Thursday, March 25, 2010

Do All Religious Roads Lead to Heaven? The Question of Religious Pluralism


Is there a God? If there is a God, can we know anything about God? Is God an impersonal, indistinct force in the universe? Or is God a personal transcendent being? What is the nature of humanity? What is wrong with the world? What is wrong with us as human beings? Is there such a thing as right and wrong? Do ethics matter? What is the nature of salvation, or enlightenment, or liberation? What is the path to “heaven” or “nirvana”? How are we saved? What is the relationship between belief and reality, faith and reason?

These are all core religious questions. Some of them are more important than others. Broadly speaking, one could narrow down the key religious questions to three: a) what is the nature of ultimate reality (i.e. God); b) what is the nature of humanity; and c) what is the nature of salvation. More crassly, we could pose them thus: a) where did I come from?, and b) where am I going? How these questions are answered is vitally important – indeed, I would argue that these are the most important questions that someone can contemplate. Ideally, such contemplation leads one into a relationship with Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.

Different religious traditions answer these core questions differently (as we are going to see in more detail shortly). But does that matter? Can the different religious answers to those questions be harmonized, so that we understand religions to be fundamentally alike? That is the central issue which we will address tonight. First, let’s take a look at the Christian answer.

I. Orthodox Christianity

In John 14:6, Jesus declares: I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. This is the quintessential Christian claim to being the one true religion. But there are others like it. Acts 4:8-12 reads:

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: "Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is "the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.” Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."

Catch that – salvation is found in no one else. If we are to be saved – whatever that means – we are going to be saved by Jesus. Nothing and no one else. This is the traditional orthodox biblical Christian claim. Notice also that Peter is not expressing some relativistic version of salvation by Jesus. He’s not saying that salvation is found in no one else “for us as Christians,” the way that some reinterpreters like to argue. Rather, he is speaking to the Jewish Sanhedrin, and is insisting that “for you as for you, salvation is found in no one else.”
Historically, the Christian claim is that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and that salvation is found in no other place. In a nutshell, the claim is that “salvation is by grace through faith in Christ”. The key words there are: a) salvation, implying that we have a need to be saved (from sin); b) grace, demonstrating God’s initiative and work, not our own; c) faith, as the instrument of God’s grace; and d) Christ, as the object of faith. This Christian exlusivism (or particularism), broadly speaking, has three fundamental principles.

a) The Bible is God’s authoritative self-revelation; therefore, where Scripture is incompatible with the teaching of other faiths, other faiths are to be rejected.

b) Jesus is the unique incarnation of God – fully God and fully man – and only through the person and work of Christ is there the possibility of salvation.

c) God’s saving grace is not mediated through the teachings, practices, or institutions of other religions.

It is important to note that exclusivism does not necessarily imply that those outside of the Christian Church will all go to hell – it may imply that, but it does not in and of itself do so. This is not, however, a discussion that we will pursue here – unless there’s time at the end and you want to go down that road! Basically, the historical Christian claim is that Jesus is the way to salvation, and that Christianity represents the one religious road to a true knowledge of God.

II. Religious Pluralism

Religious pluralism disputes these exclusive claims of orthodox Christianity. What is religious pluralism? In its weakest sense, religious pluralism is simply a true observation about the state of religious affairs around the world. In other words, pluralism simply states that people do embrace different religious perspectives.
However, that is not the way in which religious pluralism is generally used. Instead, it is usually used in its prescriptive or normative sense – as Harold Netland defines, “an egalitarian and democratized perspective holding that there is rough parity among religions concerning truth and soteriological effectiveness.” (Netland, Encountering Religious Pluralism, 12) In other words, different religions are equally true, and equally able to save us (from whatever it is that we need to be saved from).

Pluralism, then, holds that salvation (or enlightenment or liberation) should be acknowledged as present and effective in its own way in each religion. No single religion can claim to be somehow normative and superior to all others, for all religions are in their own way complex historically and culturally conditioned human responses to the one divine reality. Thus, although Christians can claim that Jesus is unique and normative for them, they cannot claim that Jesus is unique or normative in an objective or universal sense. (Netland, 53)

Let’s take a deeper look at religious pluralism. My desire is that through this study, you will come to know with certainty and be able to show with confidence that there are three fatal flaws in religious pluralism, and that all religious roads do not lead to heaven.

Please note: this will NOT be an in-depth study of various religions, nor an aggressive presentation of Christianity's truth over and above other religions, nor a discussion of the nature and degree of God’s truth evident in other religious traditions, nor a critique of other religious practices which Christians might seek to incorporate into their spirituality. My purpose is more modest - simply to show that religious pluralism does not work, that the major world religions cannot all be legitimate paths to salvation – that they cannot be realistically harmonized without maiming them beyond recognition.

III. Fatal Flaw #1 – Rejection of Orthodox Christianity

The first fatal flaw of religious pluralism has already been hinted at in our brief discussion of orthodox Christianity. Namely, believing that all religions (or at least the major world religions) are all equally legitimate human responses to the “Divine Reality,” and each lead to “salvation,” requires one to reject orthodox biblical Christianity. The orthodox Christian faith, based on God’s self-revelation in the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, holds firmly and unapologetically to the belief that salvation is found exclusively in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Religious pluralism, again, holds that all religions are legitimate paths to salvation, and that Jesus Christ is merely one of many ways to touch the Divine Reality. Thus, religious pluralism, of necessity, represents a rejection of the historic, orthodox, biblical Christian faith.

While this fatal flaw may not bother too many religious pluralists (for reasons we will see later), it ought to be decisive for followers of Jesus Christ. Colossians 2:6-8 reads:

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

We are not to be mesmerized by teachings and philosophies which are derived from human reason but contradict biblical revelation. Rather, as 2 Corinthians 10:5 encourages us, We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. As Christians, this fatal flaw is enough to doom the false teaching of religious pluralism. But it is not the only one.

IV. Fatal Flaw #2 – Logical Incoherence, Irrationality & Inconsistency

While the first fatal flaw of religious pluralism is only of consequences to those of us who are biblical Christians, the other two apply to all people. That is, the remaining fatal flaws are recognizable by all people (Christian or non-Christian), and provide sufficient reason for us to conclude that religious pluralism is necessarily false, and that all religious roads cannot possibly lead to a saving knowledge of the Divine Reality.

The second fatal flaw of religious pluralism is its logical incoherence, irrationality, and inconsistency. This is a large charge—after all, religious pluralism is a perspective held by millions of people around the world, including some incredibly brilliant and well-educated people, like John Hick, John Dominic Crossan, and the Dalai Lama. Thus, I cannot simply state that religious pluralism is logically incoherent—I need to demonstrate it.

Surprisingly, it is disturbingly easy to demonstrate the incoherence of religious pluralism. Let’s James Sire’s classic book, The Universe Next Door, considers fundamental beliefs within six basic worldviews. Sire examines these religious worldviews according to how they respond to seven fundamental religious questions: a) the nature & character of ultimate reality; b) the nature of the universe; c) the nature of humanity; d) the question of what happens to a person after death; e) the basis of human knowing; f) the basis of ethics; and g) the meaning of history.

Glancing briefly at the way different religions respond to these fundamental questions will quickly uncover the incoherence of the claim that all religions are just different responses to the same “ultimate reality.” For example – what is the nature & character of that ultimate reality? Naturalism (or atheism, or secular humanism) says that there is no such thing! There is no ultimate reality – only the matter, the physical substances, within the universe. As Carl Sagan would say, “The Cosmos is all that is, all that was, and all that ever will be.” New Age spirituality teaches that the self is the prime reality – that we are each, individually, God in the flesh. Most forms of Hinduism and Buddhism teach that ultimate reality is an impersonal, infinite reality. Christianity (along with Judaism and Islam), by contrast, says that there is a supernatural being, transcendent to the physical universe, who is the Creator of all that exists. Can these different conceptions of the “ultimate reality” be harmonized?

What is the nature of the physical universe? Is naturalism right, that it is all there is? Is the universe the ex nihilo creation of a transcendent God? Is physical appearance real, as Christianity and naturalism hold, or illusory, as Buddhism and Hinduism insist? Can these different conceptions of the nature of reality be harmonized? Can they all be true?

What is man? Is man fallen and sinful? Or is man basically good? Or is man, as New Age spirituality insists, essentially divine? Is personality essential to what it means to be human, or are Buddhists right that the purpose of man is to lose his personality and be incorporated into the impersonality of nirvana?
What happens to us after we die? Atheists and secular humanists agree that this physical life is all that there is; we die and that’s it. Christians, Muslims, and Jews agree that we have one physical life, but after that face the judgment seat of God and are raised either to eternal life or to eternal punishment. Buddhists and Hindus agree that the soul can go through an infinite number of reincarnations, with karma determining the status of our new lives. Can all of these perspectives be true reflections of the Divine Reality?

