The following are my thoughts on Karl Barth’s ‘Determination of the Rejected,’ found in Church Dogmatics II.2 pp. 449-506.
To call any human being rejected is quite a harsh thing to say. The only way we can have any sort of discussion of this kind is to count ourselves as numbered with the rejected. This is clearly consistent with Scripture, ‘for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,’ as well as, ‘as in Adam all die,’ but there are always two sides to the pancake. Many Christians only see the pancake from the top and are not prepared to flip the pancake to see what is on the other side. Some are of the view that the good news must spring from the bad news so it is off we go to tell everyone the bad news first. I agree that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God but I also agree that, all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. I do agree that as in Adam all die but there is the other side of the pancake . . . ‘so in Christ all will be made alive.’ The primary theme with both these passages is grace, good favour and good will on the part of God. Humanity was handed over to their own devices. However, we did not have the last word.
Nevertheless, God was not satisfied to let us go on with our own futile self destructing manner of living. God stepped in and met our opposition head on and exerted His power over and against our opposition. Everything He did was for our own sake as God has always been and will always be for humanity. Even though He is overwhelmingly for us, even the very best of us still act in such a way that we oppose Him even if we are for Him. It is a startling state of affairs when we have the very one who has the power to crush us, allows Himself to be crushed by us. After we have crushed Him to the very grave and are done with Him, what does He do in return? He gathers us all in Himself, takes us to the Cross, buries us with Him and raises us from the dead so that we have every opportunity to share in what He is in Himself. This is astonishing! What can we say? We are left speechless at such love! Yet, we still oppose Him and act in such a way that we have been rejected by Him even though we are fully reconciled in His love.
This is the contradiction. God is for humanity but humanity is against God. Even so, God is gracious which shows good will and good favour towards us but we are ungrateful. It shows in such a way that even though God receives us fully into His fellowship we so easily and readily withdraw. God is always placing all or shortcomings and our erroneous ways behind Him yet we continually try to hide behind our fears and insecurities. In Jesus Christ we have been so set free yet we act as if the door is still shut and we imprison ourselves time and time again.
As a consequence, when we are trying to establish what has been decided for the rejected we begin with election in Jesus Christ as the foundation and we move from here. As Jesus Christ is the Elected One, both election and rejection begin with this One Human Being. Even the rejected have been rejected in Jesus Christ and as we are all numbered with the rejected, we cannot be rejected anymore. Jesus Christ is the truth and the reality where the idea of who is accepted and who is rejected has been turned on its head. This is why the gift of God in giving Himself is such a tremendous gift. To just say that the gift is given from one Person to another person severely underestimates what God has done. To go from one Person to another is to say that some are destined to be accepted and some are destined to be rejected and because I accept the acceptance, I am accepted among the accepted and all the rest are rejected. Rather, the truth is the gift of God in Jesus Christ is the gift of the one Person among the many, among all the rejected. As this is where Jesus is placed, that is, God is with us forevermore making all the rejected as numbered with the very One who was rejected and is now accepted making all the rejected accepted, who are we to say who are accepted and rejected?
The rejected have been preserved and not destroyed by the very mercy of God. Even though there has been an acceptance by God in Jesus Christ, people often resist. We must take great care not to place the opponents of the gospel on the outside of God. The work in Jesus Christ was undertaken on the inside in our darkness and He literally chased the darkness out where we have every chance at engaging with His Light and love. As we let the Light shine on us, in us and out of us, we in turn must let the Light shine on, in and out of others. Darkness is no match for the Light and there is no tug of war between Jesus and individuals.
We take a look at the most famous of the rejected, Judas, and most often than not we place him on the outside. However, we must take this in context of the whole New Testament story. Judas was recognised as one of the Twelve who even had the privilege of Jesus washing his feet where he was loved to the very end. Peter objected to having his feet washed by Jesus but after some stern words, he complied. Yet, he denied Jesus three times. Just prior to this, the rest of disciples abandoned their Lord and Master allowing the Jewish establishment to seize Him. The government of Israel condemned this Man and handed Him over to the Gentiles and He was subsequently crucified. We have the one who betrayed, those who abandoned Him, then one denied Him, Israel condemned Him and the Gentiles crucified Him. Was there anyone on the side of good? Yes, indeed there is and this is the Father. As far as the rest of us are concerned, no not even one. Evil triumphs when the good do nothing. When the good do nothing it highlights how evil we really are. Evil triumphs when the evil are complicit with evil. Nevertheless, evil does not have the last say.
