Chapter 5: God’s Plan for the World

Our Faith
by Emil Brunner

Chapter 5: God’s Plan for the World

Looking down at night from the mountain top upon Zurich, the traveller sees a broad luminous strip in the midst of the confusing welter of the twinkling lights of the city. It is lovely and attractive although one does not understand the significance of this aggregation of lights. It is the park square in front of the railway station; each one of the hundreds of lights is in its place, but the wayfarer on the heights above knows nothing of this perfect order. Only the chief electrician knows why this arrangement has been made and not some other. He has the blue-print and can grasp the whole plan at a glance; it is his insight, his will that orders and guides the whole.

Just so, too, we may think of what takes place in the whole world. We poor insignificant humans are set down in the midst of the whole wild world and cannot survey it all. Here and there it may be, we can catch a glimpse of the wonderful order in nature, the regularity of the stars, scattered over the wide spaces of the universe yet obedient to one law; the order to be found even in the microscopic world, as also within visible things concerning which science has given such amazing information in recent years; the order in the construction of a flower or of an animal, from the flea to the whale, a noteworthy obedience to law even in the life of man. When, however, we ask, what does all this mean, what is its purpose, we know nothing definite.

We can advance clever theories and make guesses, and men have been doing so for ages and have expressed most curious opinions about the purpose of the happenings in the world: Each one has made his guess from the center of his tiny circle of experience. But who would want to build upon such a foundation? Who would dare say; yes, it is thus and so? Every one realizes that these are only humble opinions concerning something too sublime for our conception. We know neither where we nor the world are heading. In spite of all experiment and experience it remains for us a profound, impenetrable mystery. And that weighs heavily upon us. It is as though we were feeling our way in the dark. Whither? Why? What is the meaning of everything? What is the goal? Because we do not know that, we are apprehensive, despondent, troubled, like a man condemned to hard labor without knowing the reason why. Because we have no insight into the plan of the world we are dull and apathetic.

There is One who knows the destiny of the world, He, who first made the sketch, He who created and rules the world according to this plan. What is confusion for us is order for Him, what we call chance is designed by Him, thought out from eternity and executed with omnipotence. It is indeed much to know "He thrones in might and doeth all things well." Chance? With this sorry word we merely admit that we do not know why things happen as they do. But God knows; God wills it. There is no chance, no more than any light in the station below just happens to be where it is. The chief Designer knows why, while we say, "chance," "fate." It is important to know that.

Indeed, in His great goodness, God has done even more. He did not want to leave us in the dark, for it is not His will that we should go plodding through life fearful, troubled, and apathetic, but that we, mere men though we are, should know something of His great world plans. He has, therefore, revealed to us the counsels of His will in His Word. He has not done it all at once -- men would not have understood it at all. But, long ago, like a wise teacher He laid his plans. To Abraham, Moses, and the prophets He revealed more and more of His plans, making them ever clearer, until at last, "when the time was accomplished" He revealed His heart and let men behold what He had in mind, His goal. Then He brought forth His plan out of the darkness of mystery and revealed it to all the world: Jesus Christ, the Word of God in person, God's revelation of the meaning of universal history so that we need no longer walk in darkness but in the light. How different God's plans are than the ruminations of man upon the riddle of the world! We spell out this great Word of God -- Jesus Christ -- reconciliation, salvation, forgiveness of sins, promise of eternal life, fulfilment of all things in God's own life. That is God's plan for the world.

Perhaps some one expresses himself, "It's all right with me if it comes out that way." Unfortunately that is not the way things happen in God's household. To be sure, it is only by the grace of God, through His free gift that we can have a part in His kingdom. But the man who says, "It's all right with me," has no part in it. God's help is something that comes by grace, not something that comes "of itself" like the change in voice which comes naturally at the age of puberty. God refuses to deal with us on these terms, for He wants our heart. He does not hurl his grace at us, like a bricklayer throwing mortar at a wall. God calls us to salvation. He invites us into His kingdom, he wants us to hear His summons, believe and obey Him. For it is only through such obedience that one understands any- thing at all of God's world plan; only he who hears the call receives light, he alone "walks no more in darkness" but in the light of God. He alone knows, through God, the destiny of all things, or rather where God will bring all things. To hear this call, and in this call to hear where God will lead us, to have insight into God's plan for the world -- that is faith.