be those who love

In KD I/2, § 18 Karl Barth explains „The life of the children of God“, which he defines as follows: „Gods Revelation creates, where it is believed in and conceived in the Holy Spirit, such people who can’t be [exist] without searching God in Jesus Christ and who can’t let it be to testify that He has found them.“ (KD I/2, 397) He develops this definition in three sections: 1. Man as actor of the Word, 2. The Love of God, 3. The Praise of God. In section 2 Barth has made a famous pun: „Er [der erlöste Mensch] wird auch im ewigen Leben, wo er Gott von Angesicht zu Angesicht schauen wird, ein Liebender sein, oder er wird nicht sein“ (KD I/2, 409) – „In eternity when we [as the redeemed] see God face to face, either we will be those who love, or we will not be“ (CD 1.2, 372) (the English translation renders the singular „he“ of the German text into the plural „we“).
This sentence is found in a small-print paragraph. Barth explains his use of small-print in the introduction to vol. I/1 of the KD by „my intention to devote more space to the hints of biblical-theological preconditions, theological-historical contexts and polemic relationships of my sentences“ (KD I/1, vii). In other words: By the additional small-print paragraphs (which mostly exist thanks to the work of Charlotte von Kirschbaum) he wants to make sure that the reader realises, that Barths theological conclusions are based on scripture, that they converge with the tradition of the (reformed) church and that he’s adopted the essential theological literature.
Now the pun about being a „lover“ or not being at all represents an exegesis „in a nutshell“ of 1Cor 13:8, where Paul says: ἡ ἀγάπη οὐδέποτε πίπτει, „Love never faileth“ (ASB). Barth uses the quotation of 1Cor 13:8 to support his argument, that love is the essence of belief: „der Glaube geht der Liebe nicht voran, sondern indem der Mensch zum Glauben kommt, beginnt er auch zu lieben. Begänne er nicht zu lieben, so wäre er auch nicht zum Glauben gekommen“ (KD I,2, 408) – „faith does not precede love, but by finding faith, one also starts to love. Wouldn’t they start to love, one wouldn’t have found faith“. He continues: „There is no higher or better being and doing than love, so that we could leave love behind at a certain level“, and to prove this he quotes from 1Cor 13:8, thus arguing that if love even does continue to be the essential link between God and Redeemed in eternal life, „we will be those who love, or we will not be“. In Barths argument love becomes an ontological quality of faith, which is quite consequentially, as in Barths reasoning Christ is the center of faith, and the link between God and Believer is established through and by Christ alone. In other words: if someone wouldn’t have loved, they wouldn’t have been able to believe and thus wouldn’t have been delivered – hence „will not be“. But this for Barth is just a hypothetical possibility.
Does Barth make a statement about eschatology? I don’t think so. Barth isn’t afraid to advance „where no one has ventured before“ – the entire volume of KD III/3, for example, is devoted to angels and the Evil. And there is also this well-known anecdote that a lady asked Barth if she’ll meet her loved ones again in heaven, and Barth answers: Not your loved ones alone … But in my opinion, Barth isn’t joining in speculations about eternity and redemption, but tries to make sense of the statements of the Bible. In the case of 1Cor 13:8, it’s the words οὐδέποτε πίπτει. Why should Paul bother to say this about love? Because the love he praises in 1Cor 13 is, as we know, not our human capacity of love, but it is Christ himself. Because Christ didn’t „fall“ (which is the basic meaning of πίπτει), but was raised by God, we will not fall either but „abide in Christs love“ (John 15:9), for he himself is love.

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