Dr. Heinrich Emil Brunner (1889-1966), a Swiss Reformed theologian who advocated neo-orthodoxy theology, published his Gifford Lectures in Christianity and Civilisation (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, NY, 1948 &1949). Chapter II in Brunner’s first lecture series (The Foundations) is titled: The Problem of Being or Reality. As an engineering graduate, I land solidly in reality. I was trained to think logically from facts based on scientific data. Feelings and philosophy never assisted me when taking engineering exams or performing laboratory experiments. I can relate to Brunner’s statement: “A realist is a man who tests reality by this criterion: material, sensible fact.” (page 15) Today, many people ask the question: what is the meaning of life? Brunner asks another question: what is real? He asks this question with God at the forefront of his question and states it is the fundamental question.
“This world, which we see with our eyes and grasp with our hands, is somehow real. But what we grasp and see is not reality itself, but one of its aspects. Consummate reality is a totality, a world permeated by Logos, a unity of God and world, of mind and matter, of eternity and temporality, of transparent spirit and opaque weight.” (page 17) When we are born, what we see is not of our creation, but what was created prior to our existence. Christians view the world differently than many other religions and ancient civilizations. “It is determined by the thought that God is the creator and the world His creation. God therefore is the primary reality. Whatever else we call real is secondary, dependent reality. … The primary reality, the aboriginal being is God, and God is spirit” (page 18)
In ontological terms, “God, the creator, is.” (page 18) Our views are totally shaped by God, the creator. Everything we see and experience is the reality that God created, although God, as spirit, is not seen directly. For scientists taught to prove reality through concrete and objective study, this theological idea is a true leap of faith as it goes directly against taught reality. Yet, I have not heard of a single scientist who can create matter ex niliho, out of nothing. “God is therefore never object, but always subject; never something – it, substance – but He, or rather Thou. God is absolutely free will, free in such a way that the world, His creation, is at every moment conditioned by His will.” (page 19) Humans only perceive and experience what God created.
This leads to the second aspect of being: all creatures are dependent beings. “According to Christian thought there is no such imperishable, self-contained substance, but only creaturely being, which exists because, and so long as, and such as God wills it to be; being which He calls out of nothing and which He holds above nothing.” (page 19) The gap between God, the creator, and his creatures is infinite. “The distinction between God and creature is absolute; the distinctions between the creatures, however, are relative. … Between these two there are no intermediates.” (pages 20-21) This is why God is so angry when His creatures worship other gods or place barriers between His creatures and God. “No continuity whatever is left but the sharp opposition: Godhead on the one hand, the world’s creatureliness on the other.” (page 21)
Brunner was a close university colleague of Dr. Karl Barth, probably the most renown 20th-century Protestant theologian, and they are aligned on this reality: “the objective world becomes certain to us only in the faith or belief in God the Creator, that is to say, in that faith in that Creator who reveals Himself in His own word.” (page 27) Some scientists want to prove God exists through their reality of material facts. Some philosophers want to prove God through their reality of conscious logic. Some religions seek reality beyond their senses through spiritual exercises. Christianity “is neither that of naive realism nor that of speculative idealism; in structure as in origin it is different from both. God, Who is spirit, is the primary original being and the world is dependent secondary being. That is to say that the world has objective reality, not in itself, but through the thought and will of the Creator. It is, but it is what God thought and willed it to be before it was.” (page 26)