Recently, I was introduced as a “man of faith.” It got me thinking. What do these words mean? Am I a recipient of ‘the faith,’ the objective deposit of Jesus, a gift which God has graciously bestowed and which I now cling to as the source of life? Or is faith understood to be a virtue that I have engendered and cultivated by the strength of my own volition and character? It must be the former. The reason is properly expressed by the great 20th century theologian, Karl Barth, in response to a statement by his friend the Catholic theologian Hans Küng.
In a funeral tribute to Barth, Küng recalled how at the conclusion of a discussion he had conceded that Barth had good faith. Barth’s response is illuminating:
“So you allow me good faith. I have never conceded myself good faith. And when once the day comes when I have to appear before my Lord, then I will not come with my deeds, with the volumes of my Dogmatics in the basket upon my back. All the angels there would have to laugh. But then I shall also not say, ‘I have always meant well; I had good faith’. No, then I will only say one thing: ‘Lord, be merciful to me a poor sinner!'”1
1 H. Häring and K. J. Kuchel (eds.), Hans Küng: His Work and His Way (London: Fount, 1979) 42f.