Faith is conversion: it is the radically new disposition of the man who stands naked before God that he may procure the pearl of great price; it is the attitude of the man who for the sake of Jesus has lost his own soul. Faith is the faithfulness of God, ever secreted in and beyond all human ideas and affirmations about Him, and beyond every positive religious achievement. There is no such thing as mature and assured possession of faith: regarded psychologically, it is always a leap into the darkness of the unknown, a flight into empty air. Faith is not revealed to us by flesh and blood…: no one can communicate it to himself or to any one else. What I heard yesterday I must hear again to-day; and if I am to hear it afresh to-morrow, it must be revealed by the Father of Jesus, who is in heaven, and by Him only. The revelation which is in Jesus, because it is the revelation of the righteousness of God, must be the most complete veiling of His incomprehensibility. In Jesus, God becomes veritably a secret: He is made known as the Unknown, speaking in eternal silence; He protects himself from every intimate companionship and from all the impertinence of religion. He becomes a scandal to the Jews and to the Greeks foolishness. In Jesus the communication of God begins with a rebuff, with the exposure of a vast chasm, with the clear revelation of a great stumbling-block. “Remove from the Christian Religion, as Christendom has done, its ability to shock, and Christianity, by becoming direct communication, is altogether destroyed. It then becomes a tiny superficial thing, capable neither of inflicting deep wounds nor of healing them; by discovering an unreal and merely human compassion, it forgets the qualitative distinction between man and God” (Kierkegaard). Faith in Jesus, like its theme, the righteousness of God, is the radical “Nevertheless”. Faith in Jesus is to feel and comprehend the unheard of “love-less” love of God, to do the ever scandalous and outrageous will of God, to call upon God in His incomprehensibility and hiddenness. -Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, 98-9.
(1) When Barth compares faith to one’s losing his/her soul to Christ, he is not using the same language as Jesus in Matt. 16:26 (“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” Jesus asks). Indeed, Barth claims that in relinquishing one’s soul to Christ’s care (i.e. losing his/her soul to Christ), one is given the gift of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ: a reality into which one must choose to live, as Barth reminds us throughout The Epistle to the Romans.
(2) Throughout most of this passage, Barth expounds upon the mystery that is salvation by grace through faith in Christ. He warns primarily against, for lack of a better phrase, “having it all figured out.” If we neglect our stewardship of the profound mysteries of God (I Cor. 4:1-5), if we say that we completely understand his ways and his dispensation to us, then we will be hardened against the scandalon that is the grace of Jesus Christ. Such an attitude may well lead to a lack of recognition that we need grace to cover even our misunderstandings of God’s truth and his mysteries.