The Absurdity Of Life Without God

by Dr. Phil Fernandes

A chapter from his doctoral dissertation
© 1997, Institute of Biblical Defense, All Rights Reserved

Psychological apologists also focus on man’s innate thirst to transcend this earthly experience (chapter 13), and the paradox of man—that man is both wonderful and cruel (chapter 14). An adequate world view must offer a viable explanation for these three phenomena (the absurdity of life without God, the thirst for transcendence, and the paradox of man). Psychological apologists argue that Christianity provides a better answer in these areas than any other world view.

KING SOLOMON

This chapter will examine the argument for God’s existence based on the absurdity of life without God. Though this argument is popular today, it is not new. In fact, King Solomon of Israel used this argument as far back as 935BC. This is rather strange since most historians place the start of philosophy at about 585BC.1 However, there were wise thinkers at a much earlier time. As Solomon began his reign, he prayed for wisdom and knowledge (2 Chronicles 1:10-12). God answered his prayer and his wisdom surpassed that of all other men of his day. People came from remote parts of the earth just to ask him “difficult questions” (1 Kings 4:29-34). The biblical account of Solomon’s wisdom is as follows:

Now God gave Solomon wisdom and very great discernment breadth of mind, like the sand that is on the seashore. And Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the sons of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men, than Ethan the Ezrahite, Heman, Calcol and Darda, the sons of Mahol; and his fame was known in all the surrounding nations. He also spoke 3,000 proverbs, and his songs were 1,005. And he spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon even to the hyssop that grows on the wall; he spoke also of animals and birds and creeping things and fish. And men came from all peoples to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom (1 Kings 4:29-34).

Solomon’s two philosophical writings are Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. In Proverbs, Solomon teaches wisdom that can be applied to daily life. It can be viewed as a manual on practical living. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon shows that a man’s life is totally useless until he recognizes his relation to God.

Solomon begins his work sounding like a modern-day existentialist. He cries, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). He expresses the view that life is futile and that man is thrust into a state of deep despair. However, Solomon makes this bleak assessment of human existence only when he considers the human condition “under the sun” (1:9). Solomon is attempting to find purpose in life without any appeal to man’s relation to God. Take the God of heaven out of the equation, Solomon says, and life has no meaning. Man, viewed strictly from an earthly perspective, has no hope or purpose.

Solomon proclaims that “. . . in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain” (1:18). The human situation is such that the more that is known of it, the less hope there is (so long as man is viewed in isolation from God).

Solomon attempts to find meaning and purpose in life apart from God. He finds none. Apart from God, life is futile. Solomon surveys a list of candidates that might bring meaning to life apart from God. But he finds in them only frustration and “striving after the wind” (1:14). The attainment of human wisdom is vain (1:17-18). It brings no lasting satisfaction. Laughter and pleasure-seeking are vain (2:2,10). There is no genuine satisfaction in the drinking of wine (2:3) or engaging in building projects (2:4). The accumulation of wealth is without lasting significance (2:8). Music and women can provide only temporary pleasure (2:8). Even popularity amounts to nothing (2:9). Solomon’s conclusion is that “everything is futility and striving after the wind” (2:17).

Though Solomon grieves for all that is “under the sun,” he also begins to acknowledge God’s purposes in the affairs of this world (3:1-11). He states that God has placed eternity in the hearts of men (3:11). Though man cannot fully understand the ways of God, he has an innate longing for the eternal things of God. Without appealing to these eternal matters, man will be damned to a life of despair and frustration. But if man acknowledges his God and serves Him, life has meaning and eternal significance.

Solomon closes Ecclesiastes with these words. “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (12:13-14).

Man’s search for satisfaction and meaning in life is futile if he only looks “under the sun.” Life without God is useless and absurd. Despair is inevitable for all who recognize the futility found in the temporary pleasures of life. True satisfaction can only be found in God. Once man acknowledges God’s existence, the works of man are no longer meaningless. What we do on earth takes on eternal significance. For we must all give an account to God for our actions. And God alone gives genuine meaning to life.

Many modern thinkers have rejected the existence of God. But they also recognize that life is without meaning if there is no God. Still, they live lives of despair (or escape this despair through an existential leap) rather than submit to God who can give meaning to life. Solomon calls upon these modern thinkers to make a choice. Blind leaps into the irrational realm to find meaning are not open to honest thinkers. Man must choose God or despair. There is no other choice.

BLAISE PASCAL (1623-1662)

The Christian thinker Blaise Pascal revolted against the idea that reason alone should settle religious truth questions. Pascal realized that there is more to the decision-making processes of man than mere thought. Man’s choices are also influenced by his emotions and will. “We know the truth not only through our reason but also through our heart.2 Therefore, Pascal set out to develop a defense of the Christian Faith that appealed to these aspects in man.

