Part of sermon on January 1, 1919…
”The times are long past when we cross over into New Year with pleasant and contented greetings and mutual good-luck wishes. The world now has a serious countenance, as those who are attentive are aware. Persons who live not just for themselves and in their own small circle, but who in a broad sense suffer the problems of the time—such persons go today into the New Year full of concern. Indeed they go into it with greater care than in the last year of the war. Now the war is over, and for this reason we could perhaps for a moment be less concerned.
But now one has to deal with the balancing of accounts regarding who was at fault for causing it, the evil it produced, and what we have learned or no yet learned. Attentive persons recognize that the prospects for this balancing of accounts are not good. The air above us is full of signs of coming storms; the ground trembles beneath us, announcing the coming of serious earthquakes. There are moments when one almost envies those who stand in the midst of these problems and must repent for the sins of the past. I think, for example, of the unfortunate country Russia. I also think of the deeply humiliated German people. What stands before the rest of us: before those who with the air of righteousness savor the victory, or those who are merely observers? Like the old Russia and the old Germany, we in our own way have believed in the forces that brought about the war and the revolution: we have believed in money; in an only outward culture without the cultivation of the person; in a Christianity that is nothing more than decoration; in the might of the military; in social prejudices. Who believes more in these things than the English, the Americans, the Swiss? In some places the house that was built on these basic principles has collapsed in fear and suffering. I remember the words of the Hungarian government official István Tisza, murdered in October of last year: ’It had to happen!’ Are the perverted principles on which we have built everything better able to bear the load in Switzerland than where the collapse is being suffered? World history is uncannily consistent and conscientious; it forgets nothing and reveals what is concealed. What humanity sows, it must reap [cf. Gal 6:7].
The thought of what will happen in the future must be alarming for those who know this. Not even with the most optimistic view of things can one say that in the past several months the victors in this war have sown good seeds. The same is to be said of us Swiss. We have learned very, very little. It may be that the vanquished in the war are far in advance of us in the rethinking and relearning that are now necessary. With astonishing certainty and self-justification, we Swiss are traveling farther on the same roads that led to the world war. We are astonishingly at ease in the confidence that what has been, with all its idols, can continue into eternity. The price will have to be paid for that. Serious persons are aware and concerned. Not rest and quiet are to be expected, but rather new disturbances; not peace and understanding, but new oppositions; not the dissolution of of tensions, but new and difficult problems and sufferings. Apparently we want all this, and in any case we have it: we are choosing the way of old Russia and of old Germany. In some way or other, and some time or other, we will have to share their fate. For God will not be mocked [Gal 6:7].”
- Willimon, William H., 2009: The Early Preaching of Karl Barth. Louisville: Westminister John Knox Press. S. 89-90