Epistemology is the study of human knowledge, particularly answering the questions: a) what can we know; and b) how can we know it. Can we trust our senses and intellect? Is there such a thing as “truth”? Or does reality transcend human categories as Buddhists and Hindus insist?

What is the basis of human ethics and morality? Has God revealed what is right and wrong, as all theists agree? Or are good and evil illusory, meaningless categories, as eastern religions argue? Or are ethical standards real but relative, as naturalists and postmoderns insist? Or, perhaps, do we create morality for ourselves as inherently divine creatures?

What is the nature and purpose of time and history? Is time linear, or cyclical? Is there purpose in historical events? Or is history a random hodgepodge of events that cannot be called “progress” in any meaningful way?

Who is Jesus? Is Jesus just a man (naturalism)? Is He a prophet (Islam)? Is He God incarnate (Christianity)? Is Jesus an example of a self-enlightened guru (Buddhism/Hinduism)? Or is Jesus a bright guy who recognized His own inherent divinity (New Age)?

Did Jesus die on the cross? Muslims say no, Christians say yes. Can we both be right? That’s kind of a ridiculous thought. One of the fundamental rules of logic is the law of non-contradiction – one cannot say of something that it is and that it is not in the same respect and at the same time (Aristotle). Avicenna, a medieval philosopher, humorously noted: Anyone who denies the law of non-contradiction should be beaten and burned until he admits that to be beaten is not the same as not to be beaten, and to be burned is not the same as not to be burned. Either Jesus died on the cross, or He did not. It cannot be both – and yet this is what religious pluralism has to allow. If Jesus died, was His death necessary for the forgiveness of human sin? Either it was, or it wasn’t. Christians make a propositional truth-claim that we are fallen creatures, marred by sin, and in need of redemption. This is a proposition denied by several other religious worldviews. Can we all be right about this? Either we need atonement, or we don’t. It can’t be both.

What I trust comes through loud and clear is that in respect to each of these seven key religious questions, the different religious worldviews provide vastly different answers which are mutually exclusive and contradictory. The fatal flaw of religious pluralism is that it is forced to insist that different religious answers to the fundamental questions of worldview can be reconciled and harmonized with one another—that they are all legitimate but different human responses to the Divine Reality.

What you can see, quite clearly, is that the various religious answers to these questions could all be FALSE, but the one thing they cannot be is all TRUE. That is, it is logically impossible for all the major religions to be true, since they have contradictory answers to the most important religious worldview questions. Either God is, or God is not. The physical world is either real or illusory.

V. Fatal Flaw #3 – Redefining Religions: The Intolerance of Pluralism

Recognition of the second fatal flaw of religious pluralism generally leads pluralists to commit the third fatal flaw—the flaw of redefining major world religions out of existence. I like to call this flaw “the sin of intolerance and exclusivity.” When pluralists acknowledge the importance of logical coherence, they are forced to cook the religious books to suit their thesis. What makes this ironic is that religious pluralism presents itself as being, and truly believes itself to be, a tolerant view, which accepts all religions as equally valid paths to the Divine Reality. Ultimately, however, pluralism denies various religions the right to “be themselves” within a religiously pluralistic view of the world.

Explicitly, religious pluralists put forth three assumptions which underlie their perspective. First, there exists an ultimate reality (i.e. God in Christianity, Brahman in Hinduism) to which different religions are legitimate responses. Second, all religions are historically and culturally conditioned interpretations of this ultimate reality. Third, soteriological transformation (i.e. change leading towards salvation/enlightenment/liberty) occurs equally in various religions. So far, everything appears very tolerant and accepting. Unfortunately, as we saw with our brief overview of different religions’ mutually exclusive responses to key religious issues, this pluralistic view is incoherent and irrational.

An additional severe problem with this representation of religious pluralism is that it is forced to endorse and condone aberrant religions. Satanism is thus an acceptable and legitimate response to ultimate reality. Aztec spirituality, leading though it does to human sacrifice, is nonetheless a legitimate response which results in soteriological transformation. The Branch Davidians (David Koresh in Waco, Texas), wherein Koresh proclaimed himself the second coming of Christ and demanded the right to copulate with all females within the cult, is a similarly legitimate response. Same with the Heavens Gate cult, in which 38 members were convinced to commit suicide in 1997 in order to have their souls hitch a cosmic ride on the Hale-Bopp comet. Naturally, religious pluralists do not want to condone such groups, but I’m not sure on what grounds they can claim that they are illegitimate religious expressions. It is easy for a Christian, or Muslim, or Hindu, or Buddhist, or Naturalist, to condemn evil cults; but upon what foundation does a true religious pluralist do so? In order to do so, we have to have some type of objective standard which serves as the barometer of the legitimacy of different religions. Yet this is what religious pluralism, at least on the outside, claims does not exist.

In practice, however, religious pluralists do operate by such a standard. Indeed, so strongly so that there is a fourth assumption which governs pluralism in practice. In Netland’s words: “At least some of the basic beliefs of each of the major religions, as these are understood by orthodox adherents of the religions themselves, cannot be accepted as true; they must be reinterpreted mythologically when understood in relation to The Real.” (234) Religious pluralists freely reinterpret troublesome doctrines so as to accommodate them within a broadly pluralistic framework. Thus, with Christianity, Jesus becomes just an enlightened man. All notions of His divinity are mythologically reinterpreted. The result is that faithful Christians no longer find themselves described within the Christianity which pluralism accepts. In other words, orthodox Christianity is explicitly claimed to be “untrue”, and in need of radical reinterpretation. The same happens with Islam. Islam is not the “straight path” for all peoples—it is the straight path, the road to Allah’s mercy, for those who choose to follow Islam, and perhaps particularly for the Arab people. But certainly Islam is not true to the exclusion of all other religions. Rather than “infidels,” Muslims must look at Hindus as “brothers in the Ultimate Reality.” Rather than persecuting and subjugating Christians and Jews, Muslims must acknowledge them as parallel paths to heaven.

And this is where the intolerance of religious pluralism becomes exposed. Christianity is indeed a legitimate response to the ultimate reality, but only insofar as it has been reduced to an unorthodox, unhistorical caricature. The same thing happens to other religious traditions, but our primary concern for today is how Christianity has to be reinterpreted beyond recognition in order for pluralists to make it harmonizable with other religious traditions.

Thus, the end result of religious pluralism is the opposite of what it claims to be. While pluralism is put forward to “avoid the implication of particularism … namely that large numbers of morally good, sincere, intelligent people are simply wrong in their basic religious beliefs”, it ends up insulting the basic beliefs of people even more strongly. “The clear implication of pluralism is that [all religious people] are all wrong in their basic beliefs. To be sure, the pluralist is quick to add that, despite their mistaken beliefs, they are all in some way responding appropriately to the religious ultimate; it is just that they are not doing so in the manner in which the believers themselves think they are. But it is hard to see why this way of rejecting their beliefs as mistakes is … tolerant.” (Netland, 246) Pluralists accuse Christians of being narrow-minded in their religious views, believing that Christianity is the truth and that all other religions are, to a greater or lesser degree, false. Yet religious pluralism ultimately accuses all religions, including Christianity, of being fundamentally false! In the end, religious pluralism is the only true religion. A pluralist might argue that their perspective at least acknowledges every human religion as containing a semblance of truth, and being a legitimate response to the Divine Reality. However, Christianity also acknowledges that every other human religion contains a semblance of truth—some religions contain relatively more truth, some comparatively less, but all contain at least some truth. And we must also insist that religious pluralism does not, in the end, acknowledge all religions as being “legitimate” responses to Divine Reality—indeed, all religions are in need of radical reconstruction. The enlightened religious pluralist is fortunately on hand to do the job for us.

All of this leads to an inevitable conclusion: religious pluralism is not an acceptance of all of the world’s religions as legitimate paths to salvation at all. Rather, pluralism represents the creation of a new religion which believes the following core doctrines. First, all human religions have some truth in them. Second, all human religions have some myths within them which must be reinterpreted or deconstructed in order to come to a knowledge of the truth. Third, pluralism contains the truth about the Divine Reality. Fourth, we can accept some tenets of each religion, but must reject others. This does not represent a tolerance of all religions. On the one hand, pluralism is the creation of an entirely new religion. And on the other hand, pluralism represents the height of religious arrogance and intolerance. For the pluralist does not just believe that “all religions except Christianity” are fundamentally false—rather, the pluralist believes that “all other religions including Christianity” are false and need to be reinterpreted.


