Grunewald’s Crucifixion from the Isenheim Altar.
This is a picture of Grunewald’s Crucifixion, the very one that stood over Barth’s desk, where he wrote and worked. The Isenheim Altar is in Colmar, France. This painting points to the central theme in Barth’s theology: the God who encounters us in Jesus Christ is ‘the One who loves us in freedom’ (CD II/1, 257).
Barth’s “dialectic” theology was always pressed by his idea of freedom, by the God of freedom, who is always for Barth the Love & Lover Himself.
Sir Edmund Burke, that great Anglo-Irish defined Grunewald’s Crucifixion painting as: “tranquility tinged with terror.”
Finally, is it not typical Barth, that great dialectic theologian, Dutch & German Reformed, who stood so against natural theology to have such a profound picture or painting of the Crucifixion of Christ, and surely Grunewald’s is profound!
*As much as I like to read Barth, I should note my real concern over his lack of understanding the reality of personal and the personification of evil, as I have said in his lack of theodicy, that part of theology concerned with defending the goodness and omnipotence of God in the face of the suffering and evil of the world. This is actually one of the reasons that keeps me a so-called “neo-Calvinist”, i.e. the great doctrine of theodicy, here God is still good in His allowing evil to exist, and uses even it for His purpose and glory in the end! (Rom. 9: 11 ; 11:36)
Let me quote Brunner here, from his book: The Mediator, and from the penal theory of the Atonement: “In reality, this opposition to the use of “forensic” terms is due to an entirely different reason; it is due to the fact that the idea of Divine Holiness has been swallowed up in that of the Divine Love; this means that the Biblical Idea of God, in which the decisive element is two-fold nature of holiness and love, is being replaced by the modern, unilateral, monistic Idea of God. That this is the real cause of this opposition, and not fear of forensic terminology, comes out most plainly in the fact that the juridical idea of penalty is not the only one which is attacked, but that there is just as much opposition to the non-juridical idea of the wrath of God, which is also removed from the Christian vocabulary. Opposition to this idea, therefore, is not directed against the formulae in which it is expressed, but against the very substance of the idea itself, namely, against all the Bible means by the Holiness of God. To the modern mind the idea that that God can be angry is intolerable as the idea that He exercises punishment and judgment. Both these expressions, however, are intolerable because the modern man, through the influence of the thought of the Enlightenment, is so accustomed to think that God’s function is to stand surety for human purposes. It is the genuinely theocentric Idea of God that men find intolerable. Actually, their resistance is directed against the Will and the Majesty of God.” (Pages 467-68)