People are not stupid. In their own ways and in their own words, they want to know what philosophers and theologians call the ultimate meaning or significance of life, and of their own lives especially. What is the basic meaning of life? What is the sense of it all? “What’s it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?”
Something deep inside of us says that our ultimate meaning and significance is found in God. Problem is, belief in God has been made passé and embarrassing through education and science. Especially science, with its Big Bang theory of beginnings – the universe began with an initial terrific explosion billions of years ago.
As I say, people are not stupid. Having pledged allegiance to the Explosion for decades, they have a sneaking suspicion that their reliance on the theory for ultimate meaning has left them feeling pretty insignificant. Many such people, however, have nevertheless created fairly meaningful and significant lives for themselves anyway, as moral and upright human beings, and thank God for that. But the “Aha!” moment of meaning and significance eludes them still.
Yet it seems to me that in our day an increasing number of people are saying, well, the hell with it then, if my life is meaningless, I might as well go out the way I came in, with a bang, and take as many persons with me as I can. I’m now calling this the logic of violence, and I have begun to wonder if it is increasing in the land as Explosion Theory gets further imprinted onto our communal DNA.
You tell me. Here’s an idea I’m toying with. Physicists and other scientists today work with the belief that the distribution of matter-energy throughout the universe can be accounted for by rigid laws of mechanical causes and effects (sans any reliance on a personal creator God). Swell, okay. There certainly are such laws, and without science’s guiding hand applying them we would not enjoy the comforts and conveniences of modern life (of course, we would not cringe before the threat of nukes and other WMD either).
The thing is, if the Big Bang is accepted in the place of a personal creator God as originator of the universe, the only way in which the laws of causes and effects could ultimately be explained is in terms of explosions: as laws the results of which are entirely random. In other words, the physical laws are what they are because, well, that’s how the explosion happened. The incredibility of this has been described as being like a tornado hurtling through a junkyard and leaving behind in its wake a fully assembled 747 ready to fly.
This power of a theory to shape and change a society’s perception of life is also clear when we consider a parallel ultimate understanding: the evolutionary account that life began as basic molecular formations developed as the result of uncountable millions of transformations in a primordial cosmic soup. The odds against such an event, including subsequent events producing human beings, have been reckoned as one in a number greater than all the calculated atoms in the universe. All that can ultimately be said about it is that it happened, that human beings are the result of an incredible jackpot in a cosmic slot machine. Never mind. Viola! Now put the pilots and crew in the 747! And take off.
Because neither the Big Bang nor the Cosmic Soup can be proved in the way science demands, both theories of origins must be taken on faith. Over time, when ultimate faith beliefs in these theories are combined with similar notions in other areas of life, especially moral law, any ultimate significance to your life or my life slowly but inevitably fades to black. Life becomes meaning-less. No ultimate reason any longer exists for human beings to direct their lives in one way rather than another, or another, or another, no matter how morally irresponsible that way is. If family or society does not work for us, then something new can only be created by a mindless risk, a schoolyard massacre, a bloody revolution, another explosion, and then another, and then another.
A Christian vision of life opposes that. It does not deny the validity of physical laws or a scientific explanation. It denies that the laws or the scientific explanations – even all of them put together – can ever provide ultimate meaning or significance to one’s life. It maintains that to do so would be what the Bible calls idolatry.
Whatever formulae may be found to express our perception of how things are what they are, a Christian vision insists that behind that is a personal God with a will and a purpose. That Someone is our significance – Someone by whose wisdom, the Bible explains, the world was founded – Someone who relates to the creation and to us knowably on a personal level through Jesus Christ the Lord. That Someone created us and is the Source of the physical and moral laws that make us who we are. There is nothing random about it, any more than there is about how your house was built or about the laws that the courts enforce.
In the wisdom of the West, the natural sciences have gained such a high status in our communal thinking that the simple fact of its limits easily gets forgotten, and the result is serious. When there is no personal creator God at home in the universe who can be prayed to for forgiveness, mercy, and help in our time of need, life becomes meaningless in the long run, the logic of violence spreads, and we are without hope, in this world and in the next.
©2015 by Charles Strohmer
Images: Explosion of Paint, by markcharwickart; and Junkyard, by construct. Permissions via Creative Commons.
This article was inspired by an idea in chapter 23 of Uncommon Sense: God’s Wisdom for Our Complex and Changing World, by John Peck and Charles Strohmer.
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