Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Sin is faith turned upside down

An alienation that reveals a divine origin

by Emil Brunner

Therefore, even now, man is to be understood in terms of the image of God, but as the being that is in contradiction with itself, just as it lives in contradiction to God. Contradiction is something entirely different from the absence of relationship. Even now man is entirely to be understood as God’s image – but as a perverted image; the wine of God’s love bestowed upon him has turned sour and become the vinegar of enmity with God.

Sin is faith turned upside down, and can be understood in no other way. Even so, man remains a singular being; even sin, his perversion, is something that distinguishes him from every other creature. Man is the only being that sins: this is the greatness in his misery, which in the midst of his alienation from God betrays his divine origin.

Man must be understood in terms of the contradiction between origin and fall. Precisely this, the contradiction between truth and falsehood in him, is the defining mark of current man.

It is thus that the Bible understands man… [The Bible] teaches us exactly the same things about man that we, too, must teach: that man is God’s image, but that this image is destroyed and must be renewed. Man is completely a sinner, but this sin is not a condition but a determination of his being, and as such is an act, but an act that determines man as a whole. Therefore he is the slave of his own sin, and bound in a unity with the whole of mankind in it.

A lust for autonomy that flees the healing Word of God

There is no conflict between this doctrine of origin and sin, and the scientific knowledge of our day, unless science oversteps its limits and propounds some speculation of natural philosophy – for example, materialism or determinism – as scientific teaching. In that case, however, we have no longer to do with modern science but with modern man, who conceals his lust for autonomy behind the mask of science, and seeks to exculpate himself.

All understandings of man, with the exception of the Christian one, are attempts to exculpate man, but by exculpating man, they cheapen him at the same time, by robbing him of his personal character.

Only the biblical understanding of man – the interpretation of him in terms of the Word of God that became flesh in Jesus Christ – does not exculpate him but condemns him. But in condemning, it maintains his personal character. And the Bible condemns him at the same moment it acquits him of guilt. For the same Jesus Christ, the same Word of God in whom we know ourselves as sinners, is also the One who takes this sin from us.


Emil Brunner, The Word of God and Modern Man, 45-46.

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