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Man is Something That Must be Overcome
by Karl Barth

“Man is something that must be overcome.” Man! Nor only the bad, the godless, the unbelieving, the immoral man, but man in every form, man as such, man as he is, irrespective of his evils, or of his noble, helpful, good characteristics and high aspirations righteous and unrighteous, godless and pious man. There is a place within us which is situated beyond all these differences, beyond good and evil, beyond piety and impiety. In this place, at the deepest, the most hidden, the most inward part in us, an ultimate bastille, so to speak, an unconquerable citadel, a mighty fortress lifts its walls. That is the throne of the original human in us. In this fortress we are ourselves, without any good or evil additions here we are alone with ourselves. Behind this wall, in this fortress, dwells our “I.” Thence it goes forth, to it retreats. There it hides itself, there it sighs and suffers, there it defies and triumphs. This wall must be shaken, this fortified city must be overcome, must be stormed and broken down. Before that, man is not conquered. Many battles are fought out in our lives, but the final, the decisive crisis is not in these conflicts, even though they may wage fiercely. That final conflict results only when the fight for the inner citadel takes place. All other are preliminary skirmishes in the van, not the skirmish before the real inner position.

It has often struck us how little weight Jesus put upon the differences in men, whether they were moral or immoral, pious or worldly. Undoubtedly he saw these differences better than we, but He looked beyond them as though He saw the enemy with whom He had basically to deal, the enemy who stood behind these other little enemies with which we often engage. he saw the good and the virtuous in good people and He did not lightly regard it. But at the same time He saw that behind all these goodly virtues there arose this absolutely unbroken line of defense which continually hinders and good from gaining a complete victory. And He, indeed, saw the darkness and the unrighteousness of the ungodly and worldly and He certainly did not call them good. But at the same time He saw, behind all their evils and ungodliness, the last strong hold which make it indeed possible for their evil and ungodliness to continue to maintain itself. And above all, he saw that this last inner stronghold is most unbroken in the pious and believing people whose piety serves to establish more firmly the defiant, crafty “I” of man. Continually Jesus realized that this inner position must be stormed. God must be captain of this strong bulwark of man. Everything else is futile. And so Jesus never took any part in the attempts to make the world better, or in the attempts to make good triumph over evil, or to bring about the destruction of evil which is often undertaken without touching this last ultimate premise, without overcoming men, without making God first of all absolute and only king.