While reflecting on the many ways that Christ’s presence as Cosmic Christ in our lives means ours and other’s stories can open us up to God’s presence, guidance, and care, I remembered an excerpt from Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics which illustrates this. Notice:
“Parables (parabolai) are little stories which it seems anyone might tell of ordinary human happenings. But they are called parables (parabolai) of the Kingdom (basileia), and it is often said expressly that the Kingdom (basileia) is “likened unto” (homoiwthe) these events, or, with an obvious view to this equation, that the events themselves, or the leading characters in them, are “like” the Kingdom (basileia). It is also said that the kingdom in its likeness to these events, or these events in their likeness to the kingdom, can and will be heard by those who have ears to hear, i.e., by those whom it is given to hear (Mark 4:9f.). That is to say, they will hear and receive the equations of likenesses as such, whereas those who are “without” will not perceive and understand what is at issue, namely, the “mystery” of the kingdom. . . . The one true Word of God makes these other words true. Jesus Christ utters, or rather creates, these parables, speaking of the kingdom, of the life, and therefore of Himself, and doing so in stories which it might seem that others could tell, yet which they are unable to do, because His Word alone can equate the kingdom really like them, and makes them like the kingdom in which He tells them, so that the narrative is no mere metaphor but a disclosing yet also concealed revelation.
“We now turn to the more complicated question of true words which are not spoken in the Bible or the Church, but which have to be regarded as true in relation to the one Word of God, and therefore heard like this Word, and together with it. Are there really true words, parables of the kingdom, of this very different kind? Does Jesus Christ speak through the medium of such words? The answer is that the community which lives by the one Word of the one Prophet Jesus Christ, and is commissioned and empowered to proclaim this Word of His in the world, not only may but must accept the fact that there are such words and that it must hear them too, notwithstanding its life by this one Word and its commission to preach it. Naturally, there can be no question of words which say anything different from this one Word, but only of those which do materially say what it says, although from a different source and in another tongue. Should it not be grateful to receive it also from without, in very different human words, in a secular parable, even though it is grounded in and ruled by the biblical, prophetico-apostolic witness to this one Word? Words of this kind cannot be such as overlook or even lead away from the Bible. They can only be those which, in material agreement with it, illumine, accentuate or explain the biblical witness in a particular time and situation, thus confirming it in the deepest sense by helping to make it sure and concretely evident and certain.”
As someone who feels that at times the words of Scripture in fact, as Paul says of his own words in 1 Corinthians 7, are not the pure word of God but a mix of divine inspiration and human opinion, I of course have a slightly different perspective than Barth. I am less sure that our stories, songs, and poems may not in fact be inspired at times exactly when they disagree with certain parts of Scripture (namely the ones that reflect the prejudice, discrimination, and small-mindedness of the time they are written and not the love and grace Christ embodies in Jesus). I think in fact, as my own denomination the United Church of Christ has chosen to repeatedly say, “God is still speaking”.
But I think it is important to note that as fairly conservative and well-respected a voice as Barth suggests to us that our own stories, songs, poems, and art as individuals and in the community around us can also be a medium through which Christ speaks, acts, and moves.
In our own stories and those of others, even in film, art, and music, we can be open for life, wisdom, beauty, and truth to break out.
For there is not a part of life that or a person living who does not have Christ moving among them, whispering out a call to grace and truth, to doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God’s self.
I would love to hear from you where you have heard or seen Christ’s presence in unexpected places.
Your progressive redneck preacher,