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 33: Afterward?
What is coming? We are not prophets. Even for our own little lives we cannot, with any degree of certainty, prognosticate one day ahead. It is probable that so and so will occur tomorrow, but all may turn out quite differently. On one matter only are we real prophets, we can predict with utter certainty that death is coming. And yet, in spite of our certain knowledge that we must die, the thought plays a very small role in our life. We avoid this thought, it is painful, indeed, fearful to us. For death means all is over; if there is nothing more, then every column in this life adds up to the same result -- zero. Death means that everything we create, the purposes for which we struggle, the ends after which we strive, for which we make sacrifices -- all are at last nothing. Death finally destroys all; all that is, is fit for destruction. Do not say that all high purposes and noble ends will continue to live in those who follow. Say rather that all will ultimately die with those dying men who follow us. All paths lead into -- the grave. That is the fearful geography of this life. It is no wonder that we avoid this thought.
To evade is not finally to escape, for this thought is swifter and stronger than our evasion. The fear of death accompanies us secretly in everything we do or leave undone, everything we think or say. It is the quiet undertone that penetrates all life. What Christ says is true of every one -- the courageous and the un- concerned, the cowardly and the careful, "In the world ye shall have tribulation." To each one it comes in a different form. We live like business men, who foresee certain bankruptcy but do not dare think of it, do not any longer balance books, make no attempt to save themselves. Fate must ultimately overtake us; so let us make shift of our days well as we can! Afterward comes the end!
Is death really the end? Is life then really senseless? Death, nothingness, is the most senseless thing we can imagine. And this is indeed the final result. But we know that in a religious, assuredly in a Christian book, we must expect to read a denial of the total destructive power of death, and that there is indeed an eternal life. But do we really believe it? And is it so sure? Can one know something certain about the matter? Death is that "undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns." So, then, what we have are not certainties but only beautiful comforting auto-suggestions that may be true, that may be quite false. Isn't this the way we naturally think? That we do so think is because we doubt. And many have the idea that doubt belongs to life and cannot be helped, that it belongs even to the Christian life.
But the truth is that so long as we are in bondage to this doubt we are not yet Christians. For to doubt eternal life is to dismiss the promises of God, to be dis- obedient to the Word of God, to put our trust in our own understanding and senses. God's Word is not sufficient guarantee, we want something more certain. But this desire for something more certain than God's Word is doubt, crass, naked doubt; crass, naked paganism; crass, naked Godlessness.
The Word of God is the message of eternal life. Jesus Christ came to show us eternal life and to bestow it upon us. "I am the resurrection and the Life. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die." That is Christ's message. Whosoever is not sure of this in his faith should not think that he is a Christian.
Can one "believe" such a thing? One can, of course, say the words, but the mere words give no help. Doubt continues to live under the same roof with this "faith"; this "faith" has no power, for it does not overcome our terror of death. Hence the Lord says, "He that believeth in me, hath eternal life." So believing in Christ, then, is not merely "believing" but life itself! Eternal life! Eternal life begins where fellowship with Christ begins, and when this begins, doubt disappears. Because Christ comes into a man's life, doubt must disappear. Christ and doubt cannot exist together. Christ alone can overcome doubt, Christ alone can really free us from the fear of death. And by doing that he makes us joyful men. "In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world." It is as though he said to you, "If you are alone you are afraid. But I have overcome your fear by standing beside you." Upon some mountain peaks there is only one solitary path -- and he who will not climb through this narrow place cannot reach the summit and must fall to his death. So, too, there is only one way to eternal life -- Christ. He who passes him by misses the goal and falls into the abyss. But he who finds this way is saved, from doubt, from tribulation and from death itself.