Pascal stated, “Being unable to cure death, wretchedness and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think about such things.” 3 Men “have a secret instinct driving them to seek external diversion and occupation, and this is the result of their constant sense of wretchedness.4. . . it makes a man happy to be diverted from contemplating his private miseries by making him care about nothing else but dancing well . . .5 Pascal saw in man a tendency to focus his attentions on temporary pleasures rather than on his own wretched state and certain death. If a man could amuse himself with these temporary pleasures, he could ignore and deny the more important issues of life that cause him fear. But Pascal warns man that there is no genuine satisfaction in this world. He says, “in this life there is no true and solid satisfaction” and that “all our pleasures are mere vanity.” 6 Pascal concludes “that the only good thing in this life is the hope of another life.” 7

According to Pascal, “there are only two classes of persons who can be called reasonable: those who serve God with all their heart because they know him and those who seek him with all their heart because they do not know him.8 Pascal considered the possibility of life after death to be of such great importance that he considered those who were not concerned about investigating this issue to be without feeling. 9 Pascal graphically describes the human situation apart from God:

Imagine a number of men in chains, all under the sentence of death, some of whom are each day butchered in the sight of others; those remaining see their own condition in that of their fellows, and looking at each other with grief and despair await their turn. This is an image of the human condition. 10

All men face their own inevitable death. As they go through life, they seek to hide this dreadful fact from themselves through temporary pleasures. But, as far as Pascal is concerned, this is a meaningless existence. Man can only find genuine meaning in life if he finds the God of the Bible. Apart from God, life is absurd.

Pascal calls his readers to make a choice. It is foolish for them to go on deceiving themselves. They must admit that without God and eternal life, human existence is without hope. Man must choose between despair and God. If a person wagers on God and loses, the person loses nothing. But if a person wagers on God and wins, the person wins everything. If, however, one wagers against God there is no hope of winning. If that person wins, he wins nothing. But if one bets against God and loses, one loses everything. Pascal concludes that the wise man will therefore wager on God. 11 Pascal, contrary to popular belief, is not attempting to prove God’s existence with his wager argument. Instead, he is attempting to persuade others to desire and seek God with all their hearts. Pascal believed that if a person seeks God with all his heart, he will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13).

FRANCIS SCHAEFFER (1912-1984)

Christian thinker Francis Schaeffer effectively argued that life is absurd without the existence of the God of the Bible. He believed that modern man had thrust himself into a state of despair. Schaeffer saw three key philosophers as leading man away from reason and into this feeling of meaningless existence.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), the first of these key thinkers, brought secular philosophy to a halt. His thought concluded that man could only know reality as it appeared to him (phenomena) and not reality as it is (noumena). Man’s mind could not bridge the gap between the two. When one begins with unaided human reason, the phenomena and noumena never meet.12 At this point, secular philosophers gave up their attempt to find “a unified rationalistic circle that would contain all thought, and in which they could live.” 13

The next thinker emphasized by Schaeffer was Hegel (1770-1831). Before him, philosophers for thousands of years had attempted to find truth based on antithesis. This meant that they held to the idea of absolute truth. Something could not be both true and not true at the same time and in the same sense. But Kant had shown that unaided human reason within the boundaries of antithesis led to skepticism about the real world. Hegel therefore concluded that man must try a new method. He recommended abandoning absolutes. His dialectical approach allowed for the synthesizing of contradictory statements. 14 This shift in the concept of truth from antithesis (absolute truth) to synthesis (truth is relative) resulted in modern man’s new way of viewing reality. 15 At this point, modern man faces great despair. For there is no longer any hope of man finding true meaning to life. There are no absolutes. Truth is relative.

The third philosopher Schaeffer discusses is Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855). With the rejection of absolutes, modern man was left without meaning in life. Despair seemed to be the only alternative. But this is where Kierkegaard enters the scene. Schaeffer states that Kierkegaard realized that “Man has no meaning, no purpose, no significance” in the rational realm. “There is only pessimism concerning man as man.” But if man takes a leap of blind faith into the nonrational realm, says Kierkegaard, this nonreasonable faith gives man optimism. 16

Schaeffer sees modern man as facing a choice between despair and a false, nonrational hope. Schaeffer’s method of evangelizing the modern man is to show him that he must reason with absolutes. For the only way to deny absolutes is to assume there are absolutes. 17 The Kierkegaardian leap into the nonrational realm is therefore not an option. If the modern man refuses to turn to the God of the Bible, he is damned to a meaningless life of despair (that is, if he has enough courage to refrain from a nonrational leap). Only when a person accepts the existence of the God of the Bible can life have true meaning. Without God, life is absurd. Without God, the reasonable man will wallow in despair.