A closing note is important to emphasize. The issue of religious pluralism is one which is necessary to address within the Church of Jesus Christ, and more so than it is for many other religious traditions. In Hinduism and Buddhism, this life is not all that there is. If we do not discover the religious truth in this lifetime, we will be reincarnated as many times as it takes for us to get it. Our soul is indestructible, and until we achieve enlightenment, we will continue to be reborn. Thus, someone dying without embracing the truth of Hinduism or Buddhism is not a tremendous tragedy.

Christians, on the other hand, believe that this physical life is the only one which we have. The religious choices we make in this mortal life determine our eternal destiny. Thus, if someone dies without Christ, embracing the false worldview proposed by Islam or Hinduism or Naturalism, then this is something which has eternal consequences for them. This is a risk which we simply cannot be willing to take! This is the reason why Christians (at least orthodox, biblical Christians) respond so strongly in the face of religious pluralism. Pluralism is much more than a passing fad to be laughed at. It is a dangerous doctrine which may be costing the souls of millions of people. We cannot sit idly by and allow the precepts of pluralism to infiltrate culture and society.

Of course, this reality is also the driving force behind Christian missions. Why do we take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people in cultures that have not heard of Him? Why do we seek to transform non-Christians into disciples of Jesus? Why are we so insistent that folks need to come to God, turning away from their sins, and accept the salvation that comes solely through faith in Jesus Christ? Because of our love for people, and our concern for their eternal destiny. Religious pluralism paves the road to hell for too many people, and we cannot sit by and allow that to happen. If we love our neighbour, we will seek to share Christ with them – not out of disrespect for their religious tradition, not out of our own arrogance, and not because we want to be brash, arrogant twits; but because sharing the Gospel with someone who does not know Jesus as Saviour and Lord is the most loving, most compassionate thing that we can do for them.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Incurably Religious Spirit of Humanity

I. Romans 1 – The Knowledge of God

Romans 1:18-23 reads:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking because futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

Romans 1 insists that every human being has an innate knowledge of God – a sense of the divine (sensus divinitatis) – that these clues or arguments simply confirms. However, Romans 1 also insists that we have a tendency to suppress this innate knowledge of God, choosing instead to rebel against our Creator. A wise biblical scholar once quipped: “God created man in His own image; and ever since man has been trying to return the favor.”

Over the course of the past month or so, I have written about various clues or arguments that point towards the existence of God. First, we looked at the scientific clues – the arguments for God from the origins and design of the universe (cosmology and teleology). Next, we looked at the moral clue for God – the existence of a transcendent standard of morality which can only be grounded in a transcendent law-giver (that is, ‘God’). This week, we are going to turn our eyes inwards, and consider human nature itself, and we will discern how the unquenchably religious spirit of mankind points inescapably towards the existence of God.

II. The Ultimate Questions of Man

Thirty years ago, Douglas Adams wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a radio series which was later published in book form, and eventually (in 2005) turned into a movie. Douglas Adams was an incredibly clever and witty man; a philosopher, a writer, and a staunch atheist—something which comes through quite clearly if you read his books. Here is a little quote from the Hitchhiker's Guide:

Some time ago a group of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings decided to finally answer the great question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. To this end they built an incredibly powerful computer, Deep Thought. After the great computer programme had run (a very quick seven and a half million years), the answer was announced.

The Ultimate answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything is . . . (you’re not going to like it) . . . is . . . 42.

Which suggests that what you really need to know is, “What was the Question?”.

Adams pokes fun at people who seek after the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. The irrelevancy and meaninglessness of the answer—42—demonstrates that (in Adams’ mind) there is no such thing as the answer to the great question of life, the universe and everything. Yet his pithy mocking also hints at the truth of the very thing he wants to deny: human beings throughout the ages have universally and exclusively sought answers to the fundamental questions of life. Ants do not ponder the nature of the universe. Pandas do not pontificate and philosophize about the meaning of life. Monkeys do not ask who or what made them and why. Human beings, alone in all of Creation, seek to understand the deeper purpose in life. There is a deep yearning in our human nature to know why we are here. Philosophers and other thinkers in every cultural tradition have sought to answer these questions—Confucius and Lao-tzu in China; Gotama Buddha in India; Plato and Aristotle in Greece; Muhammad in Arabia; Solomon in Israel.

Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychology, argued that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, is the creation of humanity, invented as a sort of wish-fulfillment. Life is uncertain and unstable; we want it to be secure and stable, so we project the existence of a supreme being who can facilitate stability. Freud believed that through scientific knowledge and advancement (particularly the miracles of psychoanalysis), human beings would be able to progress beyond superstitious religious beliefs, and have their lives founded upon the certainty of atheistic reality.

Tonight I want us to consider the nature of human beings, to look at what people were like yesterday (thousands of years ago), what people are like today, and what people will be like tomorrow (and thousands of years in the future). What I hope to demonstrate is that human nature and human experience—what I call the incurably religious spirit of humanity—points towards the existence of God.
Nicky Gumbel (of the Alpha Course) tells the story of a Swedish nanny who got very frustrated with the young British boy she was taking care of. She burst into the living room to discover an incredible mess, and demanded, in her broken English: “What are you doing on earth?” She meant to ask the simpler parental question: “What on earth are you doing?”; but in her mistake, she actually asked a far deeper, more important question. This is one of the deepest human questions. Why are we here? What is the purpose of life? What is the meaning of life? What is the point? Ultimately, the answers we give to those questions depend upon our answer to the primary questions—is there a God, and what is God like? The answers depend upon one another. Let’s look quickly at how one answers the question as to the nature of humanity if one concludes that there is no God. So, imagine, for a moment, that God is not real–after all, Freud argues that God is simply a product of the human imagination. More soberly, we each have neighbors, friends, or family members who believe that there is no God. More personally, when I was growing up, I did not believe that there was a God; furthermore, if there was such a thing as God, I was fairly certain that I did not care for him one bit. So imagine with me, for just a moment, that God is, in fact, a human invention.

III. The Hopelessness of Life Without God

If there is no God, how does one answer the questions, “Who am I?” “What is man?” I tell you the truth, when I was a young atheist, the answers to those questions were not pretty. If there is no God, then my life is utterly insignificant. As Blaise Pascal said, “Man’s brief life is bounded on either side by eternity, his place in the universe is lost in the immeasurable infinity of space ... Uncertain and untethered, man flounders in his efforts to lead a meaningful and happy life.”

Ecclesiastes poetically summarizes the life without God with these words: “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” (NIV)

Atheist philosopher Jacques Monod bluntly states: “Man at last knows that he is alone in the unfeeling immensity of the universe, out of which he emerged only by chance.” What is man, in the absence of God? An insignificant and doomed member of an insignificant and doomed race on an insignificant and doomed planet adrift amongst the infinitely immeasurable universe. Less than a speck of dust; as worthless as a mosquito. Perhaps we can do or create good or interesting things in the course of our life. Michelangelo certainly created some impressive lasting works of art which are still admired today. But what happens to them in the end? What happens to Michelangelo himself in the end? What is their ultimate fate? Nothingness. Extinction. And what is the end result of everything in our lives, including ourselves? The same–nothingness.

