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 16: The Son Of God
No man can know who God is. The cleverest scholar knows nothing more concerning God than the simplest man. There dwells of course within every human heart a feeling of something higher than itself, a dim apprehension of a Power ruling all that is, and giving His Law to all that lives. But how dark and confused this pre- sentiment is, is shown by the history of mankind and by everyday life. What variety of ideas men have of "God" and "the divine" -- and how many have no conception of the matter whatsoever. Who dare to say, "I know who God is. I know His plans and purposes?" This much we know of God; He is the great mystery. And we know something else, even though obscurely -- that things are not well between God and ourselves. We cannot dismiss either one, the darkness surrounding God, and the darkness in ourselves. Can it be that both are the same?
"No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared Him." Why did the Apostles and the first Christians call Jesus the Son of God?
Because in him they discovered who God is. Jesus is like God. To be enabled to perceive that Jesus was not simply a noble, engaging man but the manifestation of the nature of God was the crisis and creative moment of their faith; and that perception was the glad news. In him God speaks to us. Therefore the first Christians also called him the Word of God. The Prophets were called of God and commissioned to proclaim the Word of God. But what they spoke was not yet the real Word of God. It was but the Prophet who spoke, not God Him- self. They were His tools, mouthpieces, but He Himself remained hidden and far away. No prophet had the temerity to say, look at me, and then you will know who God is.
Still the Prophets had something which no one else in all the history of the world possessed -- neither the great Chinese sages, nor the Greek philosophers, nor the saints of India. They had a message from God Himself. The Prophets had indeed the Word of God; but they themselves were not the Word. Hence they knew that something greater was yet to come; they pointed to the future, to the coming Messiah. Even the last of the Prophets, John the Baptist, spoke so. "But One mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose,..." He, who is more than a prophet!
Who is more than a prophet? One who not only has the Word, but is the Word! He who does not merely proclaim and promise salvation, but gives it. He who unlike the Prophets does not need to be told of God what to say, but who speaks of God as of Himself, who possesses within himself the fountainhead of the Word of God, who docs not stand awe-stricken before the mystery of God, but who, himself, reveals the mystery of God. No man can be that. Man can never be more than a prophet. Above the prophet stands only the One who Himself equips the prophet, who gives the Word -- God. God alone possesses the Word, and no one can say, the Word of God comes from me, except God. He who says, Jesus is more than a prophet, Jesus is the Word of God -- says, Jesus is not simply a man like us, but he is God Himself.
That is the inconceivable -- and precisely in this in- conceivable subsists the Christian faith. Non-Christians have everything but this, they have the commandments of God, even the commandment to love one's neighbor, the omnipotence and wisdom of God. But this they do not have -- God, who Himself comes to us and shows Himself to us as God-man, longs for fellowship with us, and that He -- in spite of all -- is not ashamed of us, but loves us and desires to bring us to glory.
This God, who condescends to man and comes so near the humankind as though He were one of them -- this God the heathen do not have. And we know this God only because of what has happened. This self-condescension, this humiliation, this God we have in Jesus Christ.
To be sure not every one has God in Jesus Christ. All depends on what Jesus means to a man. He to whom Jesus is only a man -- were he ever so exalted, pious, noble, wise, the greatest of all religious founders and saints -- does not have this God. "He who hath not the Son, hath not the Father." It is with him as with a man who has a banknote on which is printed 1000 dollars: the belief that the note is counterfeit makes it worthless to such an one, a mere scrap of paper. He does not have the 1000 dollars. He who does not believe that in Jesus God Himself comes to us, does not apprehend the God who reveals Himself to us in the coming of Jesus Christ. He does not perceive the gracious will of God; God's secret, the divine plans for the world are not unveiled for him. The atonement did not take place for him; Jesus Christ is not God's word and deed for him. He is not that man's Saviour. For a man cannot save us. Only God can do that, only Jesus Christ can do that if God is in him as the Saviour.
We should honor great men, saintly men are noble examples for us, but no great or saintly man can reveal God's mystery to us and bind us with God; no man can take away our guilt and make us certain of the completion of life in eternal life. This God alone can do, and He does just that in Jesus Christ, who, for that reason is not merely a great man, but the Son of God. How does it happen that God comes to us as man? I do not know, I do not even know how it happens that something becomes alive, that a man is born. That is God's secret as Creator. How much more the incarnation of God remains His secret. But what I can know, and what I can rejoice in every day as a Christian is that God bestows His love upon me in His Son, and that He will give it to all who believe on him, the Son of God.