The Meaning, Purpose, and Dignity of Mankind

“The creature is not self-existent.  It has not assumed its nature and existence of itself or given it to itself.  It did not come into being by itself.  It does not consist by itself.  It cannot sustain itself.  It has to thank its creation and therefore its Creator for the fact that it came into being and is and will be.  Nor does the creature exist for itself.  It is not the creature itself but its Creator who exists and thinks and speaks and cares for the creature.  The creature is no more its own goal and purpose than it is its own ground and beginning.”

“There is no inherent reason for the creature’s existence and nature, no independent teleology of the creature introduced with its creation and made its own.  Its destiny lies entirely in the purpose of its Creator as the One Who speaks and cares for it.  The creature’s right and meaning and goal and purpose and dignity lie – only – in the fact that God as the Creator has turned toward it with His purpose.”

“Any other attitude than that of God’s free acceptance of this turning towards it and therefore of this advocacy and care; any claim to a right inherent it its being and nature, to a meaning which has not first been received, to a goal which it has fixed for itself, to a purpose which it has in and for itself, to a dignity independent of the free will of its Creator – all this is just as meaningless as the illusion that it came into being by itself, that it consists in itself and that it can sustain itself.  By its very creation, and therefore its being as a creature, all such views are shown, like this illusion, to be basically impossible, and thus disclosed as falsehoods.”

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, III/1, 94-95.

shane lems

3 Replies to “The Meaning, Purpose, and Dignity of Mankind”

  1. Fine comments. I read Barth regularly, and I admire his comprehensiveness and insight; at the same time, his exhaustive discussion of every aspect reminds me (both positively and negatively) of a woman who all her life lived in the steep hollows of Kentucky, only ever seeing a strip of sky above her, narrow roads and creeks. Her grown son took her to the ocean; as he pulled off onto an overlook above the beach, she got out and gazed for several minutes at the scene; she gave a deep sigh, and he asked, “Mom, anything the matter?”
    She replied, “It’s just that this is the first time I ever seen enough of anything.”


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