Non-humanist reflections on violence, death, human evil and the after-life

The problem of evil: People don’t understand the depth of human corruption

and are not eternally minded (Martyn Lloyd Jones)

Gaza, Iraq, Ukraine, Nigeria. Death, death, death; the world, teeming with death, violent death. It’s root? The Bible says the “inward mind and heart of man are deep” (Psalm 64:6b):

Psalm 64

1 Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from dread of the enemy.

2 Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked,

from the throng of evildoers,

3 who whet their tongues like swords,

who aim bitter words like arrows,

4 shooting from ambush at the blameless,

shooting at him suddenly and without fear.

5 They hold fast to their evil purpose;

they talk of laying snares secretly,

thinking, “Who can see them?”

6 They search out injustice,

saying, ‘We have accomplished a diligent search.’

For the inward mind and heart of a man are deep.

The Bible also says, contrary to the “world” and “prosperity” preachers, that those who place their hope and faith in a better world are deceived:

Hebrews

13 These (Old Testament saints) all died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth. 14 For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 In fact, if they had been thinking of the land that they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16).

What have atheists-materialists-humanists to say on the matter? Stephen Hawking says the belief that heaven and an afterlife awaits us is a “fairy story for people afraid of death.” For Hawking, there is nothing beyond the last flicker of last brain cell. What counts he says is making good use of our lives by “seeking the greatest value of our action.” (See The downing of Malaysian airlines flight MH17 in light of Stephen Hawking’s “natural selection assumes natural rejection.”).

The Darwinian (materialist) worldview states that if it ain’t natural, it must be an illusion. In such a world, all human values are, can only be, the product of the brain, where the brain appeared by some unknown natural process called “chance.” Yet, many of these same people say that moral values such as “generosity,” “compassion,” “responsibility, “good, “evil,” “love,” “guilt,” “forgiveness,” “judgement” cannot be reduced to physics, chemistry, physiology. They believe in “the survival of the fittest,” which, by definition means might is not only right but unavoidable. In such a world only the strong, the powerful, the dominant, the ruthless survive.

You don’t have to be a materialist to think that life is often “nasty, brutish and short.” (Thomas Hobbes, “Leviathan”); those who believe in an after-life often also fall hopeless. Some of these like King David emerge stronger from the waves of depression, others, like Alfred Tennyson, sink deep into the slough of despond.

David – Psalm 42:

7 Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterfalls: All thy waves and thy billows are gone over me. 8 Yet Jehovah will command his lovingkindness in the day-time; And in the night his song shall be with me, Even a prayer unto the God of my life.

Alfred Tennyson (“In Memoriam” of a friend who had died. In this work appears the famous “nature raw in tooth and claw”):

I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,

And gather dust and chaff, and call

To what I feel is Lord of all,

And faintly trust the larger hope.

Thou makest thine appeal to me [the Lord]:

I bring to life, I bring to death;

The spirit does but mean the breath:

I know no more….

Who trusted God was love indeed And love Creation’s final law

Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw

With ravin, shriek’d against his creed

Who loved, who suffer’d countless ills,

Who battled for the True, the Just, Be blown about the desert dust,

Or seal’d within the iron hills ?

O life as futile, then, as frail !

O for thy voice to soothe and bless !

What hope of answer, or redress?

Behind the veil, behind the veil.

Most materialists are “humanists.” There exist various definitions of humanism, Here is one: “…a commitment to the perspective, interests and centrality of human persons; a belief in reason and autonomy as foundational aspects of human existence; a belief that reason, scepticism and the scientific method are the only appropriate instruments for discovering truth and structuring the human community; a belief that the foundations for ethics and society are to be found in autonomy and moral equality (Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy).”

“Seventy-five years ago, writes J Gresham Machen, Western civilization, despite inconsistencies, was still predominantly Christian; today it is predominantly pagan. In speaking of ‘paganism,’ we are not using a term of reproach. Ancient Greece was pagan, but it was glorious, and the modern world has not even begun to equal its achievements. What, then, is paganism? The answer is not really difficult. Paganism is that view of life which finds the highest goal of human existence in the healthy and harmonious and joyous development of existing human faculties” (my italics). And that exactly describes humanism.

In humanism “man” is not only the measure of all things, but all things are measured for his pleasure, his enjoyment. For the natural man, joy means enjoyment, lots of it – enjoyment of freedom, enjoyment of job, of family, of friends, of sex, of sport, of holidays, of gadgets – and enjoyment of church! “Enjoyment” here does not merely mean amusements, thrills and diversions (French divertissement “entertainment”) but has to do with such things as the relationship between lifestyles and happiness. (See “Enjoyment of life lengthens life: Findings and consequences’” by R. Veenhoven).

