Love in an Alien Land: Karl Barth on the Word Made Flesh

From Karl Barth’s Dogmatics in Outline, a short book developed from a series of lectures he gave on the Apostle’s Creed. In this section, Barth is discussing the line “under Pontius Pilate”:

“How comes Pontius Pilate into the Creed?

“This name in connexion with the Passion of Christ makes it unmistakably clear that this Passion of Jesus Christ, this unveiling of man’s rebellion and of God’s wrath, yet also of His mercy, did not take place in heaven or in some remote planet or even in some world of ideas; it took place in our time, in the centre of the world-history in which our life is played out. So we must not escape from this life. We must not take flight to a better land or to some height or other unknown, nor to any spiritual Cloud-Cukcooland nor to a Christian fairyland. God has come into our life in its utter unloveliness and frightfulness. That the Word became flesh also means that it became temporal, historical. It assumed the form which belongs to the human creature, in which there are such folk as this very Pontius Pilate – the people we belong to and who are also ourselves at any time on a slightly larger scale! It is not necessary to close our eyes to this, for God has not closed His either; He has entered into it all. The Incarnation of the Word is an extremely concrete event, in which a human name may play a part. God’s Word has the character of the hic et nunc. There is nothing in the opinion of Lessing that God’s Word is an ‘eternal truth of reason”, and not an ‘accidental truth of history’. God’s history is indeed an accidental truth of history, like this petty commandant. God was not ashamed to exist in this accidental state. To the factors which determined our human time and human history belong, in virtue of the name Pontius Pilate, the life and Passion of Jesus as well. We are not left alone in this frightful world. Into this alien land God has come to us.

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