Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Are You a "Cosmic Orphan?" - Part 2

Our very nature as human beings, no matter who we are or where we call home, is oriented toward a spiritual awareness of something beyond ourselves (God) and a longing for something beyond this life (immortality). Yet, for many, our way of looking at the world resigns us to resistance and suppression of the realities that pulsate within us.
"If there is no God or immortality, therefore, not only is man a Cosmic Orphan, thrown into existence without purpose; he is also the victim of a colossal and cruel joke.  The thirst for the realities that he needs to give significance and value to his life is built into his very nature as man. God and immortality - the very realities toward which man is oriented - are precisely the realities which, according to his world view, do not exist.  The predicament of modern man is not that he is simply an orphan, but that he is oriented by nature toward the very things he cannot have." 1
And, life does not work so well for those of us who disconnect from the reality of our inner selves and stubbornly determine to manage the harshness of life without a recognition of our Creator.
"Disconnection from God does not work well.  It requires that we deny anything in our makeup that depends on connecting with God.  We therefore deny the deepest longings in our souls, longings to love a God who loves us and to love others the way God loves us.  We want that, but without God we can't have it.  Committed to managing life without God and afraid to face our emptiness and guilt, we see what we can do ... alone.  We're scared, mad, and demanding as we experience life.  Our highest goal is that we 'make it,' that we experience some level of internal satisfaction ... we find ourselves separated from God, ourselves and others.  We are foolishly independent, unaware of our destiny or purpose, committed to a justice that revolves around us, scared that we're inadequate, desperately insecure, angry when things don't go our way, consistently demanding that they do, incapable of loving anybody and not terribly bothered that we don't, finally alone with ourselves, either settling for lesser satisfactions and 'doing fine,' or troubled by any one of dozens of symptoms of our terrified, angry, selfish internal life." 2

What to do?!? Faced with the prospect of living a life devoid of spiritual reality, no basis for meaning, and ending in nothingness, there are really only four options up for consideration.
  1. Commit suicide ... I mean, just "check out." Why not? Given that we are nothing more than a genetic link in a purposeless and blind process of mutation and natural selection, with oblivion and nothingness on the horizon, it's the most logical next step ... why put up with a life that ultimately is absurd and harsh?  That's exactly where many of our teenagers are today, with suicide now being the third leading cause of death (behind car accidents and homicides 3). And there are many, both young and old, who contemplate the thought every day.  But, just as many will not act on their suicidal contemplation ... fear of the unknown, a loss of whatever small pleasures our culture affords us in life, or our medical/psychiatric professionals (and/or others) convincing us that pressing on is worthwhile, keep our urge at bay and whisper "it's not worth it." Which leads to the second option.
  2. We could simply avoid asking the big questions, among them "what's the meaning of my life?" And, our culture (especially here in the highly industrialized and technologically savvy U.S.) affords us any number of escape mechanisms to "anesthetize" the mind away from such "complicated" thinking: alcohol, drugs, various hobbies, adventurous travel, pursuit of the body beautiful, sports play and fanaticism; the pursuit of sexual pleasure, money, power and fame; immersing oneself in the devotion to family, friends, acquaintances, pets, work, business and networking ... and on and on.  Two problems stare us down with this option, however - first, none of these pursuits on their own bring true happiness, contentment or satisfaction. Many who have engaged in an all-out pursuit of any or all of these and "achieved" them have pulled up saying "Is that all there is?" (think sports stars, Hollywood legends, and business CEO's, among others). And, as alluded to in the above quote, this kind of pursuit leads to anything but a joyful existence. Second, the risks of ignoring the big questions are too great.  What IF God does exist, life does have meaning, and your destiny is predicated on your response to that existent God?  You run the risk of losing everything ... and death waits, beyond which there is no return to make it right.  We can't wait until it's too late to find out that we're traveling down the wrong road.
  3. How about, as holders of an atheistic or agnostic worldview, we "stick to our guns" ... gut it out, affirming life's absurdity yet living nobly. OK, sounds appealing. You're the captain of your ship, living fearlessly, boldly ... uninhibited and laughing in the face of death.  You say to yourself, "I recognize life is punctuated by an inevitable bleak end, but I'll walk to the gallows 'unblindfolded', living bravely and dedicating myself to my own sense of service to my fellow man, and I don't need God in the process (as weaker-minded people do)."  Two problems here as well - First, your life of nobility in the face of your recognition of only nature and yourself is totally inconsistent with your belief.  If there's no God, nothing beyond ourselves, how is it that we have any value at all ... why serve a collection of mere protoplasm, the product of a purposeless and mindless process? And, what keeps you from just walking away from the unsavory, unlovely, ornery, or ungrateful types? And, how in the world do you build a humanistic morality on a functionally atheistic philosophy? Second, IF there is a God and life beyond the grave, then you're stubbornly holding to this option isn't brave or noble at all ... it's incredibly delusional and wrong-headed.  Your worldview and philosophical foundation is sand, and your thinking and resultant actions arising from it is like a house of cards ... rootless and flimsy at best.  Your inability to disprove the existence of God leaves you philosophically and intellectually bankrupt, and your belief in a material-only universe and macro-evolution is founded on bad science.
  4. Finally, we could be open-minded and consider the possibility that a worldview where a material universe is all there is with no immortality is wrong ... you and I are not, and don't have to be, "Cosmic Orphans."  We can embrace the spiritual leanings of our inner core and open up to the broad horizon of thinking that encompass God and immortality as factual realities, leading to the bright prospect that your life and mine has significance and value, with a future that is everlasting and beyond our wildest imagination.
This fourth option is the position of the authentic Christian worldview.  A portion of its source document has this to say: "For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life."  "Not perish but have eternal life" is immortality and the giver of it is a God who is deemed real and came in a tangible form as a man, with and for a purpose. Moreover, we are told elsewhere in that same source document that this God-man's giving of Himself was in the form of a horrific death, followed by a stunning resurrection. Not a resurrection of an immaterial/invisible soul only, not reincarnation into another creature, not resuscitation, not even translation prior to an actual death ... a resurrection reconstituting both soul and body into a new and transformed union.

