Saturday, March 26, 2011


  Brunner has, through his exegesis of the problem of sin, begun to define what humanity is. His basic argument is that we are "existence-in-relation" and that without relation, we do not have existence. He defends this by saying that "The fact that man has been created by God means that his whole existence is determined by his relation to God,, His existence, as we have seen, is that of a "subject-in-relation", or responsible existence." (pg. 118) Our existence is not only relationally qualified to each other, but to God. If we do not have a relationship with both, we no longer (truly) exist.

   Our relationship to God goes in "two directions. this relation of man to God is based on freedom; first of all, the freedom of the generous love of God, which calls man to love Him in return and in so doing calls him to communion with Himself; secondly the freedom of man, who has to respond to this call (the call of Creation to join in communion with God). (pg. 118)

   We have the freedom to reject this call, which we discussed in the last post. When we reject the call of God, we find ourselves not outside of relation to God, but in relation of a different sort. "To the sinful man God is present as the Holy God, who allows the disobedient man to feel His resistance...Instead of God attracting man (calling man into relationship), he now repels him; this is the negative form of the original love of God." (pg. 118)  

  By "eating of the tree of knowledge and of life, the infringement of the divine preserve, is the effort to achieve autonomy, to be entirely self-centered; it means exchanging the a Deo esse for an impossible a se esse. If man had not yielded to this temptation, he would have lived in communion with God; he would have received life as a gift; daily he would have received it as a gift at the hands of God." (pg. 120) By entering into sin, we have exchanged the essence from God for an unachievable essence from ourselves. Instead of getting the gift of life from God, we try to create for ourselves a life; an ultimately futile project.

   Brunner holds that this 'exchange' of essences is futile. He states "No moral or religious effort will enable us to break through this barrier of the non posse non peccare (non-possibility to not sin). This is the true meaning of the servum arbitrium (sentence of slavery)." (pg. 122) Our natures have turned from liberum arbitrium (sentence of freedom) to the servum arbitrium (sentence of slavery). However, it is not God that enslaves us, but (according to Brunner) we enslave ourselves. We try to find a way to sin no more outside of the Love of God, and instead chain ourselves up in moral and religious systems.

  In our attitude of enslavement, we try to revolt, but not against ourselves. Instead of realizing that we are "the divided self" of Platonism and Neoplatonism or that we are "the sick soul" of psychology, we think that  we need to revolt against God, which in turn means revolting against ourselves. "The sinner is in revolt within himself -that is is his chronic disease, whether he knows it or not, whether he is conscious of the contradiction or not. Sin is being divided not merely from God but also...within himself." (pg. 124) We have not only given up God in our sin, but we have also given up ourselves.

   After the first sin, we are caught up in a dialect: the grandeur et misére de l'homme." (126) Humanity retains the created grandeur but has to it misery added. When we sin, when we sinned, we were left with a trace of our grandeur, but became miserable. The knowledge of our lost relation with God brings us to a three-fold misery: First there is the misery that drives man to despair in which "man cannot help misunderstanding himself and his relation to God." (pg. 126) 

   Secondly, is the phenomenon that St. Augustine speaks of in his famous words: "Cor meum inquietum donec requiescat in Te, domine." (quoted on pg. 127) We have an unquiet heart that is seeking rest in vain outside of God. This unquiet heart is "home-sickness...the pain of banishment, as the result of alienation from God." (pg. 127) We long to be at home, but are not, cannot be, without proper relationship with God and the rest of humanity being restored. (For more on this, see the essay "The Unsettling of America" or "People, Land and Community" in Wendell Berry's The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry)

  Thirdly, we have a "bad conscience". This bad conscience is the deep feeling of guilt and complete, total failure at relationship with God and Man. "It makes aware of the contrast between what we are and what we ought to be. It fills the whole of life with a certain pervading melancholy." (pg. 128) It is not that depression is a result of sin. What Brunner is saying here, through the existentialist (especially Sartre) is that our existence is now filled with a sense of un-fulfillment that is deep rooted. "It is a sign of the wrong relation between what we actually are and that for which we have been made, between the actuality and the possibility of our human nature." (pg. 128)

  Due to despairing un-quieted heart that fills us with guilt, "we cannot bear to be alone, that we shrink from solitude, it produces that profound ennui which Pascal describes so wonderfully with all its effects. It is not fear but Angst" that shows us "that we live under the wrath of God, until the conciling love of God is revealed to us." (pg. 128) We try to distract ourselves from this condition, but it fails. "Man invents all kinds of modifications of the truth, which tend to obscure it; he is very good at at making excuses, and even at shutting his eyes completely. Above all, man is a past master at silencing the voice(s)" of guilt, despair, and un-quietness. We fill our lives with distractions, evasions, and escapes, yet these all continue to plague us. No matter what we do, we cannot silence the voices. Only the Redemptive Love of Christ putting us in right relation with Himself can do that. Everything else is meaningless and vanity, a toiling under the sun. 

No comments:

Post a Comment