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Eating Locust and Wild Honey

Eating Locust and Wild Honey


I recently began reading Karl Barth's "The Great Promise"  (a set of lectures of exegesis on Luke 1). The gospel of Luke is my favorite book in the New Testament and contains some of my favorite passages in all of Scripture. Karl Barth is one of my favorite theologians. I'd like to highlight some of the cool things he brings forth from the text.

On John the Baptist being a man of God,

"Everything else one can possibly become. A man of God one cannot become. Either one is or one is not. To be a man of God is not the result of human energy or skill or profundity, but to be a man of God happens through grace imparted to a particular man. The Bible by relating childhood stories tells us this: the men of whom we hear are what they are totally through the grace of God." (The Great Promise, 2)

This is a great a reminder to those of us who would seek to minister the word. Those who take up the revelation of God become a "man of God." But there is no amount of human effort that can work this in us. Of course this is encouraging to the lowly, but it is also a warning to the proud.

In speaking on the righteousness of Zechariah and Elizabeth,

"They were both righteous before God. In Israel, the land of the Covenant, where the Law of Moses is actually read and kept, where the words of the prophets are listened to, and where man responds as the prophets responded, there man is righteous before God. Where he does not place his confidence in himself, not in any respect, neither with regard to what he is commanded to do in life, nor with regard to his fate or that of his people, nor with regard to the fate of his community, nor finally with regard to the ultimate question: How do I stand before God? Where man cannot expect any of these things from himself, but knows that God, the Lord of the Covenant, in his kindness, in his mercy, with his help, with his forgiveness, is the answer to all these questions asked by him or put to him there man is righteous before God. Whoever lives in this confidence and throws all his troubles all along the way upon the Lord, he is righteous before God...Here an invisible tie is effective: Whoever knows so much that he can place his confidence in nothing but God's grace, knows also that he cannot forget the law of God." (The Great Promise, 3-5)

This is a phenomenal section of Barth walking the fine line of Protestant "justification by faith alone." The "how do I stand before God?" must be rejected along any line of thinking. It is in the full throwing of a life upon the mercy of God that one stands righteous. Yet, God's mercy is not unknown. It is not left unrevealed. Throwing our lives upon God's mercy is a response to revelation. This revelation does not come without commands. Thus the grace of God and His law cannot be twisted as enemies to each other.

In speaking about the visible marker of John the ascetic and John the invisible man of God,

"The hiddenness of his being before God will correspond to a very concrete visibleness. Thus he will go his way. The figure of John the Baptist preaching at the Jordan in clothes of camel hair is not separable from his hidden being before God; it is not something incidental. John the Baptist would not be John the Baptist without eating locusts and wild honey. Of course, he would not be John the Baptist either if he did not fulfill his spiritual charge, if he did not preach repentance. But when the kingdom of God is proclaimed, a sign in the concrete world needs to be set up, something definitive needs to become visible. For the Church cannot be merely invisible in the world, but to its invisibleness corresponds a visibleness, perhaps a very strange, very offensive, very controversial visibleness. Why the Church is raised up out of the other earthly things in just such a way cannot be answered. The answer consists in the commands which God issues to the Church." (The Great Promise, 11)

So much here that I will need months to unpack in my mind. The correlation between the visible and invisible is lovely. The truthfulness of the invisible nature of the church should be evident. The driving visibleness of the church has become a stern question in today's "look like the world" movements. There is something to be grabbed from the example of John the Baptist. He could not fulfill God's mission without the commands. He could not "be John the Baptist without eating locust and wild honey."

What are the locust and wild honey that God has commanded us to eat? And what locust and wild honey have we given up that we may blend with the world?

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