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 35: On Life Eternal
Of ourselves we know only that all things die! What our eyes see and experience daily is that there is nothing perfect. When we look about on this great universe, we shudder. In the midst of infinite space, with its millions of suns that arise and grow old in millions upon millions of years, what does this little earth-history mean? In the midst of the history of man, where races stream forth as from an inexhaustible spring into visible life and then disappear again after a few short centuries of stardom -- what is the meaning of your insignificant life with its seventy, or "by reason of strength" eighty years? Is there any meaning to it at all? No, says the universe to us. Yes, says the Word of God, the Creator of all these suns and races is thy Creator. The tremendous starry world that frightens you is not the real world. This racial life with its waxing and waning is not real life, this is all only on the surface. Beyond it is another life, that longs to break forth. It has broken forth once in Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord, and it will break forth for us all in the Resurrection. This other life is Eternal life. Eternal life is not an unending continuance of this life -- that would perhaps be Hell -- but Eternal life is a quite different life, divine, not mundane, perfect, not earthly, true life, not corrupt half-life.
We cannot form a conception of eternal life. What we imagine is ever simply of the earth, temporal, worldly. Nor could we know anything about our eternal life if it had not appeared in Jesus Christ. In him we realize that we were created for the eternal life. If we ask what is this eternal life? What sense is there in thinking about it if we can have no conception of it? the answer is, "It is life with God, in God, from God; life in perfect fellowship." Therefore it is a life in love, it is love itself. It is a life without the nature of death and of sin, hence without sorrow, pain, anxiety, care, misery.
To know this suffices to make one rejoice in eternal life. If there were no eternal life, this life of time would be without meaning, goal, or purpose, without significance, without seriousness and without joy. It would be nothing, for what ends in nothing, is itself nothing. That our life does not end in nothing, but that eternal life awaits us is the glad message of Jesus Christ. He came to give us this promise as a light in this dark world. A Christian is a man who has become certain of eternal life through Jesus Christ.
What is the meaning of life? There are many answers to this question. It means power, possessions, honor, progress, culture, etc. That is not the true answer. If that is all life means then our answer is no answer at all, because surely all these things end in nothing. The true answer is that the meaning of this life is eternal life. Such is its seriousness. The stakes are high, the loss or gain of eternal life. The dice are cast for a great prize -- how have your dice fallen? Do you win eternal life, or do you lose it? How does one win eternal life? "Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" That question was answered, "Keep the commandments!" "What must I do to be saved?" That question was answered, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ!" Which answer is correct? Both mean the same thing -- become a child of God! How a man can become a child of God has been the theme of this whole book. A child of God is, as the Scripture says, an heir of eternal life.
Death ends all life on this earth. We shall all die some day. Tomorrow? Next year? It makes no difference. Some day! Even the whole race will one day die. Without faith that means all is over. But faith says: the end is eternal life. Is it certain that faith is right? Can one know that so certainly? In the last analysis is it not a supposition? When this question arises -- and why should it not arise? -- we find out whether we can really believe. Faith is the assurance that God has truly revealed His will to us in Jesus Christ, and this will is eternal life. How he will realize his will we do not know, the "how" is unimportant for us. Our business is to live in this faith, to be joyful, and to live even now in this love which is the inner meaning of eternal life. Eternal life begins by faith in Christ, and when it has begun death can have no more dominion over us.