Our Faith by Emil Brunner
Emil Brunner is one of the great systematic theologians of the early twentieth century. Our Faith was translated by John W. Rilling, and published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, NY, 1954. This book prepared for Religion Online by Paul Mobley.
Chapter 1: Is There A God ?
The only answer to such a question is that of the Greek philosopher, who, when asked about God by an idler, kept a persistent silence. To the merely inquisitive question, "Is there a God? I should be interested to know whether or not there is one," silence is the sole possible answer. Or perhaps one should reply to such a questioner: No, "there is" no God! "There is" a Himalaya range, "there is" a planet Uranus, "there is" an element radium: in short there are a multitude of things about which the encyclopedia gives information. But "there is" no God. That means, for the inquisitive there is no God. God is neither an object of scientific investigation nor something that we can insert in the treasure of our knowledge, as one mounts a rare stamp in a special place in an album -- there it is, finest and costliest of all.
God is not something in the world, the eternal being, the divine inhabitant of the world. God is not in the world at all, the world is rather in God. God is not within your knowledge, your knowledge is in God. If your question were answered, "Yes, there is a God," you would depart with one more illusion, for you would then suppose that God is in a class with other objects.
That, precisely, is what God is not -- if He is really God. God is never in a class, never something among other things. He can never be named along with other things. Planets, mountains, elements are objects of knowledge. God is not an object of knowledge. It is only because of God that anything is to be known at all. Without God there would be absolutely nothing at all, without God a man could know nothing. Knowledge is possible only because God is. The question about God is a possibility only because God already stands behind the question. If you really enquire about God, not with mere curiosity, not, as it were, like a spiritual stamp- collector, but as an anxious seeker, distressed in heart, anguished by the possibility that God might not exist and hence all life be vanity and one great madness -- if you ask in such a mood as the man who asks the doctor, "Tell me, will my wife live or will she die?" -- if you ask thus about God, then you know already that God exists; the anguished question bears witness that you know. Without knowing God you could not so ask about Him. You want God because without Him life is nonsense. Your own heart distinguishes between sense and nonsense; it knows that sense is right. Your heart knows
something of God already; and it is that very knowledge which gives your question existence and power. You wish that there might be a God, for otherwise everything is ultimately the same -- evil is not evil, good is not good. You know already that there is a God, for you know that good cannot possibly be the same as evil. The observation of the evil in the world, and anxious questionings about it cause you to doubt God's existence; but the very fact that one sees and
questions is belief in God. Because your heart knows God it protests against wrong. In the act of asking about God, God is already standing behind you and makes your question possible.
Not only the heart within, but the world without also testifies of God. I have never known chance to create order, so that the meaningful and beautiful arise out of mere chance. To believe that the world is a creation of God is not credulity. Credulous, rather, is the belief that the human eye, or the structure of an insect, or the glory of a spring meadow is a product of chance. The rock cairn which the wanderer sees on a mountain peak -- not chance, but a hand has laid these rocks one upon the other. Yet a million times more beautiful than such a stone heap is the retina of the eye. It is truly no evidence of intelligence to miss anything so obvious.
It is really a sign of mental disorder when a man asks, "Is there a God?" One might almost say that this is the question of an insane man, -- a man who can no longer see things simply, clearly and calmly as they are.
Something of this madness however, pervades the whole world, and we all feel its consequences; one might indeed call it the distinctive madness that afflicts our modern life. Men have always asked -- as far as history gives us information -- "In what way shall we think of God?" but never before, "Is there a God?" Technical and scientific success has gone to our heads and confused our senses. We discard as mere chance all that we cannot bring under the mastery of our reason. We suppose that we alone create order and art in the world -- missing the obvious suspicion that to make something ingenious we must first have an ingeniously created brain and ingeniously created hands. What we do create is but the creation of brain and hands which we very certainly did not create!
To ask the question, then, "Is there a God" is to fail to be morally serious. For when one is morally serious he knows that good is not evil, that right and wrong are two different things, that one should seek the right and eschew the wrong. There is a divine order to which one must bow whether one likes to do so or not. Moral seriousness is respect to the voice of conscience. If there is no God, conscience is but a complex of residual habits and means nothing. If there is no God then it is absurd to trouble oneself about right -- or wrong. It all comes to the same ultimate chaos. Scoundrel and saint are only phantoms of the imagination. The man who can stop here must probably be left to go his own way.
Still -- if God really does exist, why then must we always be asking about Him? Our heart cannot escape from God; it knows about God! But our heart does not know Him truly. Our conscience tells us that God is, but does not know who He is. Our reason testifies of God and yet does not know who He is. The world with a million fingers points toward God, but it cannot reveal Him to us.
Who is God? What does He want of us? What purpose does He have for the world? To these questions we know no answer -- and so long as these questions are unanswered we do not know God. There is another, and only one other, possibility: if God chose to reveal Himself to us we could know Him truly. That God exists is testified by reason, conscience, and nature with its wonders. But who God is -- God Himself must tell us in His Revelation.