When we look at the abominable thing Judas had done when he betrayed Jesus Christ, questions are raised as to whether or not this act is too wicked for the power of the grace and good favour of God to reach. We have to be careful not to be too hasty and past judgment on the fate of Judas because we know that when sin abounds, grace and good favour abounds all the more. Our strongest and most stubborn rebellion is no match for the power of the love and grace of God in Jesus Christ. All opposition to God has been crushed where every single human being is locked in to God’s power and love. We are not putting forward some sort of universalism as we do not have clear-cut answers as to what happens to those who continually, recklessly and dangerously turn truth into untruth. The bottom line is we are given no clues as to what will happen to Judas in the scheme of things especially at the end of the age.
Here are the facts. Those who are called to be the elect are in no way able to create their own election. They played no part in it. So powerful is the election in Jesus Christ that the rejected are not able to destroy it. We cannot look at anyone and regard them in any other way than elected in Jesus Christ. The plight of the rejected of which we all stand has been completely reversed where the very One Elected stood in our place as the Rejected turning the rejected into the very elect, holy and blameless in His sight. The guilt upon humanity is not something that any human being can remove. Only God can step in and make humanity clean and it is Him that does the cleaning. We cannot clean ourselves. If we are to be clean, then God takes the initiative and acts to make this happen, firstly by handing Jesus over, which is one and the same as Jesus handing Himself over. God places Himself in a place of powerlessness and humility. The All-powerful is so powerful that He can make Himself powerless at the hands of those whose job was to render Jesus powerless and destroy any remaining power by asserting the power of death over Him. Jesus, Supreme in Power, humbles Himself to a state of powerlessness of which all human beings are rendered in the end. The greatest leveling equalising of all people is that fact that death is unavoidable to all, no matter how powerful they may be. The most powerful have this one thing in common with the very weakest is they meet the same end and have no choice but to submit to death. Jesus Christ can identify with the most powerful and the very weakest, the most evil and the lesser evil in that He does not prevent what must be the end of all coming upon Him. Even death on the Cross!
If we are to try to get an overview of the nature of what it is to be rejected, then there is no better place than to start in Romans 1. It clearly says that God hands over those objects of wrath to their own folly. However, the backdrop to Romans 1 is the eschatological reality in Jesus Christ. As God handed the Jews and Gentiles over, Jesus was handed over to take on Himself the very things that have condemned humanity. The very things that was visited on humanity where there is no one who belongs to the righteous, not even one, are they very things that God visited on Himself. Jesus suffered these very same things, endured them and was more severely afflicted than any other. As humanity was handed over to do that which was only doing harm to themselves, Jesus handed Himself to their very same place and allowed their harm to harm Himself. But it was not for His sake but entirely for our sake. He became what He ultimately is not so that we have every chance to become and share in what He is.
“Jesus Christ is the Rejected of God, for God makes Himself rejected in Him and Himself alone tasted to the depths all that rejection means and necessarily involves” (Church Dogmatics, II.2 p.496)
The love of God in Jesus Christ has reached the heights breadths and depths of everything it means to be rejected by God. Even the consequence of the rejected is tasted by Jesus Christ as He descends into hell. There is no stone left unturned, every detail has been attended to and nothing has been left to chance making it impossible for any of the rejected to be excluded from the Person and work of Jesus Christ. The fate that God befell on Himself does not have to befall on anyone any longer. The fate of all those who have not had the chance to make the decision for Jesus Christ is not of our concern. Nevertheless we can have a greater measure of assurance knowing that it is into His hands everyone falls into and no other. Nothing can stand in the way of God’s desire to be the God for us. If this is true as Paul has said it, then we are not in any position to categorise who God is for and who God is against. Our hope lies in the fact that as there are many who are so against God, be that as it may, this is overtaken by the fact that God is for them and His mercy is far too powerful to be thwarted by humanity’s rebellion. Therefore we must always have hope of the gospel for all people for all time deeply embedded in us.
What we have in the gospel is no need for us to single out any who may be considered “rejected.” The good news of the gospel is that as human beings stand rejected, these rejected people are in fact elected. Thus all God asks is they place their trust in the hands of Jesus Christ and agree with God when He says emphatically in Jesus Christ that the rejected human being is in fact elected. The rejected are powerless to undo this divine fact. If people are not willing to accept the fact, then their mistrust of God does not undo what God has done. God will have mercy towards anyone He likes. God will have compassion towards anyone He likes. This is as much as we can know regarding the decision as to what happens to the rejected. We are not given to know any more than this. The greater the resistance to the election of God in Jesus Christ, the greater the grip God has on them because of Jesus Christ Even if they are so foolish as to condemn themselves to hell God will never let go. The strong all-powerful love never fails even to the very end.