Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Christian Argument for Purpose and Significance

Under Non-theism: There is No Lasting Purpose, No Ultimate Meaning, and No Hope


Without God, all the ideas, objectives, and achievements of mankind will collapse, fade, and vanish as they ultimately dissolve into the desolation of inoperative energy. All human experience and existence will be as though it had never been. Devoid of God, the cosmos will end in futility and extinction as it subsides into the nethermost mode of heat energy. The Second Law of Thermodynamics insures that without God, in the end, one is left with no lasting purpose, no ultimate meaning, and no hope. Moreover, reject the Christian worldview and one lacks a ground for purpose as well as the analysis and evaluation of purpose. To account for the notion of purpose, all men depend on the Christian worldview as it supplies the necessary functioning features of the analysis of purpose. Studying purpose and meaning, gathering knowledge regarding such matters, and offering claims concerning such—these actions require the use of universal operating features that the brute material cosmos cannot ontologically underwrite. Purpose is not intelligible apart from the biblical God.

Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever (Westminster Standards).1

Everything has been figured out, except how to live (Jean-Paul Sartre).

Christian Purpose and SignificanceIn the West it used to be considered the realm of the churches to solve the problems regarding the point of existence, but these days the question “What is the meaning of life?” is included in many exams for sociology, psychology, and philosophy degrees. However, the issue also arises in a very real form in contemporary ethics, particularly with the cases of the terminally ill, abortion, and the treatment of the elderly. It seems ironic that for too many people, the only time the question of the meaning of life is pondered deeply is when it is almost over. 

Boundaries and Meaninglessness

A life without boundaries is a meaningless existence (Josh McDowell).

So what’s the point of it all anyway? There are numerous alternatives, some very hedonistic, some slightly epicurean, and some idealistic, some morally principled, and some very virtuous.  The later type may live a life that is about truth, beauty, and honor—learning and growing in Christian virtue.2 Many people seek fulfillment of the self-gratifying kind—pursuits along the lines of: to seek personal comfort and pleasure, to get wealthy, or to gain power or fame. But if life is merely about the “pursuit of happiness”—what if that doesn’t satisfy? What if my happiness pursuit conflicts with another person’s happiness? Or what If I’m not very good at pursuing happiness? Many people in modern societies are not good at pursuing happiness; just look at the alcoholism, illegal drug use, and violence in contemporary societies.

An Incoherent Noble Truth

Does Buddhism have a coherent and satisfying solution? For Buddhists in selected sects, the answer to questions about the purpose of life, the universe and everything, is that the point of life is to put off desire. All men suffer because we lack that which we want—we receive the trouble, which we do not desire. This desire to possess things is the cause of our suffering (dukkha). This means that the soul is out of harmony and seeks after the wrong things, and thus perpetuates the suffering. An important part of enlightenment is the understanding that suffering is just an illusion, like desire, and one escapes this desire through following the Dharma (the law of life, one’s duty within cultural norms or the basic philosophical principals of one’s life in the world). 

In contrast, Van Til observed that “when apples are shaken off a tree, one can ask whether there must not have been some sort of something that is higher than the apples in order to account for the fruit. Similarly, not looking for the meaning of man in the light of the revelation that comes from Christ revealed in the Bible is even more absurd. He who does not look for the meaning of humanity in the light of the revelation that comes from God revealed in Scripture is like one who shakes off all the apples of the apple tree, grubs out the tree, and then asks whether there must not have been some sort of something that is higher than the apples in order to account for them. This ‘some sort of something’ or at most some sort of tree may, possibly or probably, tell us that it is an apple tree.”3                                                     

The Buddha taught that one should strive to remove desire, and affirm that everything that seems real—things we seek—are all just illusions.

