Made in Joy, Made for Joy

Karl Barth has 99 problems, but ignoring the affections ain’t one. Likely the most joy-centered systematician in church history, Barth is easily the most joy-centered theologian of the first half of the 20th century. In Church Dogmatics alone the reader finds 2,000 references to joy, happiness, and the affections.

And while those mentions are well scattered throughout every volume, there’s a noticeable concentration of the language in his doctrine of God (vol. 2, part 1, §31.2), specifically on the eternity and glory of God. He knew any discussion of God’s glory was also a discussion of God’s joy because these two realities are indivisible (see 1 Tim 1:11). In this section Barth argues, akin to Edwards, that every creature finds its origin in “the movement of God’s self-glorification and the communication of His joy.” You and I exist because God’s self-glory calls forth an interaction with his happiness. We are not accidental products of this joy, like a pot over-boiled. Each life is made with intention. And each life derives its life from the eternal being of God. Thus, in turn, “God wills them and loves them because, far from having their existence of themselves and their meaning in themselves, they have their being and existence in the movement of the divine self-glorification, in the transition to them of His immanent joyfulness.” God’s love for man is grounded in the potential he/she has to experience divine joy in his glorification, in this life and eternally.

Furthermore, in the joy of God we find our vocation. “It is their destiny to offer a true if inadequate response in the temporal sphere to the jubilation with which the Godhead is filled from eternity to eternity. This is the destiny which man received and lost, only to receive it again, inconceivably and infinitely increased by the personal participation of God in man’s being accomplished in Jesus Christ.” Our union to Christ opens new levels of divine joy for us and more levels of divine glorification than if our eternal flourishing did not require the blood of Christ. In Christ, our affectional lives are tuned to the frequency of God’s song of self-glorification, though our response and vocation of worship, in this life, will always remain an “inadequate response.” Regardless, we are caught up into the joy of the Father in the Son.

Now, all of this is readily found in the works of Edwards, as if Barth is just paraphrasing. It’s in the next turn that gets interesting when he immediately introduces the context of eternal judgment. “The reaction of God even against sin, the meaning even of His holiness, even of His judgment, the meaning which is not extinguished but fulfilled even in damnation and hell, is that God is glorious, and that His glory does not allow itself to be diminished, to be disturbed in its gladness and the expression of that gladness, to be checked in the overflowing of its fullness.”

Because all creatures exist in the God-centered expression of God’s joy, any creature that impedes the joy of God, any creature who refuses to be a channel of divine joy into the world — namely, the self-centered creature — meets the wrath of God on the basis that he/she/angel has forever failed to be what he/she/angel was designed to be. In other words, hell is reserved for the God-designed creature who has refused, in sin, to participate in the joy of God in his self-glorification. Eternal judgment meets the one who chooses to thwart his vocation, who refuses to serve as a conduit of the current of God’s joy manifested into creation with the intention of being returned to him in Godward praise. In other words, to “check,” or to reject, the joy of God, is to act contrary to design and thereby to warrant eternal separation.

Source: Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of God, Volume 2, Part 1: The Knowledge of God; The Reality of God (T&T Clark, 2004), 647–8.

2 thoughts on “Made in Joy, Made for Joy

  1. Tony–Your reflections (through all the various means by which they are made available) are so valuable to me and encourage me in my walk with the Lord. I’m thanking Him for you today. May you find great joy as you heartily pursue His calling over your life. May He strengthen and encourage you as you pursue Him and walk according to His ways. I am a grateful sister in Christ for life He has crafted in you.

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