"If death ends all, if I have neither to hope for good nor to fear evil, I must ask myself what I am here for, and how in these circumstances I must conduct myself. There is no meaning for life, and life has no meaning." Somerset Maugham
"I was thinking that here we are eating and drinking, to preserve our precious existence, and that there's nothing, nothing, absolutely no reason for existence." Jean-Paul Sartre
"We've been the Beatles, which was marvelous...but I think generally there was this feeling of 'Yeah, well, it's great to be famous, it's great to be rich—but what's it all for?'" Paul McCartney
A Nobel Prize-winning physicist wrote, "The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless."
We, in the West, are inheritors of the Enlightenment, which over time morphed into promoting a system that reduced all reality, all existence, to the natural world alone. In this worldview no place exists for a personal God like Yahweh. The twenty-first century West remains in the grip of the mentality in which science and the scientific method remain, for many, the most reliable, if not the ultimate, or even only, source of truth.
Thirty-five year old Mitchell Heisman shot himself in front of a church in Harvard Yard, but not before writing a 1,905-page suicide note. "Every word, every thought, and every emotion come back to one core problem: life is meaningless."
What answer would you give him, or anyone, asking what many would argue is the most important question: What is the meaning of our lives?
Victor Frankl was a 37-year-old Viennese neurologist and psychiatrist when he, along with his wife and parents, were deported to a Nazi concentration camp. Out of those horrific experiences (in which he alone survived), Frankl wrote Man' s Search for Meaning, in which he proposed that our most basic need was to find meaning and purpose to our existence.
"You live in a deranged age," wrote American author Walter Percy, "more deranged than usual, because in spite of great scientific and technological advances, man has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing."
Long ago, Solomon expressed the same pessimism. "Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?...All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun....I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit." (Eccl. 1:1-3, 8-9, 14) The word "vanity" is sometimes translated as "meaningless."
Shakespeare wrote, life "is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
The statements we have read are based on a certain worldview. A worldview comprises a set of assumptions that influence how people view the world and how they answer the important questions of life, such as: Where did we come from? How should we live? Where are we going? Everyone has a worldview, and how people interpret life and evidence is influenced by that worldview. We can summarize three worldviews.
1) Christianity and the great controversy between Christ and Satan
Assumption: God is real and is the omnipotent Creator of the universe and life.
Assumption: The universe and life arose through natural law; there has never been any intelligent, supernatural intervention in the universe.
3) Theistic evolution
Assumption: The universe and life arose through natural law; God was involved in the process but not in a way that could influence the physical evidence. This process requires death and natural evil (hurricanes, volcanoes, floods, earthquakes). This deity must not interfere with all these destructive processes.
Since no assumptions can be proved, we must accept the one which seems to fit all life the best. I accept the following assumption. "The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens. By his knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down the dew." (Prov. 3:19,20) "Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. Exalt her, and she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost embrace her." (Prov. 4:7,8)
I believe that before the beginning God was already there. Before Genesis 1:1 there was only God. There was no sky, no sea, no flower, no tree, no bird, no bee, no you, no me. There was no galaxy or cosmos, no item or atom, no gravity or density. There was only eternal God.
I do not believe abiogenesis, which basically signifies life arising from nonlife. Alexander Ross, in the seventeenth century, contended that beetles and wasps issue from cow's dung, and mice and a variety of other creatures spring from putrefied matter. "To question this is to question Reason, Sense and Experience," Ross insisted. "If [anyone] doubts of this, let him go to AEgypt, and there he will finde the fields swarming with mice begot of the mud of Nylus." Oddly enough, many of Ross's most amused scorners today still hold, like him, that abiogenesis is fact.
The reality is that we have a very difficult time convincing others of the correctness of our worldview. Many objections to God's direct creative involvement are raised by thoughtful people. How can we respond to them?
The first thing is to be honest. We must acknowledge and wrestle with honest doubts and questions, because even believers in God have doubts at times.