I remember being a teenager, and feeling intensely the futility of life. I wanted to do great things; I wanted to change the world. And yet what was the point? What was the purpose? If all ended in nothingness and extinction, why bother? I wondered why I ought to go through the motions of life at all! William Lane Craig writes:

If each individual person passes out of existence when he dies, then what ultimate meaning can be given to his life? Does it really matter whether he ever existed at all? It might be said that his life was important because it influenced others or affected the course of history. But this shows only a relative significance to his life, not an ultimate significance. His life may be important relative to certain other events, but what is the ultimate significance of any of those events? If all the events are meaningless, then what can be the ultimate significance of influencing any of them? Ultimately it makes no difference.
(Reasonable Faith, 72)

Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher, one of the earlier intelligent, consistent atheists. Nietzsche saw clearly the implications of atheism. He writes:

‘Whither is God?’ he cried, ‘I shall tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? … Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? God is dead … And we have killed him. How shall we, the murderers of all murderers, comfort ourselves? (Nietzsche, “The Gay Science”, 95)

If there is no God, there is no meaning, no purpose, no comfort, no source of enjoyment. Nietzsche followed through these implications—an absolutely brilliant man, he wrote prolifically for years before descending into insanity, and died at the relatively young age of 51. Richard Wurmbrand was a Christian pastor in Communist Europe in the late 20th century who spent many years in prison on account of his ministry. He writes:

The cruelty of atheism is hard to believe when man has no faith in the reward of good or the punishment of evil. There is no reason to be human. There is no restraint from the depths of evil which is in man. The communist torturers often said, ‘There is no God, no Hereafter, no punishment for evil. We can do what we wish.’ I have heard one torturer even say, ‘I thank God, in whom I don’t believe, that I have lived to this hour when I can express all the evil in my heart.’ He expressed it in unbelievable brutality and torture inflicted on prisoners.
(Wurmbrand, Tortured for Christ, 34)

If there is no God, then the evil that is within men’s hearts is simply the way things are. Christians argue that man is afflicted by sin, and that this is not how God created us to be. But in the absence of God, whatever evil lurks within isn’t wrong or evil, it simply is. Craig writes: “Do you understand the gravity of the alternatives before us? For if God exists, then there is hope for man. But if God does not exist, then all we are left with is despair. … ‘If God is dead, then man is dead, too.’” Sadly, most people do not understand this—they continue to live an unexamined life, merrily going their way as though nothing has changed. As Craig says, “Most people still do not reflect on the consequence of atheism and so … go unknowingly on their way. But when we realize, as did Nietzsche, what atheism implies, then his question presses hard upon us.” Who will comfort us, if there is no God? Where can meaning and purpose come from, if not from God? Nietzsche concluded that there could be no comfort, and no purpose. Sadly, that was my conclusion as well. But that conclusion was deeply unsatisfying. I could not live under the oppression of a purposeless, meaningless worldview. I longed for meaning, for purpose—because God has created us such that each of us yearn and long for fulfillment and meaning. None of us can live consistently with the proclamation of the Teacher: “Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” From deep within us, we cry out for meaning and purpose.

The French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal grew up like me, like C. S. Lewis, a proud atheist. Pascal came to Christ, and his life changed radically. His apologetic letters were later published as “Pensees”, or thoughts. In them, he reflects upon the sad state of his many friends and contemporaries—atheists who felt intellectually superior to the “myth-bound idiots” in France, but who refused to consider whether or not their atheism was true or even rationally defensible. In a passage dripping with sarcasm and irony, Pascal writes:

They say: “I know not who sent me into the world, nor what the world is, nor what I myself am. I am terribly ignorant of everything. … I see the terrifying immensity of the universe which surrounds me, and find myself limited to one corner of this vast expanse, without knowing why I am set down here rather than elsewhere, nor why the brief period appointed for my life is assigned to me at this moment rather than another in all the eternity that has gone before and will come after me. On all sides I behold nothing but infinity, in which I am a mere atom, a mere passing shadow that returns no more. All I know is that I must soon die, but what I understand least of all is this very death which I cannot escape. As I know not whence I come, so I know not whither I go. I only know that on leaving this world I fall for ever into nothingness or into the hands of a wrathful God, without knowing to which of these two states I shall be everlastingly consigned. Such is my condition, full of weakness and uncertainty. From all this I conclude that I ought to spend every day of my life without seeking to know my fate. I might perhaps be able to find a solution to my doubts; but I cannot be bothered to do so, I will not take one step towards its discovery.”
(Pascal, Pensees, 29)

We cannot live life this way. The Greek philosopher Socrates declared, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates was wrong about a lot of things—but he was right about this. The unexamined life is not worth living. Let’s look at Sigmund Freud’s argument that mankind has created the God of the Bible as a figment or our imagination—that God is simply the projection of our human wish-fulfillment.

IV. The Unquenchable Spirituality of Mankind

I want to look at three different aspects of the incurably religious spirit of humanity. Each of them is a clue, an argument if you will, which points to the existence of God. The first clue is the human conception of an omnipotent, omniscient, timeless Creator God. The second clue is the unquenchable religious yearnings which dwell deep within the hearts of all men. The third clue is the prevalence of intimate religious experience over the centuries.

A. The Clue From the Idea of God

Sigmund Freud argues that the concept of God is a human construct. There are some deep difficulties with his logic—one of which is that his argument can simply be turned around upon himself. Freud argues that Christians so desire the existence of a supreme being who can bring us security and stability that we create God and proclaim Him to be real. I could turn Freud’s “wish-fulfillment” theory around upon him, and insist that Freud (and his fellow atheists) so desire to be morally and existentially free from the oversight of any divine being, that they have created a universe without God, and proclaimed it to be real. Another difficulty with Freud’s argument is that he claims too much for the creativity of the Christian. He presumes that human beings could construct a concept of an omnipotent supernatural Being, even though none exists. Philosophers Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli insist that human beings simply cannot do this.

Where does the idea of God come from? In essence, the whole idea of God is impossible to explain if God does not exist. Human beings cannot create concepts or ideas which are greater than ourselves, or for which we have no concrete referent. We can have an idea of something greater than ourselves only if that something (or something very much like it) exists in reality. The aliens in Star Trek bear striking resemblance to humans. Orcs resemble mutated or deformed humans. Unicorns are horses with a rhino or impala horn. And so on. Concepts created or imagined by human beings have readily-identifiable referents in objective reality. But God – a transcendent being, the Creator of time and space – has no objective referent. To be sure, the gods of some other religions – the Greek or Roman pantheons, native spirituality, animism, even Hinduism – do in fact resemble exalted or super-powerful human beings. But the God of the Bible is distinctly different. A God who creates out of nothingness is absolutely unique amongst the world’s religions, and is something which we cannot conceive of as human beings. Human beings are creative, and can construct incredible things. But we can only create out of pre-existent material, and thus when humans invent religions, their gods or goddesses do not create stuff, but rather shape and form what was already there. So the argument from the idea of God says we could not come up with the idea of God from our limited human experience and knowledge unless there was something out there that was, well, God, matching the idea we have of him.

B. Argument from Religious Yearning

So we have this inexplicable human conception of a supreme being who governs the universe. But there is much more than that. C. S. Lewis, my favorite Christian author, points out that human beings are incurably religious. He points out that every human yearning or desire is matched by something in reality which satisfies that desire. We hunger – there is food. We thirst – there is water. We have sexual desire – there is sexual relationship [within God-ordained boundaries]. We long for community – there is relationship, social organization. But think of the deepest, most unquenchable, most universal yearnings of human beings.

1. The Yearning for Eternal Life

First, there is a longing for eternal life. All Western cultures, civilizations, and religions throughout human history have demonstrated this longing to persist past physical death. The pyramids were stocked with goods to provide for the deceased Pharaoh in the afterlife. The Chinese terra cotta warriors were buried with the emperor to supply him with an army on the other side. The Taj Mahal is the funeral chamber of the Shah’s beloved main wife. The longing for life after death is universal. When I was nine years old, my great-grandmother died on my birthday. After her funeral, I remember asking my mother, “Where is great-gramma now? What happens after we die?” There was a long, uncomfortable pause; then my mom answered: “Well, we die and that’s it. There’s nothing more.” At nine years old, raised to not believe in anything, I was nonetheless profoundly dissatisfied and disillusioned by mom’s answer. It couldn’t be. There had to be more to life than that. All human beings have the innate yearning, the unquenchable desire, for eternal life.

2. The Yearning to Touch the Divine/Transcendent

But there is also a universal human yearning to understand and touch the divine. The practice of religion has marked every human society. Atheism is a relatively new intellectual and spiritual phenomenon. Even today, despite the official dogma of atheism within academia, and the reign of methodological naturalism in the sciences, the vast majority of North Americans (about 90%) believe in the existence of God, or ‘gods and goddesses.’ The religious spirit of humanity is unquenchable! Despite their best efforts, Eastern European Communists did not stamp out the God-plague—they merely drove it underground for a time. Atheism does not captivate the heart of people—but belief in God does. The logic of the argument from religious yearning is that, since all of our natural desires have the potential to be fulfilled by what exists in reality, then our dual religious yearnings (to persist past death and to touch the Divine) must also have the potential to be fulfilled in reality. For this to be the case, there must be a Divine Reality – God – whom we can understand and touch, and who can bring us into life after death.

C. Argument from Religious Experience

So we have, on the one hand, the concept of God itself, which is inexplicable unless God truly exists. We have, on the other hand, intense and irrepressible religious desires, which again are inexplicable unless God truly exists. The third aspect of human nature, or human history if you prefer, moves beyond human religious concepts and yearning, to human religious experience.

