Chapter 13: The Promise

Our Faith
by Emil Brunner

Chapter 13: The Promise

Every one has a bad conscience whenever he thinks about God, for we know quite well what God wants of us, and our own failure to do what He demands. We know that we are disobedient. But because we know that we do all the more what we ought not -- we flee from God, we hide from Him like Adam and Eve after the Fall. The Law of God drives us away from God, or, more correctly, our bad conscience drives us away. We do not fear God, but we are afraid before God. Therefore the bad conscience, despite the fact that it tells us the truth, is, so to speak, an enemy of God. It is precisely this which stands between us and God. It does not let us come to God. A bad conscience and the law of God belong together. We have a bad conscience because we know the law of God. But the God who is known to us solely from the law is not at all the true God. The true God does not say first, "thou shalt," but "I am." How do the Ten Commandments begin? Not with "thou shalt have no other Gods before me," but with "I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage."

God is not primarily the lawgiver, but the lifegiver. The essential is not what He demands but what He gives. As Creator He gives us life, the world with all its goods, his Ordinances are His gift. It is His gift that man and woman are created so wonderfully for each other, that the one can be happy only in the devotion to the other. Marriage is holy because it is God's gift. God does not give commands to show that He can give orders. His Commandments are nothing but explanations of his Ordinances which are gifts.

The meaning of all the Commandments is not to destroy that which God has so wondrously bestowed upon you -- this life which is holy because it is God's gift; God's commandments are given to protect life from gross infringement, like a wall thrown about a glorious garden. The Commandments of God are gifts of God.

God wants to bestow more than this life upon us. Even the heathen know faintly that this life on earth is a gift of God the Creator. But they do not know that God wants to bestow something upon us much greater than life. This is the message of the Bible only. God did not say all at once what He proposed to give. His speaking begins with Abraham, "in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." What this world-wide blessing of Abraham really is, Abraham does not know, but it is promised, and Abraham believed the word of promise. Later the Promise is of that wonderful King of righteousness and the kingdom of peace of which Isaiah prophesies: when righteousness will rule instead of unrighteousness, life instead of destruction, peace among the nations instead of war, peace even among the animals. The dawn becomes ever more bright. There comes Jeremiah with his God-given word of promise concerning a new covenant in which there will be not only righteousness and peace in the external sense of the word, but forgiveness of sin and peace with God, wherein the law of God will not have to be commanded, but goodness will be inscribed in the heart of man. And above all, God Himself will be graciously present with His people, and they shall really know themselves to be His people. Then finally, the clear- ness of morning before the sunrise, the New Testament in the midst of the Old, the promise of the coming servant of God, who takes upon himself the guilt of His people, bears their grief and through his suffering atones for the sin of man (Isaiah 53).

That is the biblical message, not what God wants of us, but what He desires for us; not what we should do, but what God does and gives. The Law of God is every- where, the Promise of God is only in the Bible -- the promise, namely, that God comes to His sick, rebellious people, to heal them, the message of the "Saviour," the healing, saving, forgiving, and redeeming God. This promise is really the Word of God.

Only so can one understand the Commandment of God aright. God desires nothing of us save that we allow Him to bestow life upon us, not merely this life that ends with death, but His life, that knows no death. To allow Him to give us life is nothing different than -- believing in Him, the saving, healing God. The beginning of the Ten Commandments can be rightly understood only from the fulfilment of the Promise: "I am the Lord thy God which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage" -- for what this house of bondage is and how God has led us forth from it, is revealed in the message of Jesus the Saviour-King, "Christ," the Saviour.