@Deborah_Emory Thank you for sharing your friends’ post with us. May the Lord grant you wisdom as you seek to share His love with your friend. I think Os Guinness makes a great point in his book ‘Fool’s Talk’ that in order to move into the category of a ‘seeker’ of God people must experience what he calls signals of transcendence. Something in their life must help them realize that their belief system falls short of explaining reality and shake them enough that they are willing to leave the comfort zone of their current beliefs to pursue truth.
My first question would be - has your friend experienced such a signal of transcendence in his own life? Perhaps you could even ask him this question. If he is not seeking God - if he is basically a happy agnostic unconcerned with further pursuing truth - then you have to try to be part of generating that signal of transcendence. That is not always within our power.
But I want to share my thoughts first on his argument about what makes life meaningful and then some notes for a talk I gave on why we cannot live the happy or ‘good life’ apart from God.
Life is Meaningful Because We Only Get it Once
At first I thought your friends’ argument - that life is meaningful because it only happens once - was very odd. I had never heard anyone use the lack of reincarnation or Heaven to explain meaning. However, then I remembered this quote from Hawking after his diagnosis with a terrible disease:
Stephen Hawking - after his diagnosis - “When one’s expectations are reduced to zero,” he said, “one really appreciates everything that one does have.”
So, in a sense, realizing this is all we’ve got can lead to a kind of thankfulness. However, and I think this is important, it does not lead to justice. Justice requires that our response to the brevity of our life is kindness toward our neighbor. But why? Perhaps someone decides that the brevity of life makes them want to drink and party at the expense of others - or to rip off their business firm and flee the country - or even to hurt other people. Simply because life’s brevity makes us realize we only get one chance does not have anything to do with how we treat others with the one chance we’ve got. There is no logical connection there…
The Good Life is Unattainable Apart from God
In my talk, the basic question was - “Why do you need God?” My answer was that we all need three things - Love, Permanence and Assurance.
To support this idea, I began with the Greek philosopher Epicurus - who said that to achieve happiness we must all deal with 3 things - fear of divine judgment, fear of death and anxiety about tomorrow (Love, Permanence, Assurance). Epicurus’ solution was to set your expectations low - be satisfied with just necessities (no one really does this). Buddha once said - “When pleasure or pain come, the wise are above them”. So their solution to happiness was to have low expectations and ignore both pleasure/pain.
I then quoted an Atheist placard - “There’s probably no god, so stop worrying and enjoy your life.” However, there is a problem with this statement in relation to Epicurus’ 3 questions.
- Fear of divine judgment - ignoring God may deal with divine judgment, but someone becomes your lover and judge. It may be your work, your spouse, your looks - but in the end you rely on something outside yourself to validate your existence.
- Fear of death - the atheist solution is to ignore it, perhaps via chocolate, alcohol and entertainment. Or by trying to live the good life and hope to leave a great legacy.
- Dealing with anxiety - there is no means of dealing with anxiety without God - there is no ultimate plan. Anything could happen at any moment, including death. My friend at work said he liked to jog because when he was running he could forget his anxieties because of the exertion it required of his body. Without God there really is no good way to deal with anxiety.
Now, here are a few quotes, two from unbelievers, that demonstrate the vanity of trying to find meaning in a universe devoid of permanence and God. They show that there is absolutely no logical reason why not having an afterlife produces meaning - in fact, it obliterates it.
Thomas Nagel - Even if you produce a great work of literature that is read for thousands of years - eventually the solar system will cool or the universe wind down and all traces of your effort will vanish. It wouldn’t matter if you had never existed. And after you die, it won’t matter that you did exist.
Mark Twain, became morose and weary of life. Shortly before his death, he wrote, "A myriad of men are born; they labor and sweat and struggle;…they squabble and scold and fight; they scramble for little mean advantages over each other; age creeps upon them; infirmities follow; …those they love are taken from them, and the joy of life is turned to aching grief. In the end they vanish from a world where they were of no consequence,…a world which will lament them a day and forget them forever."
C. S. Lewis - You can’t really love a woman while remembering that all the beauties of her person and her character are a momentary and accidental pattern produced by a collision of atoms and that your response to her is a psychic phosphorescence arising from the behavior of your genes. In order to move from cold, animal like sensuality to love while remembering this fact you must recognize the hopeless disharmony between your emotions and the universe in which you think you live.
Now, here is a very brief outline of how Christianity provides love, permanence and assurance.
The Cross Proves God’s Love
- the King who died for rebels
God’s Care Gives Assurance
- the Prodigal Son - the Father’s Open Arms
Christ’s Resurrection Guarantees Permanence
- Lazarus (Martha - my brother would not have died)
I think you had already come up with some good questions for your friend. May the Lord open his eyes and heart to see the glory of God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
Do you have any additional questions or thoughts regarding what I have posted?