How does God love us? Does he love in pursuit or in reception? We might want to say that God's love is a synthesis, that he loves us with a "receptive pursuit." But I think we need to maintain the force of the dialectic, or else the particularity of his pursuit and his reception is lost, and his love ends up being neither. We must maintain the force of the dialectic here. Quotes from Henri Nouwen and Walt Whitman (that great defender of orthodoxy) will be helpful to get us thinking about this.
Nouwen defines hospitality, a hallmark of his thought, thus: " Hospitality is the ability to pay attention to the guest.... Paradoxically, by withdrawing into ourselves, not our of self-pity but out of humility, we create space for another to be himself and to come to us on his own terms.... When we have found the anchor places for our lives in our own center, we can be free to let others enter into the space created for them and allow them...to speak their own language without fear. Then our presence is no longer threatening and demanding but inviting and liberating" (The Wounded Healer
And Whitman, for whom love is aggressive and inquisitive, describes what he sees as our responsibility to actualize genuine humanity in others: "Undrape! you are not guilty to me, nor stale nor discarded, / I see through the broadcloth and gingham whether or no, / And am around, tenacious, acquisitive, tireless, and cannot be shaken away" (Song of Myself, §7).
And again, "Through me many long dumb voices, / Voices of the interminable generations of prisoners and slaves, / Voices of the diseas'd and despairing and of thieves and dwarfs, / Voices of cycles of preparation and accretion, / ...And of the rights of them the others are down upon / Of the deform'd, trivial, flat, foolish, despised" ("Song of Myself" §24).
Thinking of two beautiful parables that Jesus tells us about how our father demonstrates his love towards us, I feel that it is necessary to embrace both of the preceding perspectives on ministry. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, we are told of a child who strays from his home, squandering the blessing he had received. What is the father's response? It is not pursuit, but patience, waiting at home. Of course he rushes out to meet his son half way, but this is not the point. The initiative is on the son, whose decision to return is met with a kind of hospitality that he could not have asked for.
The parable in Whitman's vein is that of the Lost Sheep. This one sees lostness not so much in terms of volitional rebellion, but of stupidity. The initiative here is on the part of the shepherd, who is "around, tenacious, acquisitive, tireless, and cannot be shaken away."
And so we are confronted with a love that is at once an invitation to discover redemption by turning, and a love that pursues us without concern for our witless rebellion. God's love both compels and invites our conversion.
In Paul's words, "Now that we have come to know God, or rather, to be known by him," what do we do with this example of His love that the Father has shown us in Christ? Barth, I think, is dealing with the implications of this for the theological endeavor as he writes in the introduction concerning the simultaneous need for the theologian's character to be marked both by rationality and faith. Here, we understand our duty as reciprocal to that of God's action. Must we passively receive a Word that overtakes us, or is it up to us to inquire and discover what God has revealed? If the preceding parables have any bearing on the nature of revelation, then we can only respond as Barth finally does, praying, "Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief!"