Monthly Archives: August 2021

The Stumbling Stone

Romans Chapter 9

30 What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. 33 As it is written:

“See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.”

This is the place in Romans I decided to consult Karl Barth on. What in the earth is the “stumbling stone” and why did God place it on the road to Zion?

Before he answers this question, here is what he had to say about the Church in the context of imparting faith.

“Religion is not the Kingdom of God. Religion is human work. Maybe the Church is ignorant that there exists no such law of rightneousness and that it is following after a phantom. In any case, it continually forgets it.”

And “In fact, a religion adequate to revelation and congruent to the righteousness of God, the law of rightneousness, is unobtainable by man except in the miracle of the absolute ‘Moment’. And faith is a miracle. Otherwise it is not a faith.”

Finally “Why should not the miracle of faith, about which the church speaks,be followed after? Why does the object of the Church’s pursuit remain always a phantom? Because their pursuit comes not from faith but from works. Men come to faith only from and through faith. Faith is to love and fear God above all things; to love and fear Him as He is, and not as we think Him to be.”

About the stumbling stone, in one context it is using the law as a way to righteousness that none of us succeed at because we break the rules. Paul and Barth go further: “The stone of stumbling, which at the same time is the precious corner stone laid in Zion, is – Jesus Christ. In Him God reveals Himself inexorably as the hidden God who can be apprehended only indirectly. In Him He conceals Himself utterly, in order that he may manifest Himself to faith only.”


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Reading Karl Barth

I am finally finding I’m able to read and understand theologian Karl Barth. While painfully slow, I am getting much food for spiritual thought by plowing through sections of his Epistle to the Romans.
I acquired this book some years ago at the Ottawa School of Theology and Spirituality when I attended some evening lectures there before retirement.

I tried reading it several times and got lost in the first few pages. Recently I was reading Romans and decided to consult Barth to see what he had to say on a particular verse. And voila, it worked. I was astounded at what I read there.

First, a word about Romans. Written when he was in Corinth, to the Christians in Rome whom he had never met, it is Paul’s fullest, grandest and most comprehensive statement of the gospel. Many from St. Augustine to Luther came to their fullest faith through the impact of Romans. St. John Chrysostom had Romans read to him aloud once a week. The Church Reformers saw Romans as the key to understanding all scripture.

Karl Barth was a Swiss Reformed theologian who lived all his life in Switzerland from 1886 to 1978. Early on, as a pastor in a small town, he reportedly ran out of material to preach on and decided to study the Book of Romans and write a book about it. The book caused quite a stir across Europe and overseas. Single handedly, Barth managed to reorient theological discussions around Jesus. 

Barth says God choses to reveal himself through the life, death and resurection of Jesus Christ. It is not possible for we men to know God, the unkowable, through our reasoning, intuition, culture or human achievements. Thus Jesus Christ is God revealed. Barth’s theology is known as Revelation Theology because it is sourced directly from the word of God and not from other sources such as by observing nature or  our intellect.

Barth went on to write many other works including his unfinished Church Dogmatics – 9000 pages – one the longest works in all systematic theology! He lectured at Princeton University. Barth’s influence extended well beyond the academic world. He was featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1962. The man in the street was discussing Barth!

I am attracted to him because of his clear focus on the Word of Go and the incredible things he says. His weakness may be verbosity and sometimes reading things into the Bible which are not really there. In future posts I will explore some of his ideas through what I found in the Epistle to the Romans:

  • God is supreme
  • Jesus Christ is God revealed
  • We have a free concience
  • When we realize who God is (the Krisis) we must live our life accordingly e.g. by edifying our neighbours, not judging them which is God’s business
  • Each person who hears the Call of God learns to know God on a personal basis and need not be encombered by religious rules which can be the enemy of faith
  • God’s grace works through us; it is God who chooses us, not we Him
  • Thinking is a biological process presupposed by creation and God and hence cannot really help us to know Him
  • It is only through Jesus Christ that we know anything about God

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    Of Human Bondage

    I really liked this 1915 novel. Somerset Maugham’s story of Philip Carey, a handicapped orphan, is indeed a masterpiece. It covers Carey’s life from the loss of his parents as a young boy until he settles down just before age thirty.

    Written with both dialogue and narrative, we are treated to Carey’s inner thinking as he struggles to find himself in life, love and career. The principle obstacle is Mildred, a thin, anemic skinned waitress who Philip falls madly in love with. She feels no love for him but comes in and out of his life seeking financial help because he is a “gentleman” and she knows she has power over him. He succumbs every time and devotes countless amounts of money and aid to assist her in her needs.

    He decides not to become a Vicar like his uncle, tries accounting and then sets out first for Heidelberg and then to Paris to become a painter. After failing at this he returns to London and goes to med school. However he runs out of money after supporting Mildred and losing his last resources in the stock market.  He wonders the streets of London close to starvation and feeling suicidal.‎ He finally lands work as a women’s clothing designer. 

    His uncle finally dies and leaves him enough money to complete his medical studies. He is finally over Mildred and meets the Athelny family who invite him to weekly dinner as one of the family.  He eventually marries their daughter Sally; a happy ending I found somewhat surprising given all the preceding melodrama.

    The story seems a bit prolonged and seems to waiver near the end. It was as if Maugham‎ wasn’t sure how to end it. Is Mildred going to come back one more time and Carey succumb to more self-induced misery or is he simply doomed to a life without finding a loving partner? Hence the somewhat surprising happy ending in my view.

    A tour de force about a young man with a club foot finding his way in early 20th century Britain. If you happen to know your way around London you will ‎really enjoy the areas and streets mentioned in this book. Of Human Bondage is both a positive and negative experience in Maugham’s experience. I give it a 9.5 out of 10. At 600 pages, it could be shorter. I also found it hard at times to keep track of all Philip’s male friends coming and going.

    Several movies have been made including the 1934 version starring Bette Davis as Mildred Rogers which you can find on YouTube. I am watching it right now and Bette Davis is alluring.

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    Inner Journey – Wrap Up!

    Well it’s time to wrap up this long series of blogs about our 2011 road trip to California from Ontario… We still had 10 days to go but won’t bore you with the details of the remaining stops:

    • Branson, MO – saw Patsy Cline Story and Eagles live review shows
    • Hodgenville, KY – visited birthplace of Abraham Lincoln
    • Paducah, KY – love this historic water front town on the Ohio River
    • Bardstown, KY – visited Thomas Merton’s gravesite at the Abbey of Gethsemani
    • Morgantown, WV – went to our namesake town – very steep hills
    • Gettysburg, PA – hiked the most famous of ACW battlefield sites on a sunny day

    The night we were camping in My Old Kentucky Home S.P. we were woken by a loud horn sound at 4:30 am. Not knowing what it meant, we looked out the window and saw people running toward the nearest brick building! We figured we should join them and we did on the double. Welcome to tornado alley. The next day we were camping in the Kentucky Horse S.P. when another tornado alarm went off at 8:30 am. We spent the next 90 min huddled in the brick washroom with others as we listened to the radio telling us exactly where the tornado was touching down. Drama for sure!

    We arrived safely home on May 1 after two months on the road: 22 States and over 13,000 km – our signature Roadtrek trip. We moved out of our family home in Ottawa just three weeks later and spent the next 3.5 months living in our trecker at the lovely Breezy Hill Camping Park while we waited for our new Arnprior home to be finished. Highly recommend the Class B motorhome lifestyle if you like to travel and have the time. Thanks for rambling with us!

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