Karl Barth (1886-1968)
Karl Barth (1886-1968) is considered by many to have been the most influential theologian of the 20th century. As a young pastor, working from the office of his little parish at the foot of the Swiss Alps, he wrote a commentary on the book of Romans that changed the direction of theological thinking around the world. His Church Dogmatics, a lifetime achievement that is a summary of all of Christian teaching, fills 20 large volumes. Seminary students for almost a century have studied his works. He had a clear understanding of the modern intellectual challenges to the Christian faith, and to meet those challenges he made a powerful argument for the belief that God revealed himself to the world in the person of Jesus Christ; a belief many liberal theologians have abandoned. Barth delved deeply into all the mysteries of the faith. Few have read all of his works and fewer still have a full understanding of the depth and breadth of his knowledge.
Yet, along with all that intellectual power and sophistication, Karl Barth also had a simple, child-like faith and trust in God. When he was near the end of his life, someone asked him to summarize his life’s work in theology with a single sentence. Barth replied with a response a five year old could have made. He said, “Yes I can. In the words of a song I learned at my mother’s knee: ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’” After all his research and writing and speaking and debating, that was still what most important to him.
People in the academic world were often surprised that such a brilliant man as Karl Barth could actually still believe in God. On more than one occasion he was asked, “Just how do you know God exists?” And this brilliant old man with piercing eyes would look back at his questioner and say simply, “Because my mother told me God was there and would watch over me.”
That statement would be true for many people. Faith can come in many different ways and at many different ages. And of course, even those given the very best opportunities in the home do not always end up believing in Jesus. But for many people, the faith they have today began with seeds that were planted when they were very young– by mothers and fathers and other loved ones, and then nurtured along by the local church in worship, Sunday School, vacation Bible school, etc. Certainly, Karl Barth and most other people may question the simple faith they were taught when they were children. Reasons for believing must indeed grow and deepen, and questions must be asked and answers must be sought. But when faith is planted and nurtured in a child, the Holy Spirit is there to inspire that person to seek understanding, looking for the answers they seek within the context of that faith. Few people remember all the details of what was learned in Sunday School or confirmation. Few can remember the sermon from last week, let alone sermons when they were seven years old and squirming around in the pew. But in all those places and in all those ways, relationships are being established, connections are being made, and the heart is being turned toward in God.
II Timothy 1:5 — I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.
Psalm 145:3-4 — Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.
Psalm 78:2b-4 — I will utter hidden things, things from of old— things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.
Jesus loves me! This I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to Him belong;
They are weak, but He is strong.