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 25: Prayer
The world often seems like a monstrously sinister machine, blind, insensible, destroying everything that man builds, fosters, loves, hopes. Why should the world concern itself about your wishes, little stupid man? What does your sigh mean in the midst of a universe where suns grow and age in billions of years? Such a thought makes prayer die upon the lips. Is there any sense in praying the roaring avalanche to spare the babe yonder in the path of its downward rush? 0 fate, blind, awful, senseless fate!
When we look beyond ourselves out into the world, prayer fades away. Man's tragic lot robs one of the courage to pray. Everything appears to be senseless, disorder, chance, confusion. Who then has a mind to pray? The world can at most permit us dimly to perceive a mysterious Power; but to make us trust ourselves to this Power, calling upon it as children do their father: "Help us!" the world is unable. How then can we pray? What gives us the courage, the confidence, the assurance?
As children lost in a woods, are fearful of the sinister darkness -- and then, suddenly, hearing a sound from the sombre blackness, a familiar voice, a loving, seeking, helping voice, their mother's voice -- so prayer is our reply to the voice from the Word of God in Jesus Christ which suddenly cries out to us in the mysterious, dark universe. It is the Father calling us out of the world's darkness. He calls us, seeks us, wants to bring us to Himself. "Where are you, my child?" Our prayers mean "Here I am. Father. I was afraid until you called. Since you have spoken, I am afraid no longer. Come, I am waiting for you, take me, lead me by the hand through the dark terrifying world."
It is a tremendous moment when a man hears this voice and knows he is safe. God is at hand! The world is not the ultimate, not all. There is a Lord of this world, a ruler over all things; one can call upon Him for He hears. I may say "thou" to Him and it is not merely an echo of my cry that returns to me, but an answer. There is meaning in prayer. Indeed if what has been said is true, not only has prayer meaning but in that meaning is life's most wonderful gift. How a lost explorer, immured upon the floating arctic ice must be encouraged when, thanks to the radio he has with difficulty rescued and set up, he not only sends out the S.O.S. but suddenly hears an answer! New courage and joyful hope mount within him. All can yet come out right. So too of prayer. In the midst of this dark incomprehensible world of fate, of death, it is the invisible contact with Him who is above all, and who calls to us: "Have no fear, I am here, thy Father, thy Creator and Redeemer. I will yet make all things come out right."
Faith lives on prayer, indeed, faith is nothing but prayer. The moment we really believe, we are already praying, and when we cease praying we also cease believing. The philosopher Kant made the statement that prayer obviously has no other effect than that of lifting the spirits of him who prays, and that to assume an effect outside the praying person was unreasonable. No other judgment is possible for the man who does not know the God who speaks to us, -- in the sphere of our feelings, perhaps, -- but utterly apart from our feelings, in Jesus Christ.
Because they do not know this God and this revelation so many men of our time no longer pray. True prayer is possible only as an answer to God's real revelation. True prayer, that is, prayer in which a man really believes he will be heard, is possible only when one believes in the Jiving God. What is meant by the "living God"? The God to Whom you can pray trustfully, because He has previously revealed to you His trust- worthiness. That is the living God.
Is it possible, then, for a modern man to pray? There can be no doubt that even the most cultured modem man who has at his disposal all the technical art of our day, needs to pray; indeed, deep in his heart wants to pray. But can such a man pray after learning all that he has about the mysterious world-machine, natural laws, and infinity? The modern man, no less than Abraham who looked up and beheld the starry Palestinian heavens 4000 years ago, is a living soul. He is no clod of earth, but an "I." Because of his spirit he is superior to this whole world of matter. My body is a bit of the world, my personality is not. Even the modern man can know that, and many of the clever and learned do know it. Then the question arises, has this personality a Lord, or is it its own master? Is this personality responsible -- that is, must it answer Him who calls it, or can it do what it pleases? Responsible man is already addressed by God: "Adam, where art thou?" We are all afraid of this voice, for we know that before it we cannot vindicate ourselves. But the voice which comes thus challenging carries within it that which also cheers: fear not, for I am thy God, thy Father. As surely as even the most modern man is a sinful man who cannot atone for his guilt, so surely the Gospel of the Grace of God is proclaimed to him. Thanks be to God for the many who hear it and henceforth answer God in prayer, with praise, thanks and supplication.