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 6: God and the Demonic Element in the World
"And were the world with devils filled, all waiting to devour us. . . " Who can deny that this is a bedevilled world -- the world in which we live? One glance at the newspaper suffices to establish this fact. Accidents, crimes, catastrophes, famines, epidemics, revolution, war and preparations for war. "And you dare to claim that this world is God's creation? ruled by a God who is love? Are you deranged?" What reply shall we make? I would propose that we answer frankly, yes, we are deranged. That is one thing the Bible tells us about ourselves, and hence, too, about our world. Can you imagine God's creation of the world as a sort of book set in type by the printer; everything is in the right place and makes good sense when one reads it; and then while the typesetter is gone, a scoundrel confuses the type. Everything is "deranged," whole sentences are inverted, others are utterly meaningless. Will you accuse the typesetter of setting up a madman's book?
It is so with our world. God's "composition" has become deranged through evil, sin. As it is written in the parable, an enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat. There is something opposed to God and to the creation in this world. The Bible speaks of a power inimical to God, a leader of all diabolical powers. But it speaks still more of the ungodly power which we all know only too well out of our own experience, concerning which we know quite well that it is opposed to God. This opposition is sin, which means rebellion against God's self-will, our own stubborn resistance to God's "composition." As surely as God is love, is my own lovelessness ungodly, diabolical, resistance against God's action. Whenever an unkindness is done, God's will is not done. Rather that occurs which God does not will.
So then God does not really rule in this world? When a father merely observes, for a while, the petulant, headstrong actions of his little son so that the lad may experience for himself where his own will leads -- does that mean that the father is a weak parent, who cannot control his son? He will, no doubt, take things in hand at the proper moment, but he prefers not to lecture his son, but rather to educate him through experience to make his own decisions. There is no doubt that God could, if He so desired, create order in this topsy-turvy world all at once; He could, no doubt, make us obedient with a wave of His hand. But He doesn't want to force us; it is His desire that we should turn to Him of our own free will. Hence He gives us, situated as we are in this deranged world, His Word, namely, the Law and the Promises, that we perceiving the insane folly of evil and the fixed nature of His love, may return to Him in freedom and gladness. For this reason He has given Himself in Christ Jesus to this deranged world, permitting the world to rage against Him -- the madness of men, the crucifixion of His son. He has made the revelation of His ineffable love. It is there He shows us how He is master of this perverse world -- so much master, that He can even employ its madness to reveal His love. God there produced His master- piece, if we may express it so humanly, by showing that He is Lord even of the greatest darkness in this world, that men even in rebellion against Him still remain tools in His hand to be used as He wills.
If we were compelled to discover God simply by means of the world as it now is, the thought would probably occur to us that there are two kinds of Gods, good and evil, redemptive and destructive. But in the cross of Jesus Christ we perceive that destruction is not God's will, and that in spite of it God keeps His masterly grip upon the world, and accomplishes His counsels of love. He gives us time to decide for ourselves, to turn to Him. And He gives us signs enough of His steadfast creative loyalty in the midst of this deranged, bedevilled world, that we may be able to find our way. "Yes, but how are we to explain all the evil, the wrong and the suffering from the love of God?" Dear friend, who has given you the task of explaining all this? A man who proposes to "explain" God's government of the world is even more ludicrous than the raw recruit who wants to explain the general's plan or a shop hand who criticizes the organization and management of a mammoth industrial enterprise. Man, what do you understand of the government of the world! "Thou art not the regent, creation well to guide" the hymn rightly phrases it. It is enough for us to know that God Who rules in a manner inconceivable to us in this deranged world yet rules by means of the Cross of His son. Let us give heed to the signals where God gives them, that we may understand His will. God transmits His will to us in the darkness of this world. It is to be found in the commandments and the gospel of forgiveness and salvation. To that we must cleave, foregoing the desire to decipher out of the darkness His will for ourselves. The solution of the world riddle will not come until the day of salvation.