A very basic question is always asked. How could a good and loving God allow such suffering and pain as we see all around us? But notice that the other worldviews demand destruction and violence. The strong are always destroying the weak. Suffering and pain, far from being wrong, are the way we are supposed to live if survival goes to the fittest. In this worldview there can be no such thing as appalling wickedness, since causing suffering and pain is the only way for the survival of the human race. In reality, a powerful argument for the existence and creative involvement of God is our innate sense of what is wicked and cruel and wrong. If God allows suffering and pain to exist, there must be a very good reason for that, and we should bend all our efforts to find out what that reason is.
Some object that the church has been responsible for so much injustice in the world. This is a fair and devastating criticism of Christianity. But God responded to this objection long before Christianity existed. "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God....Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high. Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him, and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward....And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday." (Isa. 58:1-2, 4-8, 10) In modern terms, there is a tragic difference between true Christianity and professed Christianity.
In the case of the African slave trade that is still having a negative impact on United States society, it is true that many slaveholders were Christians, but it is also true that the impetus to end slavery came from Christians who saw slavery as violating the will of God. Wilberforce in Britain and many in the United States devoted their entire lives to ending slavery, including Ellen White in Adventism. The antidote to racism is not less Christianity, but a deeper and truer Christianity.
Some object to God sending people to hell, even to hell as a limited duration of burning. But is it not true that the most loving people are filled with righteous anger when they see evil people hurting innocent people (random shootings, acts of terrorism, etc.)? Anger isn't the opposite of love, hate is, and the final form of hatred is indifference. If God were not angry at injustice and did not make a final end to violence, God would not be worthy of worship. In fact, the best reason for me not to become violent in response to violence is my belief that God will eventually put all things right. Only if I am sure that there is a God who will right all wrongs do I have the power to refrain from retaliation. The doctrine of God's final judgment is the basis for human forgiveness and peacemaking.
Some assert that science has disproved Christianity and supernatural miracles. The problem is that science has no model or method to test for supernatural causes; therefore we are not dealing with scientific findings but philosophical presuppositions.
The idea that atheists are more objective and less biased is shattered by the comments of one of their philosophers. "I want atheism to be true....I hope there is no God, I don't want there to be a God. I don't want the universe to be like that....I am curious whether there is anyone who is genuinely indifferent as to whether there is a God." (Thomas Nagel, The Last Word, p. 130)
It is absolutely true that we cannot prove that God exists, but belief in God explains and accounts for what we see better than the alternative worldviews. Even Stephen Hawking said, "The odds against a universe like ours emerging out of something like the Big Bang are enormous....It would be very difficult to explain why the universe would have begun in just this way except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us." (Quoted in Francis Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, p. 75)
One major Achilles' heel in the alternative worldview is found in Richard Dawkins' assertion that since we are the product of natural selection, we can't completely trust our own senses, because evolution is interested only in survival, not truth or beliefs. (Dawkins, The God Delusions, p. 367ff) If we can't trust our reason to tell us the truth about God, why should we trust our reason to tell us the truth about anything, including unprovable scientific theories?
Even if we believe that life is meaningless we simply cannot live that way. We live as if beauty and love have meaning; as if there is meaning in life; as if human beings have inherent dignity, because way down deep we know there is a God.
In the Adventist Review, Nov. 17, 2011, Cliff Goldstein wrote, "In the early 1980's, as a newly born believer, I wrestled (as I still do) with the question of evil in a world created by a loving and powerful God. When I expressed these concerns to one of my first Seventh-day Adventist contacts,...he looked at me and uttered with fervent and intense passion, 'Cliff, why are you worrying now about what you will be given 1,000 years to get answered?'...In the early lines of Paradise Lost John Milton wrote that with this work he sought to 'justify the ways of God to men.'...What's amazing...isn't so much that God can, ultimately, justify His ways before us, but that He would consent to do so....He will open Himself to our scrutiny....The concept itself is astounding, filled with mind-boggling implications about the character of the Creator....Paul...wrote, 'Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written: "That You may be justified in Your words, and may overcome when You are judged"' (Rom. 3:4, NKJV). When is God judged? By whom? Maybe an answer is found here: 'Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart' (1 Cor. 4:5). Judge nothing, God included,... 'before the appointed time.'...The great controversy centers around...the idea that God, instead of just eradicating evil the moment it arose, allows it to play out so that in the end all intelligent beings in His creation will see justice and fairness in how He dealt with it....Ellen White wrote that just before the final judgment, 'with all the facts of the great controversy in view, the whole universe, both loyal and rebellious, with one accord declare: "Just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints"' (The Great Controversy, p. 671)....Not until we are all satisfied with His justice and we shout, 'just and true are your ways, King of the nations' (Rev. 15:3), will the lost be punished with eternal destruction." Perhaps it is safe to leave some of our questions to the time when we will have access to much more complete information than we have now.