In the recording of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth (the God-man) we have available, in advance of our own death, a series of events taking place in space-time history that provides us with evidence to bolster the veracity of both the existence of God and the reality of immortality.  Particularly, if the historical evidence is sufficient to indicate beyond a reasonable doubt that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead, then we have incredibly well-founded grounds for a validation of what our inner beings have told us all along: something exists that transcends us (God) and there is an existence beyond this life (immortality).  We don't have to live like Cosmic Orphans. We can make sense of our world and our existence, we can find wholeness and fulfillment, and we can look forward to an incredibly bright and forever future.  Without Him, there indeed is a nothing-like existence. With Him, there's everything. We need Him. We need the reality of the one and only true God.

Portions of the above are adapted from "Knowing the Truth about the Resurrection" by William Lane Craig (1988 Servant Books, Ann Arbor Michigan)
1/ William Lane Craig, "Knowing the Truth about the Resurrection"
2/ Larry Crabb , "Connecting" (2005 Thomas Nelson, Nashville TN)
3/ CDC NCH Data Brief, "Mortality Among Teenagers 12-19 "(No. 37, 2010) and "Basic Facts About Teen Crashes, Leading Causes of Death for 15-19 yr olds" (
4/ the Good News according to John, 3:16

Monday, May 13, 2013

Are You a "Cosmic Orphan"? - Part 1

If you've been tracking with my Google+ posts for a time and you're not a very "religious" person, you may have said to yourself, "Okay, Harold, what is it with all this God and Jesus stuff?  I mean, I'm with Pierre-Simon LaPlace when he said, '... I have no need of that hypothesis,' and Nietzsche when he declared, 'God is dead ...'."  Well if you're thinking that, outside of appreciating your honesty and candor, I think that your viewpoint is unfortunate and misguided, because I happen to think that we need the reality of God in our lives. Indeed, if we are truthful with ourselves, our inner being longs for the truth of that reality. Here's why I think that way.

Here in the U.S. today, and in other parts of the "modernized" world, we're in a cultural environment that is wholeheartedly and uncritically embracing a metaphysical worldview of naturalism along with its prime philosophical "engine" of evolution ... that is, more and more of us are steeping ourselves in a belief (consciously or subconsciously) that nature is all there is and that we as human beings are the product of a purposeless, blind process of mutation and natural selection.  In an increasingly independent-minded, technologically-oriented and affluent culture (at least here in the U.S.), we have accepted Nietzsche's declaration of deicide (proudly proclaiming that our prowess and capability have killed him), and reduced ourselves to nothing more than a highly-developed accident of nature. Nature is all there is and we reside in an indifferent and impersonal universe, linked to its vastness only through a genetic chain to other vertebrates, alive with no purpose or compass for living other than the drive of our genes and instincts (on the level of other animals), focused on survival and avoidance of pain at all costs, with the extent of our future being nothing more than personal extinction at the hands of an inevitable cruel event called death.

