barth & the social gospel

After some beautiful work on the neighbor in the parable, Barth considers the question of our responsibility to one who is "in great suffering and therefore in need of help, a fellow-man whom we have to love by bringing the help which he needs." CD I/2, p.427-428:

If we are to keep strictly to the biblical witness to revelation we cannot answer this question with a doctrine which is roughly as follows: That suffering fellow-man in need of help directs the children of God to the task which God has appointed for them.  God does not will the many griefs and sufferings and burdens under which we men have to sigh.  He wills their removal. He wills a better world.  Therefore, we, too, should will this better world, and a true worship of God consists in our cooperation in the removal of these sufferings.  Therefore our neighbour in his distress is a reminder to us and the occasion and object of our proper worship of God.

This kind of ("religio-social") teaching overlooks too many things and arbitrarily introduces too many things for us to be able to accept it. That God does not will the evil under which we men have to suffer is true to the extent, but only to the extent, that as His revelation shows, He does not will its cause, the alienation of man from Himself, and the world as fashioned by this alienation, which as such is necessarily a world full of evil.  On the contrary, in drawing man to Himself in Jesus Christ, he inaugurates a new world and causes it to break through.  This work of reconciliation, in the consummation to which Jesus Christ pointed and which He is to fulfil, is the divine removing of the things under which we now see both ourselves and others suffer.  We are not told that we have to cooperate in this removing as such.  We are not told that we have to undertake the amelioration of the world in fulfilment of a divine programme of amelioration.  We are not told that we shall find a neighbour in our fellow-man because his pitiable condition stirs us to do something along these lines. What we are told is that we should love our neighbour by proclaiming to him - not only in word, of course, but in deed - the true amelioration and therefore Jesus Christ.

Our neighbour in the sense of that doctrine of world-amelioration would again mean Law (instead of Gospel first and then as such Law). This is the very perversion which our previous discussion has shown to be untenable.  Even our suffering fellow-man in need of help does not primarily confront us with a task.


Sounds to me like a distinction without a difference, which is itself undermined by how he himself qualifies his assertion ("not only in word, of course, but in deed").

Looking forward to how he sorts this out in his continuing & developing thought.