Leo Stossich on “The Human Election of God”

Leo Stossich

Pierre Maury in his sermon The Ultimate Decision said:

“Here a misunderstanding of grave consequence could come into play: this would consist in forgetting the first sense in which Jesus Christ is a decision, and therefore to define the choice that we make concerning him as one of multiple human possibilities which are offered to us. Becoming the disciple of this master would therefore be one option among others: neither more nor less serious than one in which we are recruited into a political group, ranked among the faithful of one of the great modern religions (lit cult) (race, class, nation, etc). There is no lack in the world today of men, of parties, of doctrines, who demand that we choose them exclusively, that we submit ourselves without discussion to their slogans or to their myths. The time has passed where we made freedom of thought and the dignity of the person consist in the refusal of any choice, under the pretext that to choose, is to renounce, and is to narrow one’s prospects or future. Our contemporaries hardly worry about safeguarding this state of mind. On the contrary we see them eager to commit, be they blind or hasty, provided that they are wholehearted, or as we say, totalitarian.

If the Christian decision was of this kind, it would not be more solid or more lasting than all these human possibilities of decision. But it is not of this kind! Jesus “is not of this world” (John 8:23), as he himself said, even though he had lived in this world. And that is why we cannot choose him as we would choose a worldly master. Here again, we need to remember that he is unique, in the strictest sense incomparable, and that the faith that we place in him does not resemble any other trust, any other devotion that we would be able to consent to here below. We will not try, therefore, to show that we could know Christianity except in total submission, it being an absolute (an uncompromising truth lit). For one could say just the same about everything that people think or decree as absolute. We are not going to go on about the necessity of choice with regard to moral considerations. What would be the purpose!? These proofs and analyses have never lastingly convinced anyone. It is because he is who he is, that is to say not an Absolute, but The Absolute, the Unique Son of God, who demands the obedience of faith. In order to choose him, we need to know more than just the motives behind our choice; we need to know by Him who we choose in choosing him [1]“.

[1] A short excerpt from The Ultimate Decision,  a sermon by Pierre Maury preached in the season of Lent (1937) in the Reformed Church of Passy, Paris, France, from Le Grand Œuvre de Dieu (The Great Work of God), alluding to Acts 2:11 ‘the wonderful works of God’, © 1937 by Société Commerciale d’Editions et de Librairie (Editions ‘Je Sers’). Translation © 2014 Simon Hattrell, 63, (also translated into German by Charlotte Von Kirschbaum under the title of Die grosse Tat Gottes – Sechs Vorträge, The Great Work of God- Six Lectures/Talks © Zollikon-Zürich: Evangelischer Verlag, 1941.

In his excellent and thought provoking essay “The Human Election of God” in the second edition of Election, Barth, and the French Connection: How Pierre Maury Gave a “Decisive Impetus” to Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Election. Hattrell, Simon, ed. , Eugene, Or.: Pickwick Publications, 2019, 207-8, Tasmanian pastor and author Dr Leo Stossich observes:

“True freedom, for Barth, is not freedom as independence nor the freedom to choose between options. Freedom is not being able to say yes or no to God. Barth says: “The decisive point is whether freedom in the Christian sense is identical with the freedom of Hercules: a choice between two ways at a crossroads. This is a heathen notion of freedom. Is it freedom to decide for the devil? The only freedom that means something is the freedom to be myself as I am created by God. God did not create a neutral creature, but His creature[1].  He maintains, “Trying to escape from being in accord with God’s own freedom is not human freedom. Rather, it is a compulsion wrought by powers of darkness or by man’s own helplessness[2].”  Such a person is in “contradiction” rather than “correspondence” to their true nature. Maury likewise says it is a mistake “to define the choice that we make concerning him as one of multiple human possibilities which are offered to us…the Christian decision…. is not of this kind!….[rather]  the unique Son of God…demands the obedience of faith[3].” For Barth true freedom is liberation—“the work of the Spirit consists in the liberation of man for his own act…[4];”  human action that is free from the bondage to self-will, self-determination and self-rule, and free for the will of God. True freedom is the freedom to obey the divine will—to say Yes to God’s grace”.

Pompeo_batoni_-_Hercules_at_the_crossroads (1)

Above – Hercules at the crossroads by Pompeo Girolamo Batoni (1708 –1787)

But let John Capper have the last word as we grapple with this question in his essay Serious Joy of the Ultimate Decision,  p162, Election, Barth and the French Connection: 

The decisiveness, that is, the nature of the “ultimate decision,” is that it is God in Jesus Christ who is decisive. The error, implicitly, identified by both Maury and Barth, is to impute the decision to the human agent. To affirm human decisiveness is to take from God that which is God’s and give to humankind that which they cannot fully bear.

[1] Barth in Godsey, Table Talk, 37

[2] Barth, The Humanity of God, 77

[3] Maury, Ultimate Decision, 63.

[4] CD IV/2, 785.

Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics: IV/2: The Doctrine of Reconciliation; English translation. Edited by G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1958.

———. The Humanity of God. John Knox Press, 1960.

———. Karl Barth’s Table Talk. Richmond: John Knox Press, 1963.

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