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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 8: The Mystery of Man


What is man? No other question is so important as this one. As war or peace may depend upon the stroke of a pen in the hands of a single government official, so your life depends upon the answer to this question. The man who believes in his heart that man is an animal, will live like an animal. In a certain sense and within certain limits the statement is true, you are what you believe yourself to be. What is man? One can give various answers to this question which are not untrue. One can, for example, say that man is a chemical mixture of lime, phosphorus, and nitrogen. The Bible says it more simply -- man is dust. That is true, but there are other judgments. One can say, man is a machine, or rather a factory with an enormous number of complicated machines, the stomach for example, a combustion machine. This is not untrue either, but it is not every- thing that can be said. One can say that man is an animal, and who would contest the many similarities which we have in common! We shall probably have to leave the question of our corporal relationship with the animals to the natural scientists. They are quite possibly right.

Yet men have always somehow known that man is more than animal, and it is verily a peculiar kind of scientific method which can no longer see the differences that separate man and beast and machine. The animal possesses understanding, no doubt, but has no reason. It has, no doubt, the beginning of a civilization, but no culture. It probably has curiosity and knows many things, but it has no science, it probably plays, but it has no art. It knows herds, but not fellowship. It probably fears punishment, but has no conscience. It probably realizes the superiority of man, but it knows nothing of the Lord of the World. Man is something other than animal, as the animal is something other than a plant. But what then is he -- man? If he is no animal, perhaps he is a God. That sounds absurd, yet this madness is quite prevalent among us today. Fundamentally, say many, man and God are identical. Human reason is the same as divine reason. The soul is identical with God. Indeed this insane idea is very seductive when one rightly ponders it. For is not "God in us?" That

man "fundamentally" is God, has been stated not only by ancient heathen, but also by many modern thinkers. even by many of our German idealistic philosophers. In spite of all that -- it still is false. Man is not God because he is God's creature. He is not divine "in his deepest nature"

because .in his deepest nature he is a sinner. How is it possible that two such mutually exclusive concepts of man could be championed from ancient until modern times -- man, an animal; man, a God? The Bible gives us the answer to this question, for it tells us what man really is. The Bible first tells us, God created man; man, like the worm, like the sand of the sea, like the sun and

moon, is God's creation. That means that man is what he is because God has so made him. He has received his life, his existence, his peculiar being from God, precisely as the thousands of animals have their characteristics from God. Whether or not God has employed an evolution of millions of years for the purpose of creating man is the critical concern of the natural scientist; it is not a critical question for faith. When I say God created man, I do not therewith deny that man originates from earthly parents. God uses human parents to create men. Man in the first place, then, is a member of this earthly world which comes and goes, changes and grows. Man is dust of dust. But like the dust, gloriously created of God, even more marvelously than plants and animals.

In the second place the Bible says that God created man in his own image. It is only of man that this statement is made. That he is created in the image of God distinguishes him from all the other creatures and makes him somehow similar to God. For what is it that is expressed by the word "image" but similarity of some sort? As a further cause of this similarity the Bible states "God breathed into him the breath of life and he became a living soul." What distinguishes man from the rest of creation is the share he has in God's thought, that is, reason as distinguished from mere perception, which the animal also possesses. Man can think into the eternal and infinite.

We must now make a third statement, God created all creatures by His Word. But He created man not only by His Word, but for and in His Word. That means, God created man in such a way that he can receive. God's Word. That is reason in its true sense. Man really becomes man when he perceives something of God. We are men when we perceive the divine Word. If a man, for example, had no conscience he would not be man but inhuman. Conscience is in some way the perception of the voice of God. Man has been so created by God that he can become man only by perceiving God, by receiving God's Word and -- like a soldier repeating a command -- repeating God's Word. God says, I am thy God. True man should say, Yea, Thou art my God. God says. Thou art mine. True man should say, Yea, I am Thine. When he says that in his heart homo sapiens becomes humanus. Previously he has been inhuman. God created us in His image, as reflections of his image. That means we are human in the degree we permit God to speak to us. We are man to the extent that we let God's Word echo in our hearts. We are not simply men as a fox is a fox. But we are men only when God's Word finds an echo in us. To the degree that this fails to happen we are inhuman. No fox behaves unnaturally because a fox comes finished from the hand of God. It is created by the Word, not in the Word. But man is created in the Word, which means that man can say yes or no to that for which God has created him, to that which God has destined as the goal of His creation. Then man becomes either human or in-human. The freedom to say yes or no to God is the mystery of man. We have this freedom from God because

He has addressed us. Were God to cease speaking to us, we could answer no more, either yes or no. We would then have ceased to be men. It is in this way God desires to have an image. Men who love Him who first loved them, who reply to Him who first addressed them, in free acknowledgment, in faith. The mystery of man is the mystery of faith!

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