This article has three goals: (1) to provide a careful analysis of Barth's treatment of divine patience in Church Dogmatics II/1; (2) to show how Barth's thinking about divine patience helps to illumine his account of human being and human activity in later portions of the Church Dogmatics; and (3) to offer a series of constructive suggestions which connect Barth's theology with liberationist visions of human existence.
With respect to Church Dogmatics II/1, I argue that Barth breaks with a number of earlier thinkers and focuses attention on God's exercise of patience, treating it as a key dimension of God's creative and providential work. This exercise of patience means, specifically, that God accords creatures their own integrity and a capacity for free action, tempers God's punishment of sin and, in Christ, fulfils but does not temporally close the covenant. My analysis of divine patience in II/1 then serves as an interpretative key for reading later volumes of the Dogmatics. It sets in vivid relief Barth's belief that Christ's fulfilment of the covenant, achieved through Christ's life, suffering, death and resurrection, is the condition of possibility for humans being able to act with genuine integrity and consequence in the created realm. I propose, too, that Barth develops his thinking about patience by emphasising the ‘pressure’ of the patient God's empowering command – a command which is a constant summons, directed towards each and every human being, to live freely into God's future through acts of gratitude, obedience and responsibility, and to play some part in bringing creation to its glorious end. Finally, I explore the convergence between certain aspects of the Church Dogmatics and anti-essentialist construals of the self in contemporary theology. I aim to identify points of connection between Barth and thinkers like Marcella Althaus-Reid, and I voice support for a style of scholarship which elides the distinction between ‘systematic’ and ‘liberationist’ modes of inquiry.