Karl Barth and the resurrection of the flesh
However reluctant he may be about providing details, Karl Barth dares to affirm the coming resurrection, even in the strong corporeal sense of the Apostles Creed, “I believe in . . . the resurrection of the flesh.” At the heart of Barth’s creative approach is an equation between revelation and resurrection. Indeed, everything said about the human addressed now in revelation is to be said about the human at the coming resurrection, including the remarkable fact that resurrection raises the “flesh” (inasmuch as God has revealed Himself to those “in the flesh”). Barth’s early training inculcated in him dialectical themes that would emerge throughout his career. His early work is dominated by a sense of encounter with the present but transcendent God, an encounter described in terms of the raising of the dead. Human existence is sublated – “dissolved and established” – unto a higher order in God. Yet even after Barth abandons the resurrection of the dead as his preferred theological axiom, he portrays eschatology proper in terms of the human sublated in the divine presence. Therefore, in Church Dogmatics he expresses the doctrine of the resurrection of the flesh in three primary ways: eternalization, manifestation and incorporation. The human, delimited as he or she is by death, is made durable in God, obtaining the gift of eternalization. The human, ambiguous in the creaturely mode of earthly life, has one’s true identity revealed with Christ at His return, and obtains the gift of manifestation with the divine. The human, isolated as he or she is in one’s autonomy, is incorporated into the body of Christ by His Spirit, obtaining the gift of communion. In each of these expressions of resurrection Barth desires to preserve fleshliness. His account, however, entails a certain loss of temporality, creatureliness and particularity of the human when it comes to the final state. Instead of being resurrected from the dead in the strong corporeal sense, human bodies appear to be memorialized, deified, recapitulated. Though written with the language of the Antiochene and Reformed schools, Barth’s position enjoys the same strengths and suffers the same weaknesses of a more Alexandrian or Lutheran theological trajectory. Like each of the traditional lines of Christian thought about the resurrection of the flesh, Barth gravitates toward an eschatology centered around the human’s vision of God in the heavenly life. To this extent Barth’s creative treatment of the resurrection of the dead can be understood as broadly Christian, even if he risks undermining the very flesh he hopes to save.