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Exposing the Bankruptcy of an Atheist Worldview

I have been pouring over Ravi Zacharias’ wonderful little book, The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists (Zondervan, 2008). In it, Zacharias gives a brilliant and gracious response to the militant atheism espoused by author Sam Harris in his recently published, Letter to a Christian Nation. Harris stands in the queue of other popular atheistic philosophers such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens. In all actuality, there is nothing new in this “new atheism,” as it simply recycles arguments of a worldview devoid of God, leaving humanity to its own devises and vices.

These are weighty matters that have influenced every corner of our culture in academia, entertainment, government, the family, business, science, and technology. And this matters to you and me. The basic questions of the origin and meaning of life, the determination of morality, and the hope for eternity shape our basic worldview, and how we answer those questions defines the course of our existence and how we relate with the world around us.

How important are these matters? Albert Camus (1913-1960) was an atheistic French philosopher who drew his godless worldview to its logical conclusion. In his essay, “The Myth of Sisyphus,” he wrote these words: “There is only one really serious philosophical question, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.” It is this philosophy that leads to a culture of death, for we are left determining not only whether our life is worth living but also whether someone else’s life is worth living. The Holocaust, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, and other such atrocities are the logical consequence of this atheistic ideology.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), another predecessor to the “new atheists,” described existence without God as living in a world of infinite nothingness. “Lanterns must be lit in the morning hours and sacred games invented to take the place of religious ceremony.” Nietzsche wrote that this world would lead to a “universal madness that would break out when the truth of what mankind had done in killing God dawned on us.” Zacharias informs us that “Nietzsche himself spent the last thirteen years of his life in the darkness of insanity, while his godly mother watched over him by his bedside.”

Where you begin in your understanding of the origin of life determines your destination in the meaning of life. If non-reasoning, non-moral matter is all that existed in the beginning, then we end up with no intentional or moral significance. In other words, if there is no Creator who has given value and meaning to the created order, particularly human life, then there can be no purpose and meaning to existence. We are left with no point of reference to determine morality (right vs. wrong) and no answers to the ultimate questions that form in the depths of our souls.

Atheist Stephen Jay Gould once wrote, “We may yearn for a `higher’ answer—but none exists.” This sounds similar to an exchange between famed atheistic philosopher Michel Foucault and a student:

Student: Should I take chances with my life?

Foucault: By all means! Take risks; go out on a limb!

Student: But I yearn for solutions.

Foucault: There are no solutions.

Student: Then at least some answers.

Foucault: There are no answers.

No God, no meaning. No meaning, no answers. No answers, no hope. Nihilism leads to despair which leads to a culture of death.

Followers of Jesus Christ, on the other hand, celebrate a culture of life, for they do not live as those without hope. We believe that “in the beginning God” (Genesis 1:1), and this God is a God of love who created us in His image (Genesis 1:27). God has given us meaning and purpose, but we rebelled against Him by attempting to usurp His loving lordship. We were separated from Christ, “having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13). Therefore, we cast off despair that leads to death and we are “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). And that, my friends, is an answer worth living for and a reason worth dying for.

Reflecting the Pursuing Heart of God

Happy Day of Saint Patrick! When we lived in New Orleans, we always looked forward to St. Patrick’s Day. Schools and businesses closed, families got together for more feasting and merry making at the parades. It was at one of those parades that our lives almost changed forever.

My wife loves a good parade, and I’ve never seen parades like they have in New Orleans. Literally hundreds of thousands of people will line up in a three-mile stretch to watch the floats, listen to the music and catch all the lagniappe (i.e. extra/over the top trinkets and beads) thrown from the attendants (i.e. drunk people). Sounds fun, right? At the St. Patrick’s Day parades, attendants actually throw cabbages into the crowd based on some tradition years back that people would get their cabbages, carrots and potatoes at the parades for their St. Patrick’s Day stew. So, imagine a bunch of intoxicated attendants about ten-fifteen feet above you in their floats raining down bombs of cabbages into the crowd. It’s always fun until someone gets hurt.

Did I mention my wife loves a good parade? Well, parades for me are like shopping as a couple. For the purpose of marital harmony, some activities are best done apart. Standing among throngs of people for hours to catch some doubloons and beads that I’m going to wind up throwing away later, watching drunk people wobble precariously on top of floats, and listening to one high school marching band after another is not my definition of a good time.

But, as I said, it was at one of those parades that our lives almost changed forever. As I recall, it was a beautiful day. The kids, who were quite little, and I were waiting for Laura a safe distance from the crowds, while she tried to squeeze her way to the front to get one of those cabbages. (We were living off a church-planter’s salary after all.) Laura’s job was to get a cabbage. My job was to watch the kids—three little, squirmy kids who were on sensory overload. While I reached down to make sure my youngest son was fastened securely in his stroller, and while I was grasping my daughter’s hand tightly, my oldest son, who was probably about six years old, took off to join his mom near the front of the line. The problem was that he didn’t tell me. He just took off. I turned around, and Will was gone, swallowed up in a sea of noisy marauders. My heart began to race, as my eyes darted back and forth in every direction. I couldn’t leave my other two children, but holding on to them slowed my quest, especially in our attempt to squeeze through the jostling crowd.

Right as I was about to begin yelling for Will and implore the crowd for help, I saw Laura walking towards us with a cabbage in one hand and Will in the other. Mission accomplished. No harm, no foul.

Most parents have probably experienced something similar where you turn your back for one second, and one of your children takes off running in the other direction. I believe the reason we have such a deep panic in those moments is because we were created in the image of the God who pursues. God has relentlessly pursued us from the very first moments we hid from God in the Garden. “Adam, where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). Like the father who ran out to meet his wayward son, so God runs out to meet us at our point of brokenness and shame (Luke 15:20).

The heart of God is filled with compassion and mercy (Hosea 11:8). When we run from God, He is patient toward us, not wishing that any of us should perish, but that we would all come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). God has planted the seeds of His pursuing heart within us. We water the seeds through prayer and His Word. We watch the seeds grow as we open our hearts to others in selflessness and kindness.

Let us rejoice and give thanks to the God of pursuit. Let us reflect His character and love for all things lost. Let us be willing to enter the sea of marauders and feel compassion for those who are still far off. In the words of the old hymn, let us “rescue the perishing, care for the dying, snatch them in pity from sin and the grave; weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen, tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save” (Fanny Crosby, 1869).

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