GORDON LEWIS

In his work entitled Testing Christianity’s Truth Claims, Gordon Lewis approvingly discusses the psychological apologetics utilized by Edward John Carnell and Vernon C. Grounds. Lewis recognizes the fact that Christianity alone is able to relieve man’s deepest anxieties. Science and Philosophy can offer no substitute for God’s unconditional love. 18 All people long for loving acceptance, peace, and significance. Only in Jesus can these needs be met. Jesus loves each person unconditionally. He will never stop loving any individual (though each person has the freedom to reject His love and suffer the consequences). Trusting in His promises gives man peace in the midst of trials. One can find true significance in human existence only if he recognizes that all people were created by God for the purpose of eternal fellowship with Him.

Man desperately needs forgiveness to remove his guilt and hope to obliterate his despair. But without Christ’s atoning death on Calvary, there is no forgiveness. And without Christ’s resurrection from the dead, there can be no genuine hope for man. Only in Christianity can man’s deepest psychological needs be met. 19

The stresses of modern life inflict multitudes with anxiety and despair. Modern man is crying out for help. Psychologists often correctly diagnose the problems, but seldom provide any real solutions. The source of man’s anxiety stems from his alienation from God, and only the gospel of Jesus Christ can remedy this. The world desperately seeks joy and peace. However, joy and peace can only be found in Christ, and the church must make this known.

LAWRENCE J. CRABB JR.

Christian psychologist Lawrence Crabb states that modern psychology has rightly concluded that one of man’s most basic needs is personal worth. 20 Crabb states that there are two required inputs to make a person feel worthy. The two inputs are significance and security. 21

To feel significant, each person must have a sense of purpose and a feeling of importance. One’s life must be meaningful. One must have a definite impact on his world. To feel secure, a person must know he is loved unconditionally and eternally. If he does not feel eternally accepted, he will not feel secure. 22 Man longs for everlasting acceptance; temporary acceptance will not satisfy him.

Crabb argues that Adam and Eve had significance and security before the Fall, but once they alienated themselves from God through sin, they no longer felt significant and secure. 23 Since the Fall, significance and security have alluded man. Man has lost his sense of personal worth. Because of this, each person pretends to be someone he or she is not. Man also seeks significance and security in other people and in temporary pleasures, but inevitably true personal worth always evades man.

However, Crabb finds the solution to this dilemma of man in the gospel. Once a person is saved, his needs for personal worth are met in Christ. Man is significant because God has given each person an eternal mission. The King of the universe has given every person a job to perform. He has called each individual to minister to others in His power and love. 24

Man can also be secure for God loved man enough to send His Son to die for him. God loves all people unconditionally. He loves all people just as they are, and He will never stop loving them. 25 Only in Jesus Christ can man find true personal worth.

CONCLUSION

Modern man seems more concerned with feelings than he does with reason. Because of this, psychological apologetics can be a very effective method of defending the faith in the present cultural climate.

If the God of the Bible does not exist, there is no hope for mankind. Man cannot experience true peace and joy knowing that he will someday cease to exist. There can be no genuine meaning to life, if God does not exist.

If God does not exist, objective moral values are nonexistent. Right is wrong and wrong is right. If there is no moral Lawgiver above man, there can be no moral law above man. Without life after death and a final judgment, it does not matter if one lives like Hitler or Mother Theresa. A million years from now, it will make no difference.

All men acknowledge the existence of evil (at least in their practice if not in their beliefs). But nothing less than the God of the Bible can guarantee the ultimate defeat of evil.

In short, if the God of the Bible does not exist, man is damned to a life of meaningless existence. To hide from this fact, a person can focus his attention on Pascalian diversions, or maybe a Kierkegaardian leap into the nonrational realm will be one’s choice. But for those with the courage to deal with reality head on, a choice must be made between despair and the God of the Bible. As Pascal has said, the wise man will wager on God.

ENDNOTES

1 Gordon H. Clark, Thales to Dewey, 3.

2 Blaise Pascal, Pensees trans. A. J. Krailsheimer (New York: Penguin Books, 1966), 58.

3 Ibid., 66.

4 Ibid., 69.

5 Ibid., 71.

6 Ibid., 157.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid., 160.

9 Ibid., 156.

10 Ibid., 165.

11 Ibid., 149-155.

12 Schaeffer, Complete Works, vol. 5, 178.

13 Ibid., vol. 1, 10.

14 Ibid., 232-233.

15 Ibid., 10.

16 Ibid., 238.

17 Ibid., 229.

18 Gordon R. Lewis, 231-236.

19 Ibid., 253.

20 Lawrence J. Crabb Jr., Effective Biblical Counseling (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1977), 61.

21 Ibid.

22 Ibid.

23 Ibid.

24 Ibid., 70.

25 Ibid.