Billions of people from different eras and cultures claim to have had an experience of the divine. It is inconceivable that so many people could have been so utterly wrong about the nature and content of their own experience. Therefore, there exists a divine reality which many people of different eras and cultures have experienced. This divine reality is what we call “God.”

Skeptics will quickly (and correctly) point out that not all human religious experiences can be true and valid. After all, the Christian God and the Hindu Brahman have little in common, and cannot both be true reflections of the divine reality. But we are not claiming that all human religious experiences have actually touched the divine reality – some may be mistaken or even serious perversions of God. All I am arguing is that not every human religious experience is false. Indeed, for a skeptic to insist that every human religious experience must be false would require them to have omniscience – that is, all-knowingness. In other words, it would require them to have the knowledge that Christians attribute to God.

D. Personal Testimony

Beyond the religious ideas, desires, and experiences of human beings throughout the centuries, there is one final clue that demonstrates the reality of the God whom Christians proclaim. Simply put, as Christians we have personally experienced the reality of God in our lives through the risen Savior Jesus Christ. When I was 17, I went to church with the first time with a young lady whom I found both attractive and compelling—she later became my lovely wife. Within a couple of months of going to church with her, I came to recognize the truth of Christianity, not because I was presented with rational or logical arguments, but rather because I experienced the power of Christ in my life. God met me where I was, grabbed hold of me, and wouldn’t let go. Christ became real to me; I experienced Him personally, and I could no sooner deny His existence than I could deny my own existence! As Christians, we are not merely worshippers of the God of the universe—we are called His children, and even His friends. And when we know God personally, we need no further arguments to convince us that He is real.

Sigmund Freud argued that God is the illusory wish of foolish believers. Douglas Adams insisted that there is no answer to the question of life, the universe and everything—in fact, there isn’t even a question. Jacques Monod claims that human beings are adrift in a sea of meaninglessness. Friedrich Nietzsche professed that the idea of God is dead, and that there can no longer be any meaning or purpose in life.

Fortunately for us, and for all human beings, Freud, Adams, Monod, and Nietzsche were all alike wrong. Human beings did not invent the concept of an Almighty, all-knowing, Creator God—we are incapable of coming up with something like that. Nor did human beings create the religious yearnings which stir deep within all of us—they are undeniable, irrepressibly, and unquenchably there. Nor did human beings create fictional encounters with God. More personally, I know that God has revealed Himself to me in a personal, concrete way. Simply put, the breadth and depth of human religious ideas, desires, and experiences is a powerful clue, an unavoidable suggestion, that God is, in fact, real. Not only that, but also, God wants us to know Him – He created humanity both to want to and to be able to touch Him. He has planted within us an irrepressible yearning to know Him. Moreover, He has granted us the ability to know Him, as evidenced by countless human experiences.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Suffering in Light of the Resurrection of Christ

The Empty Tomb & The Redemption of Suffering
Suffering in Light of the Resurrection of Christ

“Life stinks, and then you die.” This popular phrase explains the reality that suffering is a universal fact of human life. R.E.M. had a major hit with the song “Everybody Hurts”. Everybody experiences bouts of pain, or loneliness, or grief, or sorrow - in one way or another, we all hurt. As a teenaged atheist, I abhorred suffering, particularly for its pointlessness. There was no hope in the midst of grief, no redemption in the midst of pain; nothing to mitigate or offset the severity of suffering in myself or in others.

However, coming to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord has gradually changed the way that I perceive suffering. The resurrection of Jesus Christ informs and transforms our experience of grief, sickness, pain, “senseless” tragedy, and persecution - suffering is redeemed and made relevant through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The empty tomb assures us of our own bodily resurrection and eternal life; it gives us an eternal perspective that looks beyond our temporal situation; and it assures us of God’s ability to redeem our suffering. Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we do not have to mask, hide, or deny our suffering, nor need we self-pityingly wallow in it.

The Bible is surprisingly blunt in its presentation of pain and suffering. Nowhere does the Bible suggest that those who follow God and obey His commands will live a life free of suffering. Indeed, it often appears quite the contrary. When I first began reading the Bible, one of the initial books that I became enamored with was Job. There was something transfixing about the brutal honesty in the account of his life. Job suffered through worse trials than I can imagine enduring. His vast material possessions were wiped out in a single disastrous, senselessly-tragic day, as were all of his beloved children. Then his health was devastated, and he found himself alone, miserably scraping his aching, pus-covered body with a shard of pottery.

But, O, fortunate Job! He was soon visited by beloved friends, who came to comfort him with their presence, their love, and their wisdom. After hearing their pearls of wisdom (e.g. Job 15:20 - “All his days the wicked man suffers torment”, insinuating that Job was being punished for some wrongdoing he committed against God), Job thanks them for their kindness and concern - “I have heard many things like these; miserable comforters are you all!” (Job. 16:2)

It seems to me that there are six intertwined types of suffering, although it is quite possible that I have left out some that others would include. But I identify; firstly, grief at the death of loved ones; secondly, personal sickness or pain; thirdly, sorrow over “senseless” tragedy; fourthly, persecution, that is, suffering endured at the hands of others on account of your beliefs; fifthly, hopelessness; and sixthly, loneliness or feelings of insignificance. Most of us will not acutely experience all of those aspects of suffering in our lives, but all of us assuredly will face one (and probably, more than one).

My maternal grandmother has endured much suffering over the past 20 years. In 1990, my grandfather died while in surgery to clear a blocked artery. He was only in his early 70s, and seemed, to me, to be a healthy and vibrant man. His death was quite a shock, especially to my grandmother. She experienced deep grief and loneliness over the ensuing few years. In 1993, she remarried a wonderful, kind gentleman, and they embarked on a latter-life marriage of friendship and companionship. Several years into their relationship, he began to experience significant health problems. First, he had a series of strokes that left him with limited mobility. Worse, he experienced a rapidly progressing form of dementia, which left him unrecognizant of his own family. He passed away shortly after our daughter (my grandmother’s first great-grand-daughter) was born in 2003. Since his death, my grandmother has been increasingly afflicted by health problems of her own - especially lupus, which flares up randomly, and unpredictably relegates her to a bedridden status.

Our eldest daughter was born 5 weeks premature with a form of spina bifida. In the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), she went through a battery of tests - X-rays, an MRI, bloodwork, etc. One of the spina bifida specialists very bluntly told us that our daughter would never be able to control her bladder, probably would never poop properly, and would quite likely never be able to walk. We were absolutely devastated. It was a time of many tears and much sorrow.

This past winter, a close friend of ours, a single mother, was introduced to a period of intense suffering. She was a foster mother as well as a nurse, and was caring for a severely-disabled 3-year-old boy who died in an accident in her home in the middle of the night. This experience, in and of itself, was awful enough. But our friend was, shortly thereafter, arrested, and charged with second-degree murder in the boy’s death. To witness the death of a child is horrible enough; to be accused of perpetrating that death is an unthinkable experience. As we have walked with our friend in the midst of her suffering, it has brought home again, in an ever-more powerful way, that everybody does, indeed, hurt. In the words of R.E.M., “Sometimes everything is wrong.”

How do we deal with the reality of suffering? What do we do in the midst of pain, grief, tragedy, sickness, persecution, hopelessness, and loneliness? When my great-grandmother passed away (when I turned nine), I remember asking my mom where he was now. My mom said, quite gently, that after we die, there’s nothing else - this life is all there is. I remember thinking, “That stinks.” The Apostle Paul writes, in 1 Corinthians 15:13-19 -

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

Paul understood the significance of a worldview which denied an afterlife. If this life is, as many people believe, all that there is, then there is no point and no hope. As a teenager, I remember feeling helpless and hopeless. I was helpless because the world was such an immense place, with billions of people, filled with so much intense suffering and hardship. There was no way that I could make a difference, and alleviate the suffering of people in a meaningful way. I was hopeless, because I felt that life was without purpose, and could never have purpose in the light of our mortality and the immense scale of human suffering. And so I grieved without hope. The Newsboys sing, in “Breakfast in Hell”:

Breakfast clubbers, drop the hankies.
Though to some our friend was odd,
that day he bought those pine pajamas
his check was good with God.

Those here without the Lord,
how do you cope?
For this morning we don't mourn
like those who have no hope.

For the Newsboys, faith in Jesus Christ makes a qualitative difference in how they approach grief. They do not mourn “like those who have no hope”, simply because, as followers of Jesus Christ, they do have hope. This is the transformation which is wrought in the light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:20-26)

Our experience of suffering need not be without hope, because Christ has conquered death. “He is risen!” “He is risen indeed!” is the common Easter Sunday greeting and response. As followers of Jesus Christ, we rejoice in His resurrection, because of what it signifies for us. There is, in my perspective, no greater joy than the assurance of my own bodily resurrection after my death, which is assured by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” I have personally experienced the reality of being dead in my Adamic sin; I now eagerly await the experience of being raised from the dead with Christ with a glorious resurrection body (Philippians 3:20-21).

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."
"Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?"
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:51-57)

The empty tomb gives us full and certain assurance of our own victory over death.
The Resurrection is integrally tied to the Crucifixion. These two events - Christ’s atoning death and glorious resurrection - are the cornerstones of the Christian faith, and the one only makes sense in light of the other. We must not forget that Easter Sunday is preceded by Good Friday. In His death, Jesus bore the weight of our sins. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10) Through His death, Jesus takes our sins upon Himself. Only with the removal of our sin does the resurrection of Jesus Christ bring us eternal hope. If our sins are not taken away, then our resurrection is still hopeless - if we are still marred by sin, then we are incapable of standing in the presence of God, and therefore would spend our eternity in the torment of a godless hell. The hope of the resurrection is only realized in our lives through the acceptance of the Cross. Having accepted the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord, we then can eagerly anticipate our own resurrection to eternal life.

The resurrection also puts our suffering into an eternal perspective.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. …

Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10)

Paul does not minimize our experience of suffering; rather, he claims that the resurrection of Christ, and the correlative assurance of our own resurrection to eternal life, puts our suffering into proper perspective. Some might say, “Well, easy for Paul to say that. He’s never gone through what I’ve endured; he’s never experienced the depth of suffering that I have.” Well, that’s probably true. But it is good to remember that the Paul who puts suffering into perspective is the same man who, seven chapters later, runs through a lengthy list of his own experiences of suffering.

Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. (2 Corinthians 11:23-30)

Yes, our suffering is real, and it may even be acute. I know people who have experienced far more severe grief or pain than I have. Nonetheless, the suffering of Jesus Christ is arguably deeper still. The only perfect man ever to live, He was wrongfully accused, mocked, beaten, abandoned by all his friends, and executed by crucifixion. Besides this intense physical and emotional suffering, He also experienced deep spiritual suffering - He bore the weight of all our sins, causing His heavenly Father to turn His back on Him. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) - a cry which bursts forth from the isolation, the abandonment, that God the Son feels as God the Father rejects and judges Him because He bears the sins of the world. In Christ, God Himself experiences our suffering – so while I may not know what you are going through, and Paul might not have suffered as deeply as you have; God most certainly knows what you are enduring, and has borne your suffering upon Himself at the Cross.

As seen earlier, Job also experienced a bewildering array of suffering. The point is simply that, in our human suffering, we are not alone. All of the spiritual giants who have gone before us have suffered likewise. Perhaps their exact sufferings have not been mirror images of our own - but they have shared in our sufferings as we have all shared in the sufferings of Christ. And in the midst of our own sufferings, we have the assurance of Scripture speaking to us: “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18) It is so difficult, in the moment of suffering, to consider our troubles to be “light and momentary;” but it is essential, as Paul urges us, to “fix our eyes … on what is unseen.” It is our hope for our resurrection to eternal life, which is founded upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which enables us to put our suffering into a tolerable perspective.

The Apostle John records the glimpse of heaven granted to him in a vision:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Revelation 21:1-4)

The resurrection that we await initiates us into a new order. Gone are the sources of our suffering. Grief is no more, because “there will be no more death or mourning.” Sickness and pain are similarly done away with. Never again will we experience loneliness or hopelessness, for “God himself will be with [us] and be [our] God.” Heaven, simply put, is a place where all of the things that cause suffering will have been abolished. This is the glorious assurance that the resurrection of Jesus Christ brings to our lives! We are assured of our own resurrection; and we know that our resurrection will be to a place of perfection, without any more suffering. While that does not remove or trivialize our present sufferings, it does put them into perspective, and our future hope enables us to persevere and endure the hard times in this life.

An important side effect of this magnificent Biblical truth is that we do not have to lie about our suffering. We do not need to pretend that everything is okay when it is not; we do not need to wear a mask to hide our very real suffering. It was very liberating to me, when our daughter was born with spina bifida and we received apocalyptic medical prognostications, to be able to share and cry and pray with our senior pastor. We did not need to pretend that we were not suffering. Our assurance of eternal life, our participation in Christ’s resurrection, gives us the freedom before God and His people to be open and honest about what we are going through. We have wonderful examples in the lamenting Psalms, where the Psalmist cries out in pain to the Lord.

When we feel abandoned by God and alone, we can cry out to God with the psalmist.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, and am not silent. (Psalm 22:1-2)

When we are hopeless in the midst of persecution, we can cry out to God.

Listen to my prayer, O God,
do not ignore my plea;
hear me and answer me.
My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught
at the voice of the enemy,
at the stares of the wicked;
for they bring down suffering upon me
and revile me in their anger.
My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death assail me.
Fear and trembling have beset me;
horror has overwhelmed me. (Psalm 55:1-5)

Whatever our situation, we can (and should) honestly express ourselves to God and/or to His Church. After our close friend was charged in the death of her foster child, I visited her regularly in Remand for the month that she awaited release on bail. She felt that the world was out to get her; she believed the authorities had jumped to the conclusion that she was guilty, that she was a murderer, even though she had tried to tell them what happened. She was hopeless, helpless, and alone. I still cannot fathom the full horrors of her experience. Yet in the midst of her suffering and hardship, we would talk and pray together, and I encouraged her to cast her cares, her burdens, entirely on the Lord. I believed that she could not and would not endure on her own strength, and that it was only through trusting in the death, resurrection, and abiding presence of Jesus Christ that she would be able to come through her suffering. She worried that she would never receive justice in court - but there was comfort, however distant, in the assurance that she would receive justice in God’s heavenly court. Here on earth, she is a living example that things are not always right, and that people suffer through deep and seemingly senseless tragedies. But she is also a living example Christ’s resurrection brings us the assurance that wrongs will one day be righted.

The community of faith is intended to share the burden of suffering with one another. When one member hurts, the whole body hurts with them (1 Corinthians 12). When we try to endure suffering silently, without “imposing” on others within the family of God, without openly confessing our pain, loneliness, and grief; then it is exceedingly difficult to maintain a proper, eternal perspective upon our suffering. Things that aren’t very big suddenly seem like mountains of suffering; things that are big to begin with seem monumental and unbearable. Christians, of all people, know the value of sharing their sufferings; Christians, of all people, know that suffering is not the final answer - and yet sometimes Christians suffer in silence, and lose their eternal perspective and hope. The resurrection of Jesus puts our suffering into perspective - it is essential that we maintain that perspective.

In light of the resurrection, we are also able to find God’s redemptive purpose in the midst of suffering. I agree with author Philip Yancey, who writes that God does not (usually) directly cause human suffering in order to “teach us specific lessons.” God does allow suffering to exist, and He uses our suffering to accomplish His good purposes. “But I can’t believe He actively inflicts the pain for a specific purpose.” In relation to our suffering, I draw a distinction between God’s prescriptive will and His permissive will. He does not (generally speaking) prescribe our suffering, but rather permits it. He does not will it; He merely allows it to happen.

God may not cause us to suffer, but He does desire to use our suffering to accomplish something great. Many times when I visited our friend in Remand, I sought to encourage her - “God can and will bring good things out of this experience, if we place ourselves in His hands and allow Him to work in and through us.” And God has, indeed, already brought good out of the situation - a faith which had long been dormant in her has been reignited and brought to life. Romans 8:28 famously says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Again, it is essential to note that nowhere does the Bible minimize or trivialize the suffering that we experience. Rather, here in Romans 8, God seeks to show us that He will redeem our suffering.

So we have seen that everybody suffers in one way or another, but that the resurrection of Jesus Christ transforms the way in which we experience and endure our suffering. We do not suffer hopelessly - rather, we have the assurance of our own resurrection to eternal life. We are able to put our suffering into eternal perspective, remembering that the glory that awaits us in heaven far outweighs the nature of our suffering here and now. We can be honest before God and His Church about the fact and depth of our suffering, turning to them for support in keeping proper perspective. Finally, we are able to see the redemptive side of our suffering. None of this makes suffering something to be desired or to be invited, nor does it trivialize the difficulty and hardship of suffering - but in the light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are able to face suffering with hope, assurance, and comfort.