   If all desire is error and increases suffering
  Then the desire to rid myself of desire is an error and actually increases suffering
   I should not desire to completely stifle desire

A goal to extinguish desire, as asserted above, is self-impaling. On this crucial issue—the diagnosis of the human problem—Christianity and Buddhism are infinitely different. Buddha teaches that our desires need to be subdued and annihilated, but Jesus presses men to cultivate passionate desires to please God and follow after love. Buddha attempts to rid men of suffering by denying one’s aspirations and in promulgating the notion that desires are part of the vast illusion of life. This reveals that the real need that Buddhists have is for the forgiveness of sins and acceptance by God. Only Jesus can provide this solution. The Buddhist is taught to resolve to follow Dharma with precision so one can find Nirvana. By contrast, the Christian, by grace, obtains salvation as a gift from God through the person and work of Christ. 

The concept of “God” invented as the antithetical concept in life–everything harmful, noxious, slanderous, the whole mortal enmity against life brought into terrible unity! The concept the life beyond … invented to deprive of value the only world which exists (Nietzsche).4

Some cultists advance the idea that life is about knocking on enough doors to sell magazines or to participate in enough temple occultic rituals to please God. Selected Hindus suggest that one needs to stay pure in order to escape the Karmic cycle. The Prussian born Friedrich Nietzsche advanced the idea that life was about attaining power. Nietzsche wrote of the will of power, the Superman, and magnificent destinies. Yet Nietzsche was a physically and emotionally weak man: headaches, unattractive, bad eyesight—a tragic figure. He ironically asserted: “A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.”5 A few years later he fell into insanity and repeatedly declared that he was Jesus Christ.6 Nietzsche stated that the goal of humanity is to rise atop nature’s power-seeking—untrammeled by Christian notions of justice and compassion. There is no meaning to life except that which individuals create for themselves. The only way out of this meaninglessness is through the exercise of power. Whereas Christianity teaches that men ought to glorify God, aim to do good, love your neighbor, Nietzsche argues that this is slave morality and is born out of weakness.

God the Foundation for Purpose

F--k damnation, man! F--k redemption! We are God's unwanted children? So be it! (Fight Club).7
I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers ... were ultimately prepared not in some ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers (Viktor Frankl; italics mine).
O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O LORD, You know it altogether. You have hedged me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful … You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them. How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand; when I awake, I am still with You (Psalms 139:1-18).

The Christian worldview supplies hope. The proper application of science is a wonderful tool to advance aspects of human life. Nevertheless, the “religion” of science cannot provide enduring hope or purpose. Mathematics and scientific observation have demonstrated that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is a fundamental truth (all things are running down). And without God, this law of physics leaves man without a future and a hope. This principle reveals that the universe is running down like a clock. One day in the distant future the whole universe will die in the whimper of an eternal heat-death. The sun, the starry hosts, and all the galaxies will be extinguished in a humming red flash. The pop-atheist Rosenberg observes that “the second law of thermodynamics tells us that the universe is headed for complete disorder—no purpose or goal can be secured permanently under such circumstances (Alex Rosenberg: The Atheist’s Guide to Reality).

An Argument for Purpose

[1] Without an everlasting existence, men have no enduring purpose.
[2] God supplies everlasting existence for men.
[3] There is an enduring purpose.
[4] Therefore God exists.
One may extend this argument to an antithesis:
[5] Non-theism cannot supply an everlasting existence.
[6] Under non-theism men have no enduring purpose.
[7] Without enduring purpose men have no ultimate meaning.
[8] Non-theism offers no ultimate meaning
[9] There is ultimate meaning.
[10] Therefore non-theism is false.

This argument places most its weight on [3]. It does not stand as an assured argument. If the non-theist denies that there is an enduring purpose, he can evade the weight of its vigor. But the denial is very telling. Under non-theism there is no enduring purpose. 

A Transcendental Proposal for Purpose

To fashion the truth of purpose in an assured argument—a transcendental form is much preferred since a transcendental inference is not governed by the truth value of its antecedent premise, regardless of whether this premise affirms purpose or not. This is the case since a transcendental supposition constitutes the very ground for the proof of that premise.

Deny the Christian worldview and one lacks a foundation for purpose as well as the investigation and evaluation of purpose, meaning, and hope. To account for the notion of purpose, all men depend on the Christian worldview since it furnishes the obligatory functioning features required for the analysis of purpose. Investigating purpose and meaning, gathering knowledge regarding such matters, and offering assertions concerning such—these actions require the use (and presupposition) of universal operating features that the mere cosmos cannot ontologically fund. Purpose, not merely eternal purpose, is not intelligible apart from the biblical God.

The Distressing Reality of Purposelessness

Without God, all the schemes, dreams, monuments, and attainments of mankind will be like a “cosmic sand sculpture” which will be toppled, subdued, despoiled, dissolved, and swept off into the sea of nothingness (unusable energy). All reality and existence will be as though it had never been and the whole universe will wear the final mark of purposelessness and oblivion, as it ebbs into the lowest vocation of soft heat energy. The Second Law of Thermodynamics demonstrates that without God, in the end, one is left with no lasting purpose, no ultimate meaning, and no hope.

God announces to His people that He is with them everywhere, at all times. God’s will is to be our delight and purpose. The universe and our individual lives are part of the culmination of a prefigured design.

Sagacious But Illegitimate

Socrates believed that the best life, in part, is realized when the soul ponders ultimate beauty in its pure form and when it pursues knowledge of ultimate forms. This and many other theories (by Socrates as well as other philosophers) have no ultimate footing to ground their claims. They are just empty claims by individual men—though many times from very brilliant men—nevertheless, just men. Those, who believe that human existence and our universe are just “accidental afterthoughts,” leave souls in despair, immersed in purposelessness. When one reads Bertrand Russell summing up life as “unyielding despair,” one starts to ache for meaning and purpose. To find meaning in life, one has to look to the true and living God. He is the God of the living and He gives life purpose and meaning.

The inward area is the first place of loss of true Christian life, of true spirituality, and the outward sinful act is the result (Francis Schaeffer).8

The Bible instructs people to do “all things for the glory of God.” Holy writ notifies the world that in our life, we can have the supreme joy of knowing the Father in a loving, covenant relationship. One cannot have real meaning in this life without the Lord Jesus Christ. Emptiness, loneliness, purposelessness, and despair are the companions of those who do not seek God in Christ. A covenant life with God Almighty brings daily enrichment, enchantment, and a wonder-filled life. Doing all things for the glory of God and enjoying Him brings a splendor-filled zest to the daily delights of nature, employment, motherhood, children, friends, God’s Word, prayer, and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

God is The God of Hope

He who has a why to live can bear almost any how (Friedrich Nietzsche).9

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins... having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself (Ephesians 1:3-9).


Hungering for the world’s disjointed abstract knowledge will only lead to struggle and despair. Real purpose and meaning are pursued, attained, and sustained by a hot-blooded, passionate pursuit of Jesus. The non-Christian worldview leads to Heidegger’s ultimate, yet empty, answer to the problem of the meaninglessness of life “is to stand on deck and salute” as the ocean liner sinks. He tells us to do this because it is more visually appealing than doing nothing. That is real despair. That is depressing. Thank God it is false. Following Jesus lifts one up into a wonderful, enthralling life in the Spirit.

Overlooking or rejecting God’s purpose in Jesus Christ is:

1.       Unrewarding.  
2.       It leads to despair and desolation.  
3.       It is arrogant.
4.       Ends in doom.

And may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, that you may overflow with hope through  the power of  the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).
1.     See Psalms 86:9, 16:5-11; 144:15; Isa. 60:21; Rom. 11:36; I Cor. 6:20; 10:31; Phil. 4:4; Rev. 4:11, 21:3.
2.     Galatians 5:22-23.
3.     Cornelius Van Til: Christian Theory of Knowledge, p. 348.
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5.     Ibid.
6.     One reaps what one sows. Nietzsche viciously attacked the truth of Christianity—
even attacking Jesus Christ. But he, like all rebels, received what he deserved.
7.     Tyler Durden: Fight Club, 20th Century Fox, 1999.
8.     Francis Schaeffer: True Spirituality, p. 12.
9.     Friedrich Nietzsche: Twilight of the Idols.

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