Humanism contrasts with Christianity in the following ways: In Christianity, “salvation is of God and has been accomplished by God, it is for God’s glory and that we must glorify him always” (Monergism.com). In several Protestant catechisms, the first item is this: “Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” The Christian glorifies God, which results in enjoying Him for ever. This enjoyment is the Christian’s ultimate happiness.

It all depends, though, what one means by “happiness.” “’Life,’ in the language of our Lord, says John Brown, implies happiness. When he calls himself, then, the ‘life-giving bread,’ he intimates that he is the author of true happiness; that he, that he alone, can make men truly and permanently happy” (John Brown, “True happiness and the way to secure it: Conversational discourse to the Jews – John 6:26-65″). (See my Happiness in humanism in Christianity”).

Contrary to what the odious “wealth and health” preachers say (they represent the majority of new Christians over the last few decades), Christian happiness comes through self-denial and suffering: Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Not only does happiness come through taking up one’s cross, so does hope:

Romans 5

5 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith[b] into this grace in which we stand, and we[c] rejoice[d] in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Christ’s disciples do not seek their treasure on this earth:

Romans 8

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us… 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience…28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

For most people, including, alas, Christians, who should know and believe better, “premature” death is a tragedy, especially when those whose life are “cut short” are children. We think of the children who died violently in Gaza, Sudan, Iraq, Syria, Nigeria and the Malaysian Flight MH17, and on and on. In the biblical worldview, God decrees all things such as whether and when we get born, and we die. Jesus says ““My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36). And, as we read above in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Voltaire in his “Candide” whose setting is the devastating Lisbon earthquake of 1755, mocks verse 28 above:  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

lisbon-earthquake-1755

Lisbon Earthquake 1755

This is not the place to examine the complexities of the question of how an infinitely good God causes/permits evil. What I will say here is this:

The question is how to reconcile evil in the world with God who is all good, all knowing and all powerful? From the start, we have to realise that we can never get a complete answer for the simple fact that God is God, and man is man. Some may think, ”I suppose you’re going to pull out the ‘mystery card.’” Well, regarding the deepest things of God, yes, they remain hidden; this, however, does not mean that the deep things of God are beyond our reach. In the Bible. there are many deep things of God that are accessible to those whom God gives the grace to understand. Many are those who, although good with language, haven’t a clue what the biblical words mean. This is so because it is the Spirit of God within the words that brings light. “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light” (Psalm 36:9). Of two things a Christian is sure: God always fulfills his purpose, and all God’s purposes are good. So evil always has a good purpose. Out of evil God brings good. That is the biblical understanding of evil. There are  two major human failings  in the  problem of evil. People don’t understand the depth of human corruption and, which is a corollary of the former, are not eternally minded. 

There is much sorrow in the world. The Bible distinguishes between two kinds of sorrow: “… the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:18)

To return to the materialist world view: “The chief error, says Herman Bavinck, here [of a materialist worldview ] is a commitment to a religiously neutral scientific method, a goal that is impossible.” This attitude, Bavinck would agree, is more than an error; it is, the Bible says, a sin that leads to the second death (hell). Like many of us, I have been thinking a lot about the people on board the plane that was shot down over Ukraine. There were probably many materialists aboard.

Without faith Christ, all of us, no matter our physical infirmity – as with Stephen Hawking – will not escape the second death. “The bible, writes Richard Ganz, is meant to be a completely sufficient book for dealing with the nature and dilemma of man. It begins with the creation of man in Genesis 1 & 2. It tells us that man is created in the image of God. THIS is what defines man, not our psyche or unconscious, not our behaviour, not the universe. The Bible next moves to the fall of man in Genesis 3, which is the root of our problems. And then from Genesis 3 to Revelation 22, its purpose is to show man’s redemption and man’s restoration in the image and glory of God, and what this means for our lives and the problems we face. We learn that every person on earth is undergoing a constant transformation that is one of two things: 1. Either you are being conformed to the same image as Christ, from glory to ever increasing glory, so that you become just like the Lord, or 2. you are in depravity and lostness and becoming more and more corrupt, and more and more lost. These are the only two options; and if we disregard this reality, then our worldview and how we deal with our problems and our lostness, will inevitably be off.”

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