Not only are competing worldviews challenging Christians everywhere, the debate has joined within Adventism also. Those fighting Darwinism as a viable interpretation of Genesis are now considered narrow and closed-minded. There is no question that Genesis 1 and 2 present challenges. Bible students have been trying to work their way through the creation account for many years. But what is a possible reinterpretation of the texts, based on the Darwinian worldview, that doesn't undermine almost everything we believe: the trustworthiness of the Bible, the origin of sin and death, the character of God, and the meaning of the cross? One laughable argument is that animals don't feel pain. This "deep insight" gets God off the hook for the millions of years of suffering that evolution inflicted upon these unfortunate fellow travelers until God finally managed to eke a couple of homo sapiens out of the seething mass. If the first six days of Genesis are billions of years, why is only the seventh day taken literally? Any belief comes with challenges, and that certainly includes our belief in a literal six-day creation as depicted in Genesis 1 and 2. But that's not the point. The point is the attempt to incorporate a radically alien theology into Adventism. And one of the latest tactics in that attempt is to change the debate in order to make those who reject this theology look narrow-minded and dogmatic.
I have spent much time on the debate between competing worldviews, all of which are based on faith supported by various clues. Adventism clearly comes down on the side of the existence of God and the authority of the Bible. Now I want to finish with some practical implications of what we have chosen to believe about God.
Romans 12:2 tells us, "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." To belong to Jesus, to follow Him as Lord and Master, requires leaving something—and that something can increasingly be identified as the many ways in which we are tempted to follow and imitate the practices of the world in our life and our worship. Phillips translates this verse, "Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould." God's remnant people, especially in these last days, will be unusually tempted to accept and adopt practices that are essentially opposed to the purity and truth of the gospel.
Many practices that have seemed innocent on the surface have crept into Seventh-day Adventist worship, especially in the areas of prayer and music. We hear about centering prayer and contemplative prayer. Music has become a vehicle for incorporating styles and performances that too frequently forget that the great God of the universe, our Savior Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are the real audience. Some simple questions we should ask are: Would I pray this way in the very presence of Jesus? Would I sing this song—this way—in the presence of the Holy Ones?
There has been much emphasis in the last few years on revival and reformation. How will we organize our local churches so they aren't simply performing a routine Sabbath exercise, but will truly feed us from the Word of God and motivate us to do practical missionary work? How will it change our view on what we eat and how we share our precious health message with our neighbors? How will godly reformation change our entertainment habits and all kinds of lifestyle choices?
General Conference president Ted N.C. Wilson spoke to the ASI convention in Sacramento, California, on Aug. 6, 2011. "The devil does everything he can to deter God's people from following biblical counsel. [He] brings in every possible aberration and confusing idea that will throw God's people off track from finishing strong. I have felt convicted in the past weeks to speak out in a stronger way about certain subjects that, in my opinion, are removing us from God's mission for His remnant church—things that will take us out of the position to which God has called us." Elder Wilson called on Adventists to guard against "mystical beliefs and practices" that could remove us from sound doctrine; to avoid "mystical forms of prayer" that could lead to occult practices; to be careful in the selection of worship music and styles; and to avoid having non-Adventists as "major spiritual speakers" in churches or convocations, instead seeking "humble, Bible-centered Seventh-day Adventist speakers."
The Real Jesus
Ultimately, all calls to revival and reformation must find their source in the One Who is the center of the entire Bible, and true revival will only happen if we see with unprejudiced eyes the real Jesus, not the sugary sweet counterfeit worshipped by so many Christians.
