1. God makes sense of the origin of the universe. Have you ever looked out at the sky at night at the stars and asked yourself, “Where did it all come from? Why does anything at all exist? What does matter and energy or space and time exist instead of just nothing?” Well typically atheists have said that the universe is just eternal and uncaused and that’s all. But I think that discoveries in astronomy and astrophysics during this century have rendered that view less plausible. According to the best astrophysical evidence, the universe is not eternal but began to exist in a cataclysmic explosion called the Big Bang about fifteen billion years ago. Not only were all matter and energy but physical space and time themselves were created in that event. And therefore the Big Bang marks the creation of the universe out of nothing. There was literally nothing prior to that event. Now that raises a profound metaphysical question: How can something come into existence out of nothing? Surely that is impossible, out of nothing nothing comes. That points to the existence of a transcendent cause beyond the universe which brought the universe into being. And by the very nature of the case this cause would have to be a being which transcends time and space, is therefore immaterial and changeless and is enormously powerful; already some of the central attributes of what the theist means by God.
He says, do you notice two things in every fairy-story? Number one, there’s always a condition. If you do not come by such-and-such you will become a such-and-such. But have you noticed the child never says to the fairy-godmother, how come? And Chesterton says the reason is if you say to the fairy-godmother “how come?” the fairy-godmother might well turn to you and say, “If that’s the way you want it, tell me how come there is a fairy-land in the first place?”
That’s the point, I think, God was making with Job. When Job was saying, “Only that which I can comprehensively understand in my mind will I fully accept” God says, “All right, Job, since you want that kind of comprehensive understanding, tell me, where were you when the foundations of the earth were laid? Where were you when such and such happened?” He nailed Job with sixty-four questions back-to-back to show him that the many wonderful concepts he had imbibed he did not have a full and a comprehensive understanding of those. This sense of wonder in childhood is vital for that child’s meaning and the sense of awe that will hold that young life.
And what is it that brings life meaning? We can go through the days of infancy with wonder, but then we’ve got to find out what is true. Who made me? Why am I here? What is the purpose of my life?
So what brings life meaning? The three components I have given to you: wonder, truth, love; and lastly, security when we get to old age. In our infancy, the sense of wonder; in our youth, the understanding of truth; in our middle years, the experience of love; and in our old-age, the confidence of security. And we have found out through life that many of the things we give to each other as security do not really add up to much. We want something that goes beyond these three score years and ten.
The older you get the more it takes to fill your heart with wonder, and only God is big enough to fill it. Meaning comes from wonder, truth, love and security. And God, who is the perpetual novelty, who gave us a Son who is the way, the truth, and the life, who loved you and gave himself for you on the cross, and says, “Because I live, you shall live also,” that’s when meaning comes in, when these four components deal with the questions of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny, and bring that coherence into your life.
As someone raised in a non-Christian home I struggled as a teenager with the issue of meaning to life. And it seemed to me that there are two fundamental prerequisites if life is to have meaning, and those two prerequisites are God and immortality. If there is no God and immortality then it seems to me that life ultimately becomes absurd, because then life ends simply in death and there is no transcendence to infuse meaning into the lives that we do have. It seems to me that life ultimately becomes without significance, without value, and without purpose.
And so basically I found in the Christian world and life view those necessary prerequisites for meaning to life, namely God and immortality.
I think that one of the reasons that we tend to find the problem of suffering and evil in the world so intractable is because we just sort of naturally assume that if God exists then his purpose in life for us must be human happiness in this life, that God’s purpose is to make us happy. And the suffering and the gratuitous pain in life don’t seem to contribute to that end. But you see on a Christian world and life view that assumption is false. The purpose of life is not human happiness as such, but rather the knowledge of God, which in the end will lead to ultimate human fulfillment and happiness.
And they said to him, “Are you the only one in Israel who does not know what has happened?” (Ironically, he was the only one in Israel who did know what had happened.) And there he sat, when he broke the bread, their eyes were opened. And the words would have to have come back to the mind when he broke of the bread, as often as you eat of this bread and drink of this cup now you proclaim the Lord’s death in the past until he comes in the future. He fused every moment of history with meaning – past, present and future.
3. God makes sense out of objective moral values in the world. If God does not exist then it seems to me that objective moral values do not exist. By objective moral values I mean moral values which are valid whether anybody believes in them or not. For example, if the Nazis had won World War II and had either exterminated or brainwashed anybody who disagreed with them, anti-Semitism would still be objectively wrong, even if the Nazis had convinced everybody it was right. That’s what I mean by objective values. And what I am arguing is that if God does not exist then objective moral values do not exist. Many theists and atheists alike agree on this point. The common evolutionary atheist will tell you that moral values are either just the byproducts of socio-biological evolution, the means by which the selfish gene propagates itself, or else they are simply expressions of personal taste, analogous to saying, “I like broccoli” or, “I don’t like the news.” Similarly someone will say, “Well, I like killing innocent people” or, “I don’t like murder and rape.” They’re just expressions of personal preference. So that if God does not exist I think it’s plausible that there are no objective moral values; these are all just subjective. Frederick Nietzsche, the great atheist of the last century who proclaimed the death of God, understood that the death of God meant the advent of nihilism, that is to say, the destruction of all meaning and value in life. And I think that Frederick Nietzsche was right.
Now we’ve got to be very careful here, though. I am not saying that you have to believe in God in order to live a good moral life; I am not saying that at all. Nor am I saying that you have to believe in God in order to learn what good moral values are; I’m not arguing that either. Rather what I am saying is that if there is no God then there are no objective moral values. Moral values are just socio-biological byproducts of evolution or else expressions of personal taste.
But it seems to me that there is simply no reason to deny that objective moral values do exist. I think deep down we all know that objective moral values exist. There’s no more reason to deny the objective reality of moral values than the objective reality of the physical world. Some things like torturing innocent people, child abuse, rape, and murder are objectively wrong. Similarly, things like love, sacrifice, equality, are objectively good. If an atheist says that he doesn’t believe in God then ask him, “Do you really think that the Inquisition was a good thing? That it’s morally neutral to persecute people because of their religious beliefs and burn them at the stake? Were the Crusades morally neutral, to wage war upon other people because they are of a different religion?” I think people will intuitively recognize if they are honest with you, yes, there are some things that are objectively right and objectively wrong. But if moral values cannot exist without God, and objective moral values do exist, then it follows logically and inescapably that God exists.
The fact of evil, the face of evil, and the feeling of evil. We see this all around us. The fact of evil: the only way to justify it is if there is an objective moral order. The face of evil: the accountability, the personal responsibility. God talks about this in his Word. The feeling of evil: the reason we react the way we do is because something within the heart says this is wrong or this is painful or this is grievous. How does it fit into a scheme of coherence and morality?
A classic example of this in two contrasting illustrations, very quickly here in a moment or so. I remember doing a lectureship in Hong Kong on this subject, and a man who was a lover of Nietzsche and followed Nietzsche’s writings stood up in the middle and said to me: life was meaningless, life had no purpose, he did not think even evil had any valid point of reference. The world was just sort of spinning along, a kind of a Sartrean type of a thrustness. We were in there – empty bubbles floating on the sea of nothingness. No moral judgment was pertinent. After the talk was over and I had responded to his question I asked him to see me afterward. He came to the platform and I was surrounded by a whole lot of people. I said, sir, I want to ask you a question. If I took a two-year old child and put that child on this platform, and took a sword and cut that child up ruthlessly to bits, would you think I had done something wrong? And he paused and he said to me, I would not like it, would not enjoy it, but I can’t really say you would have done something wrong. The people standing around were aghast. I said, my dear friend, even you, while denying the fact of evil and denying the face, the responsibility, of evil, find it inescapable to run from the feeling of evil. Even you would not like it. You had better find out why you don’t or you will live in world of complete chaos and complete cruelty.
The reality of evil points us to the existence of God and his answer on the cross.
I lay on a hospital bed when I was a teenager. I was seventeen years old, finding no meaning in life, not knowing which way to turn to the truth, and not knowing which way was right. And as I lay on that hospital bed, having attempted to take my own life, all my friends probably puzzled over this, and certainly my family puzzled over it. A Bible was brought to me, and it was in the reading of John chapter fourteen, even at that I could not hold the Bible for my body was dehydrated. My mother in her struggle with reading the King James English nevertheless read the fourteenth chapter of John because somebody told her to read it to me. She was not able to process the thinking herself as she read it. And there I read the words of Christ, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes unto the father except through me.” And then Jesus going on to say, “because I live you shall live also.”
Ladies and gentlemen, if you do not know him, I urge you not just to look at that exclusive claim, but to look at his birth, his life, his death, and resurrection, and to see how he justified that claim and is able to transform your life.
May I just make two applications out of that question and out of the truth that emerged. Jesus, for example, in his claims demonstrated at least two aspects – there are several I could bring to you, I have done a lot of writing on it – let me just highlight two.
The first thing that Jesus taught that corresponds to life as I have experienced it and as you have experienced it, is that the human heart is desperately wicked, and he called it sin. The human heart is desperately wicked. I mentioned the Holocaust as I saw it a few years ago, and watching what Josef Mengele and his cohorts had done in that room, and seeing the pictures of little castrated boys on the wall, and watching men and women leave there, particularly teenagers, literally sobbing as they walked out of the room. And I stood there alone and a man standing next to me with his arms folded, finally looked at me and said, what kind of work do you do, sir? I said, sir, I am a Christian apologist, I travel from place to place defending the Christian faith. I’m also a minister of the Gospel. He paused and he looked at me and he said, “You’ve got a lot to think about then, haven’t you?” I said, “I most certainly have. I’ve never encountered anything like this.” And then I said, “Sir, what kind of work do you do?” He said, “I am a judge from the state of New York. I sit on the bench in the state of New York. I am a judge from there.” I looked at him and I said, “If you don’t mind my saying so, sir, we both have a lot to think about.” You see, those who engineered such horrors were the same ones who sat at night entertained by the music of Wagner – the human heart is desperately wicked. All the education in the world is not going to change your heart and mine. Jesus said that it was the heart that was wrong. Viktor Frankl, who was in concentration camps, wrote this:
If we present a man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him. When we present man as an automaton of reflexes, as a mind-machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drives and reactions, as a mere product of instinct, heredity and environment, we feed the nihilism to which modern man is, in any case, prone. I became acquainted with the last stage of that corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment – or, as the Nazi liked to say, of ‘Blood and Soil.’ I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.
That God, in his omniscience, knew, before he created the world, exactly what every person would do in response to God’s grace in any set of circumstances that God might place that person in. And he therefore knew who would freely receive Christ and the Gospel if that person were to hear it. And therefore God has so providentially ordered the world in his sovereignty that all those who would respond freely to the Gospel and be saved if they heard it, are born at times and places in history where they do in fact here it, and therefore are given the opportunity to be saved. And those who never hear the Gospel could not stand before God on the Judgment Day and say, “God, if only I’d heard the Gospel then I would have believed.” And God would say to them, “No, I knew that even had you heard the Gospel, you would not have believed. And therefore my judgment of you on the basis of my general revelation in nature and conscience is entirely just.” God will not judge persons who have not heard about Christ on the basis of what they did with Christ, because that would be manifestly unfair. He’ll judge them on the basis of the information they have. God’s self-revelation in nature and in human conscience. We can all know that there is a creator who exists and that we are morally culpable before him and need his forgiveness. And God will judge people on the basis of how they respond to that, if they have never heard of Christ. And my suggestion is that it’s possible that God has so ordered the history of the world that all those who either want or even would want to be saved
So take the standard example: why does a five-year old suddenly die? How can a God of love and a God of goodness justify that? When that child loses that life, in the Christian frame of reference, that life is not lost to God. That life will spend eternity with God as that child is drawn back to God himself who made that child, who made that little one. Now you’ve got the bereaving father or the bereaved mother, the surviving loved ones. God says he gives them strength, gives them sustenance, gives them peace through all of this struggle and through all of this turmoil.
One of the best-known hymn-writers Annie Johnston Flint wrote,
He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials he multiplies peace.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.