negation and affirmation

[Re: the writers of Job, the Psalms, Isaiah:] Their theme — and it is the proper theme of history — is not concerned with denying or affirming what men are IN THEMSELVES; it is concerned with the perception of the uncertainty of men in relation to what they are not, that is to say, in their relation to God who is their eternal Origin. Thence comes their radical attack! It has nothing to do with that relative criticism which must, of course, be exercised upon all religion, ethics, and civilization. For the same reason, it cannot remain satisfied with that relative approval which must be awarded to every human achievement when placed in its own context. The disturbance lies far deeper and is infinitely more than mere unrest, for it reaches out to a peace which is beyond the experience of normal human life. Its negation is all-embracing, since it proceeds from an all-embracing affirmation. Those who lead this attack are moved neither by pessimism, nor by the desire of tormenting themselves, nor by any pleasure in mere negation; they are moved by a grim horror of illusion; by a determination to bow before no empty tabernacle; by a single-minded and earnest striving after what is real and essential; by a firm rejection of every attempt to escape from the veritable relation between God and man; by a genuine refusal to be deceived by those penultimate and antepenultimate truths with which human research has to be content both at the beginning and at the end of its investigation. They allow full right to the materialistic, secular, “sceptical” view of the world; and then, assuming this final scepticism, they set forth upon the road which leads to the knowledge of God and thereby to the knowledge of the eternal significance of the world and of history. No road to the eternal meaning of the created world has ever existed, save the road of negation. This is the lesson of history. 

— Karl Barth, commentary on Romans 3

February 8, 2021

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