In the Adventist Review of Oct. 20, 2011, Shawn Brace related his experience. "A few years ago I spoke for a Week of Prayer at one of our high school academies. As the week progressed, I became particularly burdened with the reality of these young people's experiences. And so I did a little exercise with them on Tuesday morning. I picked up a piece of chalk, wrote the number 1 on the board, turned to them, and said, 'Tell me what the biggest temptations are that you face as a young person.'... One by one things were blurted out by these kids. One of the young men got brave and yelled out, 'Women!'... One of the girls objected, 'But what about us women? We're tempted with boys.'...After a few minutes, we had a list of about 9 or 10 temptations—including anger, laziness, sex, lying, gossip. When I was done writing, I put down my piece of chalk and read the entire list out loud. I turned to the young people and said, 'Now, how many of you have ever heard that Jesus was tempted by the same things?' There was total silence in the room. I turned again to the board and said, 'How many of you have heard that Jesus was tempted to disobey authority, to lie, to get angry, to lust after a woman...How many of you have ever heard that Jesus was faced with these same temptations?' Again, not one young person raised his or her hand, or even acknowledged with a facial expression that something was clicking. Truthfully, I didn't expect a forest of hands to be raised. But I expected at least a few token hands to be held up. No such thing happened. These young people had never thought that Jesus had, in fact, been tempted with the same things—that He had faced the same temptations; that He was touched with their weaknesses. And what about us?...Do we understand that Christ walked in our shoes, not only for a mile, but a whole lifetime? We talk about Jesus becoming a human quite often....How often do we pause beside His humanness and appreciate the depths of His humanity? Could it be that we have robbed ourselves of one of the most important messages of Christ's character? Could it be that we have robbed our young people of one of the most beautiful aspects of the gospel?"
Tragically, we have done this in an attempt to be acceptable to our evangelical friends, who believe that any of these temptations within Christ's nature would contaminate Him so that He could not function as our sinless Savior. Do we really believe Hebrews 4:15? "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." This is a truth that we far too often don't understand, comprehend, or appreciate. Jesus, as our High Priest, is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. The Message translates this text: "We don't have a priest who is out of touch with our reality."
C. S. Lewis volunteered to serve in the British Army during World War I. On his nineteenth birthday he found himself on the front lines engaging in trench warfare. A few months later he was wounded in battle, and had to be discharged from the army. Later he wrote in his introduction to Mere Christianity, "Ever since I served as an infantryman in the First World War I have had a great dislike of people who, themselves in ease and safety, issue exhortations to men in the front line. As a result I have a reluctance to say much about temptations to which I myself am not exposed."
Some concluding thoughts from Shawn Brace: "Fortunately, we do not have a God who stood back in the 'ease and safety' of heaven and offered advice from the sidelines. We do not have a God who stood back and commanded us simply to 'pray' to Him when we have a problem. We have a God who came down on the front lines with us, and fought the battle alongside us. And He continues to do so....He is 'presently able' to sympathize with us now....Wasn't He tempted to turn His back on His Father as His only God? Couldn't we say that He was tempted to steal, commit adultery, bear false witness, break the Sabbath? Wasn't He tempted to indulge sin, to give in to selfishness and pride?...We don't believe He really, truly experienced the same struggles. So when we face challenges, we shrug our shoulders at the temptations and say, 'Well, I'm only human.' But thank God that Christ, when faced with the same temptations, didn't just shrug His shoulders and say, 'I'm only human.'...The truth is, Christ didn't simply face 'make- believe' temptations. Sometimes we like to sterilize Christ's existence....We may be facing loneliness. We may be facing discouragement....But we have a Savior who is on the front lines with us; a Savior who is right there beside us in the game, trying to help us understand that He knows what we're going through because He went through it Himself, and He continues to do so."
The real Jesus, our Brother, is beside us right now, offering us His whole human experience as we meet our daily temptations. Yes, God exists. Yes, the Bible is true. Yes, Jesus offers us unlimited power to meet Satan head-on. Yes, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.