It really comes about and is only as that which God did not will and does not will and never will will. It has its being only in the fact that it is non-being, that which from the point of view of God is unintelligible and intolerable. It takes place only as the powerful—but, of course, before God absolutely powerless—irruption of that which is not into the fulfilment of His will.
It takes place, therefore, only under the original, radical, definitive and therefore finally triumphant No of God. It is not a limitation of His positive will. Rather it exists as it is completely conditioned by His non-will. It is alive and active in all its fearfulness only on the left hand of God.
But the atonement accomplished in Jesus Christ, like creation and the providential rule of God, is a work on the right hand of God, a work of His positive will. It is so in the highest possible sense, in a way which gives it priority and precedence over creation and providence. In Jesus Christ God comes to grips with that episode. Jesus Christ is in fact God’s retort to the sin of man."
Karl Barth, The Way of the Son of God into the Far Country
When I read these words for the first time, years ago in my Trinitarian meta-torrey with Dr. Sanders, a shiver ran down my spine. I thought I had never before read such a clear accounting of the origin and being of evil, and its relation to the will of God and his Providence.
I still think that.
Let's break it down a bit:
Barth calls the sin of man "an episode." There are several potential definitions for this, but I think the most likely is "an incident or period considered in isolation." That is, an event that is not continuous with the events before or after it. And indeed, Barth explains it further in his next sentence:
- Sin is "unnecessary": It is not needed or required - specifically, not needed or required by God's plan or providence.
- Sin is "disorderly": It goes against God's order, and is indeed the essence of disorderliness.
- Sin is "contrary to plan and purpose." This is the clearest statement so far. Barth directly states that sin goes against ANY plan or purpose of God's
"It has not escaped the knowledge and control of God" .Sin is NOT something that exists outside the knowledge and control of God. God is not confounded or befuddled by sin. He is not left helpless by it, and he is not powerless against it. He knows it, and he is in control over it.
"It is not a work of His creation and not a disposition of His providence." This is the point of the entire paragraph. Here, Barth seems to reject, in the strongest possible manner, the idea of felix culpa,, "Happy Fault," the idea that God uses evil to accomplish greater good than would have been possible without the evil.
Note the "greater", because it's important. God can clearly use evil for good, and in fact we see that idea throughout the entire Bible. But there is a HUGE difference between that, and the idea that there is a GREATER level of good that requires evil in order to be actualized.
This is what Barth is fighting against. And that is why he says, over and over again, that evil, in and of itself, is disorderly, contrary to plan and purpose, and unnecessary.
His language grows stronger: "It really comes about and is only as that which God did not will and does not will and never will will."
Sin is something that God did not desire or cause to exist; It is something that God does not will or desire or cause to exist: And it is something that God never will desire or cause to exist. In the strongest possible language, he lays it down that sin is something that exists entirely outside the active will of God. Instead, sin exists "as the powerful—but, of course, before God absolutely powerless—irruption of that which is not into the fulfilment of His will", and ultimately "under the original, radical, definitive and therefore finally triumphant No of God."
In other words, sin is a temporary disruption of God's plan, existing only in so far as God does not actively destroy it...which he eventually will, as he "comes to grips with that episode" in Jesus Christ.
So... why is this important?
Because it makes a huge difference whether God allows sin to happen, or causes it to happen.
Because it makes a huge difference whether the ultimate cause of sin lies in the sinner, or in God's will and providence.
And ultimately, because it makes a huge difference in whether sin can rightly be regarded as an enemy.