Friday, March 5, 2010

God & Goodness I - The Moral Signpost of God's Existence

Romans 2:14-15 reads – Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.

Two weeks ago I looked at the big question of life – is there a God? We surveyed some of the contemporary cosmological and astronomical evidence which demonstrates that the universe (our space-time continuum) had a beginning point, and that the cause of the universe by definition must be an agent outside of space and time. Today I want to continue the discussion of God’s existence, but from a different perspective, answering a different key question.

After the question of the existence of God, one of the biggest philosophical questions concerns ethics—right and wrong, good and evil, how human beings ought to live. Is there such a thing as right and wrong? A standard which defines how we ought to live? If so, where does it come from? Once we acknowledge that some things are good and others bad, can mankind be good without God? That is, do we really need God in order to live morally well?

What we will discover together is that there is a standard of right and wrong human behavior which exists independently of us, and that the only plausible source for this standard is God. In essence, we are going to look at the moral argument for the existence of God. Again, I prefer to look at this as a clue or a signpost, a fact of life pointing towards the existence of God. The open-minded inquirer, approaching the question of human morality, will see in it a persuasive sign that there is a God; but one who comes with their mind firmly closed against the possibility of a transcendent divine Being will find some other way to explain the facts of morality – no matter how implausible their alternative explanation may be, it will be preferable than the conclusion of God, because God simply is not in their worldview’s pool of live options. Again, in order to be convinced by anything (including the moral signpost), we must be willing to be convinced. Not necessarily desiring or expecting to be convinced – but at least willing.

1. The Logical Statement of the Moral Argument for God’s Existence
a) P1 – “If objective moral values and duties exist, they can only be founded upon a transcendent divine Being (i.e., God).”
b) P2 – “Objective moral values and duties do exist.”
c) C – “Therefore, God exists.”

The argument is that there is only one sufficient and acceptable basis for the existence of objective moral values and duties, namely God. Thus, if objective morality does exist, God therefore must also exist. People can and will question the truth of either or both of these premises, but if the two premises of this argument are true, then the conclusion necessarily follows—it is what is called philosophically “a valid deductive logical argument.” We’re going to consider the premises in backwards order, and then consider the conclusion.

2. Premise 2 - Objective moral values and duties do exist.

a) What do we mean by objective moral values and duties?

“To say that there are objective moral values is to say that something is good or evil independently of whether any human being believes it to be so. Similarly to say that we have objective moral duties is to say that certain actions are right or wrong for us independently of whether any human being believes them to be so. For example, to say that the Holocaust was objectively wrong is to say that it was wrong even though the Nazis who carried it out thought that it was right, and it would still have been wrong even if the Nazis had won World War II and succeeded in exterminating or brainwashing everybody who disagreed with them so that it was universally believed that the Holocaust was right.” (William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 173)

Thus, objective morality states that there are values and duties which are true and real. Another way of putting it is simply that objective morality is the belief in “ought” – that there are things that “ought” to be done, independently of whether we want to or acknowledge it.

b) Arguments for the existence of objective morality

A popular feature of our post-modern society is “ethical relativism,” the belief that “what’s right for you is right for you but not for me.” Ethical relativism denies the reality of objective moral values and duties, arguing that moral standards are individual or social constructs and cannot be imposed upon other people. There are at least two basic forms of ethical relativism – personal and social. Personal relativism holds that morality is purely a personal decision – I choose what is right and wrong for me, and no one else has the right to influence or impact that decision. Social relativism holds, on the contrary, that moral standards fluctuate from culture to culture and time to time, and thus are not objective or universal at all. Ultimately, both forms of ethical relativism is a self-contradictory, self-defeating belief which cannot be lived out consistently. Let’s look at just a couple of arguments which demonstrate the impossibility of ethical relativism.

(i) Our reaction to “wrongs” committed against us.

C. S. Lewis writes: “Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining ‘It’s not fair!’ before you can say Jack Robinson.” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 6) I find it fascinating that people who do not believe in a universal moral code still believe that people ought to treat them in a particular way.

Norm Geisler and Frank Turek, in an amusing and helpful book called I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be An Atheist, tell a funny story to illustrate the impossibility of living consistently with ethical relativism.

A professor … assigned a term paper to his students. He told the students to write on any ethical topic of their choice, requiring each student only to properly back up his or her thesis with reasons and documentation.
One student, an atheist, wrote eloquently on the topic of moral relativism. He argued, “All morals are relative; there is no absolute standard of justice or rightness; it’s all a matter of opinion; you like chocolate, I like vanilla,” and so on. His paper provided both his reasons and his documentation. It was the right length, on time, and stylishly presented in a handsome blue folder.

After the professor read the entire paper, he wrote on the front cover, “F – I don’t like blue folders!” When the student got the paper back he was enraged. He stormed into the professor’s office and protested, “F! I don’t like blue folders!?!? That’s not fair! That’s not right! That’s not just! You didn’t grade the paper on its merits!”

Raising his hand to quiet the bombastic student, the professor calmly retorted, “Wait a minute. Hold on. I read a lot of papers. Let me see … wasn’t your paper the one that said there is no such thing as fairness, rightness, and justice?”

“Yes,” the student answered.

“Then what’s this you say about me not being fair, right, and just?” the professor asked. “Didn’t your paper argue that it’s all a matter of taste? You like chocolate, I like vanilla?”

The student replied, “Yes, that’s my view.”

“Fine then,” the professor responded. “I don’t like blue. You get an F!”

Suddenly the lightbulb went on in the student’s head. He realized he really did believe in moral absolutes. He at least believed in justice. After all, he was charging his professor with injustice for giving him an F simply because of the color of the folder. That simple fact defeated his entire case for relativism. (I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be An Atheist, 173-4)

It might be fun to try this out some day (no, I’m not serious). The next time that you hear someone argue that there is no absolute standard of morality, no universal moral code (natural law), punch them in the face and see how they respond. There are many people who claim to believe there is no such thing as an absolute, transcendent moral standard that we all “ought” to live by. But do something unkind or unjust or unfair to them, and their response betrays their true beliefs!

(ii) Universal Declaration of Human Rights

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. …

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude …

All are equal before the law and are entitled to … equal protection of the law. …

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence …

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom … to manifest his religion or belief …

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression …”

The UN considers these Human Rights to be universal. But are they really? The world seems to expect that all nations and peoples are obliged to adhere to the standards contained within the declaration of human rights. I agree wholeheartedly. But for human rights to be universal, they require an unchanging standard of right and wrong – an objective standard of moral values and duties. Otherwise they are either an empty profession of wishful thinking or an imperialistic expression of dominant cultural social ethics imposed upon subjugated nation-states.

(iii) Unchanging Notion of Justice

Genesis 1:26-27 reads: Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Alone amongst God’s creation, human beings are said to be created in the very image of God. There are many things wrapped up in the image of God, but one essential element of it seems to be an undeniable notion of justice or fairness. As an atheist, I often lamented the injustice of the world. Why did horrible things happen to good people? If there was a God, how could God simply stand by and allow the Holocaust to happen? Well, there was a serious problem with the way that I was thinking, that C. S. Lewis identifies clearly and profoundly. Lewis himself was an atheist, and came to this realization.

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? … Of course, I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too – for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist – in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless – I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality – namely my idea of justice – was full of sense. (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 38-39)

Our undeniable, inalienable sense of justice demands an unchanging standard of right and wrong.

(iv) Real Objective Difference Between Moral Positions

Along the same lines, our human nature acknowledges that there is a real objective difference between various moral positions, something which demands an unchanging notion of good and evil, and a basis for that. Again, C. S. Lewis says it well.

If no set of moral ideas were truer or better than any other, there would be no sense in preferring civilised morality to savage morality, or Christian morality to Nazi morality. In fact, of course, we all do believe that some moralities are better than others. We do believe that some of the people who tried to change the moral ideas of their own age were what we would call Reformers or Pioneers – people who understood morality better than their neighbours did. Very well then. The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other. But the standard that measures two things is something different from either. You are, in fact, comparing them both with some Real Morality, admitting that there is such a thing as a real Right, independent of what people think, and that some people’s ideas get nearer to that real Right than others. … If your moral ideas can be truer, and those of the Nazis less true, there must be something – some Real Morality – for them to be true about. (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 13)

Pol Pot, Stalin, the Crusades, the Inquisition, 9/11, and Hitler are truly morally different than Mother Teresa, Habitat for Humanity, and Martin Luther King Jr. Are these the same? If so, why do we respond with disgust toward some? Why are some condemned, and others praised? If the difference is merely a matter of taste, why such a visceral reaction against emaciated, massacred bodies in the Holocaust? Simply put, reality is that we all do believe, no matter how much some try to deny it, that there is a standard of behavior which we expect ourselves and others to live by. So, despite the trendiness of moral relativism in our society, there is in fact an objective standard of moral values and duties. Thus, the second premise in the moral argument for God’s existence is true and valid.