But, that poses a pretty huge intellectual and practical predicament for us ... why? Because this perspective flies in the face of the inductive evidence we all have within our inner beings. As we experience the reality of life, we human beings appear to be the ONLY earthly creatures to demonstrate what anthropologists call "an openness to our world" - an awareness of it that allows us to think and create new possibilities with the people and things we observe and interact with.  And, as far as we know, we are the only creatures in the universe who introspect and ask questions like "Why?", "Who am I?", "What am I here for?" We are not driven or determined solely by our environment or our genetic makeup; we can think, ponder, construct, apprehend reality on a conceptual level, and make choices that can alter our reality and attitude toward what we face and desire to accomplish. In addition, we seem to be creatures who are naturally oriented toward "something" beyond ourselves, and compelled to conduct ourselves in a certain fashion akin to an "ought to," not just a "convenient to." We're also seemingly always desiring to strive toward a thing beyond the finiteness of who we are and what we experience ... always pushing toward an infinite goal; looking beyond time and desiring immortality. And even though we're acutely aware of death's inevitability, we strive to push it out of our mentality, take great pains to postpone it, or deny it completely. We long for an existence beyond death.
"...He also has planted eternity in men's hearts and minds (a divinely implanted sense of a purpose working through the ages which nothing under the sun but God alone can satisfy) ..." - Ecclesiastes 3:11 (AMP)
"You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you." - Augustine
As human beings, our inner nature cries out for both a recognition of a transcendent "something" beyond us and a yearning for immortality beyond time. Yet the worldview that our current culture intensely exposes us  to, and that many of us choose to embrace, is one that completely contradicts and denies the existence of both.  We go against the very nature of our internal makeup, denying the existence of anything outside of nature and believing in a purposeless and unguided existence ... even in the face of not being able to live consistently according to that belief. As American anthropologist and educator Loren Eiseley suggests, fighting against the tug of our inner beings and embracing a worldview that has no place for those longings, we become lost; without parents, as it were - we become "Cosmic Orphans." We're trapped ... resigned to a worldview where nature is all there is, we begin in nothingness and we end in nothingness, with nothing to lend meaning to the brevity of life in-between. And what's that life like? ... well, William Lane Craig puts it this way:
"If there is no immortality, then the life that man does have becomes ultimately absurd.  But to make the situation worse, human life is itself a mixed blessing.  Four considerations come to mind.  First, there is the evil in the heart of man which expresses itself in man's terrible inhumanity to man.  Many who wonder how God could create a world with so much evil in it overlook the fact that most of the evil in the world is the result of man's own choices.  War, torture, rape, and a thousand other sins confound the optimism about man ... Second, there is the problem of disease.  Modern man lives in the constant fear of killers like cancer, heart disease, leukemia, and now AIDS ... with no hope of immortality, life is often painful and ugly because of such scourges.  Third, unless we die first, we shall all confront the problem of old age.  Growing old often brings feebleness of body and mind ... without immortality, that is all we have to anticipate ... Fourth, there is death itself, that great and cruel joker who cuts down all men, often unexpectedly in the prime of life.  Confined to this life, modern man is thus set upon by the pressures of life and plagued by his own evil, disease, old age, and ultimately death."
Historian Stewart C. Easton adds the following:
"Thus man is penned within his earthly world; his life began with a birth before which there was  nothing and will end with a death after which there is nothing ... death marks the end of all the life he will ever know; and though there may not be much left to enjoy on earth, it is better than nothing. ... Thus modern man is hag-ridden by fear and worry, in spite of all the pleasures that his society through it ingenuity and industry provide him."
If you are one who believes that nature is all there is and all there will every be (aka, Carl Sagan), you're a "Cosmic Orphan" because you've lost your moorings ... cut loose from the reality of your intended metaphysical anchor. You've lost focus on that kind of absolute and universal system of coordinates you desperately want, and need, that would allow you to pull everything together (including an understanding of yourself) into a coherent and consistent whole.  Instead, your world, your personality, an understanding of your very being and significance are broken up into separate, incoherent, disjointed and disconnected fragments that correspond to your belief in an indifferent nothingness.  You've lost your "tether" to the reality of a transcendent Creator who has made you in His image and with purpose ... you're lost without God, living in a painful and ultimately meaningless existence (with mixed blessing at best), and death being your only sure future. And, differing from other creatures, you are acutely and bleakly aware of your demise and left to mire throughout your days in the increasingly bitter backwash of your movement toward inevitable oblivion. Again, William Lane Craig:
"If there is no God or immortality, therefore, not only is man a Cosmic Orphan, thrown into existence without purpose; he is also the victim of a colossal and cruel joke.  The thirst for the realities that he needs to give significance and value to his life is built into his very nature as man.  God and immortality - the very realities toward which man is oriented - are precisely the realities which according to his world view, do not exist.  The predicament of modern man is not that he is simply a orphan, but that he is oriented by nature toward the very things he cannot have."
Oh my; a sad conundrum indeed ... what to do! Stay tuned.

Portions of the above content are adapted, and quotes taken, from "Knowing the Truth about the Resurrection" by William Lane Craig (1988 Servant Books, Ann Arbor Michigan) and "Rumours of Another World" by Philip Yancey (2004 Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan).