nicey. It’s about telos. God is more concerned with working toward (constructing) God’s teleological goal than about putting effort into destroying those who don’t agree. They may destroy themselves in the end by stubbornly standing in God’s way, but destruction isn’t the Divine Goal. Although it is sometimes ours.

7

Kim 07.29.10 at 4:13 pm

Jim West, over at Zwinglius Redivivus, shows, I think, real kindness to Benny Hinn when he makes him the “Recipient of the First Annual Heretical Moron Liftime Achievement Award”. One is spoiled for choice in isolating any specific theological imbecility from Hinn’s distinguished CV, but the following clerihew picks up the particular point that prompted Jim’s generosity:

Benny Hinn
Is at it again,
This time, with the smarts of a turd,
Declaring that Adam could fly like a bird.

8

dh 07.29.10 at 4:22 pm

Maybe N.N. had Grace but Uncle Karl couldn’t recognize it? Maybe N.N. had some definitive truth, it seemed Karl recognized some in some of Karls sentences, and rather than put the guy down encourage him? Without reading the book from whoever NN then do we truly understand who had the proper understanding of Grace and Truth from the letter by Karl?

9

Tony Buglass 07.29.10 at 4:34 pm

DH, how much do you know about Karl Barth? I read very little of his theology, and that was over 30 years ago; I’ve never felt the need to go back to it. But a teacher is much more than his books. Barth was deeply involved with the struggles of the German Churches during the rise of Nazism, and was one of the founder members of the Confessing Church, along with people like Bonhoeffer and Niemoller. He wrote most of the 1934 Declaration of Barmen, taking a strong stand against the Nazification of the churches. Here was a great man, whose devout discipleship was earthed in the real struggle for true faithfulness in life and witness. I suspect that by the time he was in his 80s, like most who have walked a long road of faith, he had the maturity and understanding to see N N clearly, to see his youthful deficiencies for what they were, and address them with the loving directness which would hopefully have made N N look again at what he was trying to do.

10

dh 07.29.10 at 4:50 pm

Tony, that is why I said maybe? I haven’t read much of Barth but what I have read I disagree to a point. I was just inerested to know what NN wrote to really truly understand these things. I’m sure, and from the letter I agree, Karl meant well. I guess we can assume from his life all the things that you say but without having who NN is and reading what NN wrote it is kind of hard to see one way or the other as to who showed the Grace and Truth.

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