3. Premise 1: Objective moral values and duties can only be grounded in the existence of God.

The moral signpost for God’s existence holds that these objective moral values and duties can only exist if God exists. That is, if there is no God, then there is no sufficient grounding for objective morality. Some atheists admit that this is the case – such as William Provine. He may sound harsh, but at least Provine is honest about where his worldview leads – without God, he says, there is “no objective morality, no meaning in life, no human purpose.” Other atheists, however, insist that objective morality can be grounded and established without the necessity of God. They suggest two alternative sources of objective morality. As we will see, however, neither suggestion actually includes objective morality at all

a) Social Contract Theory

Some atheists suggest that morality is a social construct, particular to individual human societies. Moral standards are established in order to enable survival and promote human flourishing. Under this model, ethical standards can change over time and between cultures; there is nothing fixed, universal, or absolute in human morality. Thus, if you don’t like the morality of your social contract, you should move to a different one.

But, social contract ethics is not an explanation of universal objective ethics, but rather a denial of them!

First, it is a denial of the universality of ethics. Social contract ethics are, by definition, not universal, but local. Thus, while social contract ethicists promote their theory as an explanation for the universality of human ethics, it simply is not and cannot be so.

Second, it is a denial of the objectivity of ethics. Different social contracts are not by definition good or bad; they are simply different. More frightening, that means that Hitler’s genocidal ethic was not wrong, it was an acceptable German social contract. Hence, it was wrong for the Allies to prosecute war criminals at the Nuremburg trials – after all, those men and women were doing what was considered right and good within their social contract. Again, this is a denial of universal human sensibility, which holds that some things, even if acceptable under a particular social contract, are wrong.

There are numerous further problems with social contract ethics. For one thing, all of us are members of different moral societies at the same time. J. P. Moreland, in Scaling the Secular City, gives the example of a young Southern Baptist man (whose upbringing has taught him to abstain from getting drunk) going off to a secular university campus (where university authorities do not promote getting drunk, but certainly don’t condemn it) and joins a fraternity (where getting drunk is a weekly expectation), and also remains a member of the wider American system (where the legal drinking age is 21, making him too young to legally drink; but the legal drinking age is widely ignored anyway, implicitly making his drunkenness morally acceptable). Which society exerts primary moral influence upon this young man? Faith? Fraternity? University? Society? Social contract ethics provide no inkling of who the young man ought to follow. Ultimately, it breaks down into personal subjectivism, where the young man has to choose for himself which moral influence or authority he is going to follow.

Furthermore, social contract theory has no place for moral reform. William Wilberforce and Martin Luther King Jr. are, under social contract moral theory, abominations who ought to have been shot and killed for their efforts at undermining the moral system of their society. Oh wait – one of them was. But eventually both of them exerted (along with others) morally reforming influence upon their society, and changed the moral fabric of their respective ‘social contracts’. Both of them (along with countless other moral reformers in various societies) have felt themselves to be altering the social fabric in order to bring it into adherence with an objective (trans-cultural) standard of morality by which all societies are rightfully judged. But there is no place, within social contract theory itself, for such behavior.

Thus, social contract theory simply cannot account for the existence of a universal, objective moral standard. It breaks down to social or cultural relativism, which is really just a version of the moral relativism we started with.

b) Evolutionary Ethics (aka Sociobiology)

Evolutionary ethics holds that morality is a product of human evolution – a development which natural selection found to be beneficial to the survival and propagation of the species, and thus was retained and refined. Morality, then, is based on instincts and genetics. There are three related versions of evolutionary ethics out there today.

(i) Biological determinism holds that humans act in accordance with biochemical impulses. Everything we do is predestined by our hard-wired biochemistry. This view has some startling resemblances to hyper-Calvinism, which holds that no human actions are truly free, but are all predetermined by the exhaustive will of God. Thus, rather than claiming that the devil made me do it, we can simply assert that our genes made us do it – we do not have moral culpability for our actions. We are not to blame; we are not responsible or accountable. And without moral responsibility and accountability, there is no system of morality at all.

(ii) Selfish gene theory, popularized by Richard Dawkins, holds that everything humans do is a result of fundamental selfishness and an irresistible urge to procreate. The ethic that drives human nature is a fundamental self-interest. One wonders how precisely this leads to an ethical system for humans to live by! Indeed, Dawkins concludes by professing, with absolutely no philosophical or intelligent basis, that man is somehow able to overcome and transcend the biological drive toward selfishness, to rise above evolution, and to construct a system of morality.

(iii) Reciprocal altruism argues that human ethics are indeed fundamentally selfish, but often seem to be “altruistic” (oriented toward the good of others) because of long-term self-benefits that are not readily apparent, but yet are calculated by the moral agent. Thus, a man might run into a burning building to rescue a complete stranger, but only because of some internal, implicit moral calculation which holds that his doing so now makes it more likely that someone will someday do the same for him if he needs such help.

The fundamental failure of each form of evolutionary ethics is their inability to move beyond is, to ought. At heart, they are descriptive in nature, and fail to provide a means of prescriptive morality. They tell us what is, but cannot tell us what ought to be. They explain what we do, but not what we ought to do. At best, evolutionary ethicists can exhort us to cooperate on the basis that this will achieve our own long-term benefit, and warn us that failing to cooperate may cost us in the long run. But sociobiology cannot tell us how we ought to act. Indeed, the enlightened elite in evolutionary ethics are best advised to keep the masses uninformed and adhering to some type of moral standard which ensures the preservation of the species, while we (or they) live in accordance with our selfish interests and desires. There is no transcendent ethic which each of us is morally obligated to follow.

Alternative moral theories all suffer from the same fatal flaw. They fail to account for the real nature of the Moral Law. They cannot explain why we all have an understanding of right and wrong, and expect one another to live according to it. All of the theories that we have discussed fail to explain the existence of an objective, external standard of right and wrong. If morality is an evolutionary product, then morality itself is subject to evolution. What is right today may be wrong tomorrow. What is wrong today may be right tomorrow. What is right for me may be wrong for someone else who is either more highly evolved or closer to being an amoeba. Ethical standards are, ultimately, relative. There is no standard by which we may judge the thoughts and actions of ourselves and others. Thus, we are back to the same problem as we had with postmodern relativistic morality and social contract theory. We still lack an explanation for the objective morality which we live in awareness of.

Indeed, an objective moral standard by definition must exist externally to us. As such, it requires an external source – a moral source which is beyond (transcendent to) our human existence. In other words, an objective moral standard requires something very much like our Christian understanding of God. There is no good without God. Alternative sources for universal, objective moral values and duties are simply insufficient. Only God will do. Thus, the moral argument for God’s existence is both powerful and sound.

a) P1 – “If objective moral values and duties exist, they can only be grounded in a transcendent divine Being (i.e., God).”
b) P2 – “Objective moral values and duties do exist.”
c) Conclusion – “Therefore, God exists.”

Please note two things that I am not saying in this. First, I am not saying that this demonstrates the existence of the God of the Bible beyond a rational shadow of a doubt. As with the clues for God’s existence provided by the origin and design of the universe (cosmology and teleology), all that this shows is that there has to be some type of God, not our God in particular. But this does demonstrate the intellectual and explanatory bankruptcy of atheism. Just as atheism cannot explain the existence and origin of the universe, so too atheism cannot explain the existence and origin of universal objective ethics.

Second, I am not saying that atheists cannot act morally. Indeed, I would argue the contrary—that atheists, like Christians, will often (even usually) act morally, because of the truth of the moral argument for God’s existence. Christians hold that God has written His moral law into the hearts of all His creatures, including those who reject God or deny His existence. Thus, as prominent atheist Christopher Hitchens argues (correctly), it is difficult to conceive of anything moral or good that a Christian can do that an atheist cannot do. Atheists can (and do) act in accordance with the universal moral law. They will not always do so, but then again neither will Christians, because of the continued presence of our sinful nature. All that the moral argument for God’s existence demonstrates is that the moral law itself is meaningless, indeed is a myth, in the absence of God. Yes, atheists might still live as if there are transcendent standards of right and wrong; but in the absence of God, there is no such thing. Indeed, one can not be good without God, because there simply is no such thing as good, without God.