Have you ever asked yourself or someone else, “Why do I exist?” If you have not, I would suggest you need to do so. It is important that we consider this question because there are so many things in life that are affected by how we answer it. Perhaps the reason many of us have not attempted to deal with the question is because naturalism and evolution do not have good answers for it. If you believe that everything is the result of “blind, pitiless indifference” as stated by atheist Richard Dawkins (River Out of Eden), then your existence is totally mechanical in nature. Anthony Smith quotes atheist Julian Huxley on the purpose in life, “ ‘We are … just as much a product of blind forces as is the falling of a stone to earth or the ebb and flow of the tides.’ We have just happened, and flesh was made man by a long series of singularly beneficial accidents” (The Human Pedigree). What purpose do we have if we are totally the product of chance and our life is the result of “blind, pitiless indifference”? Sociobiologists have suggested that our purpose is to perpetuate our genes — another demonstration of meaningless indifference to personal purpose.
When I was a child being raised by atheistic parents everything was put on the level of survival of the fittest. The guiding principle of our family was, “You get ahead in the biological struggle for survival by being the most fit.” You go to college to be the most fit. You choose a profession that enables you to have the best chance at being in control of others. I remember vividly going to Audubon Society presentations on nature and having my mother review with me the fact that one animal survived by doing what it took to master the competition. Deception was an acceptable method of fulfilling purpose — of surviving. It worked well for me. I went to college with a major in pre-med because it looked like doctors had control of others. I did not drink because I found I could do things to intoxicated fraternity brothers and their friends that I could not have done had they been sober. As long as you are fit, these atheistic guidelines work — at least on a superficial level.
As I got older and experienced the reality of life, things I could not control began to happen to me. Being in the military put me into situations I could not control. In war, the individually “fit” do not always win, or even survive. After military duty, sickness, and having a child born with multiple birth defects made me realize that you could not always be perfect or the best in any sense. My atheistic world view could not handle reality. One of my heroes at that time was Ayn Rand, and when her husband died I saw that her atheistic views did not have good answers for the death of a loved one. As an atheist I had always ridiculed religion for believing that the imperfections in my existence could have been caused by a supposedly perfect God. Religious people did not seem to have an answer for all of this, but my atheist views did not either. Neither atheists nor religionists seem to comprehend how important it is to have a known purpose for your existence. Major issues in life cannot be answered unless that question is answered. Let us look at a few of these issues.
Meaningful answers about death can only come if we have a purpose in life that transcends time. To an atheist, death is an end. It is not only an end to life, but can also be an end to suffering. I can remember as a child hearing a discussion among my parents as they dealt with the pain my grandmother was having as she battled spinal cancer. My mother had just had her dog put down, and she asked, “If we can mercifully stop a dog's suffering by euthanizing it, why can't we do the same for your grandmother?” It is interesting that her statement made in the 1940s has seen fruition in the twenty-first century as euthanasia is now legal in many places and the discussions of involuntary euthanasia initiated by Peter Singer are now heard on many talk shows. Singer is the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University. In his view, mentally disadvantaged, physically handicapped, and mentally ill people should be put to death so they do not drain the resources of those who are fit. Death in Singer's view, is a means of promoting the fit and eliminating the unfit. (See Christianity Today, August 2010, page 44, or News and Notes in our November/December 2010 issue.)
The contrast to the negative view of atheists is the committed believers who feel they have had a purpose in life, and that their purpose has been fulfilled. Paul expresses it well in 2 Timothy 4:6 – 8. “… The time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” In Philippians 3:14 Paul tells us that he “press[es] on toward the goal to win the prize … .” Death is a means of getting the objective of our lives — the purpose of our lives. Over the years I have had some situations where an atheist offered to come and aid me in my departure to something better. I am sure they felt that my refusal of the offer belies a weakness in my desire to be with the Lord. That view shows a failure to understand the purpose of our existence. Paul addresses this in Philippians 1:21– 26, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” He goes on to talk about how he intends to help them with their faith so that their “joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.”
Look at the contrast between the atheist view of death and what Paul states. Death is not the ultimate tragedy in the view of the Christian. We have built into us a resistance to death, but intellectually and spiritually we know that death is not an end, but an entrance to a wonderful new beginning.
Personal tragedy can only make sense if we know why we exist. The Bible makes it clear that there is a struggle going on between good and evil. Richard Dawkins in the quote mentioned earlier says that “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good.” The only atheist response to evil seems to be to deny its existence. The Hebrew word for Satan literally means “the hater” (Young's Analytical Concordance). God is love (1 John 4:8) and Satan is the absence of love — or the hater. Ephesians 6:12 tells us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against … the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” In the book of Job, we see a personal struggle between these two forces. Job tells us in Job 42:5 that the result of all that happened to him enabled him to see why he existed, and that now he could see God and God’s purpose for his life.
I have often said that you can take Job’s name out of the book of Job and write your name in place of it, because you are Job (or Jobette). God does not cause the problems we have any more than he caused the problems Job had. My child with multiple handicaps was not victimized by God. My wife did not die because God murdered her as some of my atheist friends have suggested. God takes the terrible things that come to us in life and makes good things come out of them. Romans 8:28 tells us that “God works for the good of those who love him.” I cannot tell you that I am glad that I endured my son's afflictions for 50 years (so far), nor am I glad that I lost my wife of 49 years. On the other hand, both experiences have provided me a way of having a ministry to reach out to others. What I have experienced in this world is the worst I will ever experience if my understandings and beliefs as a Christian are correct.
The contrast between the denial of atheism and the positive perspective of Christianity is huge. Ephesians 3:7 –12 tells us the role of the church in all of this. Paul writes that God’s “intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The church is a key player in the battle between good and evil. The church is people (1 Corinthians 3:16) who through God's spirit find the strength not only to endure the problems of life, but to encourage and help others as they face the challenges. Sometimes we have to be years away from a tragic event, but ultimately we can see good in everything that we had to endure. We also can see that God provided ways of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13) when the going got too rough for us — another meaningful promise that comes only to Christians.
True tolerance and equality can only happen if we have a view that all human beings are of equal value and have a common purpose. Over and over in the New Testament reference is made to the fact that all humans are equal. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28 – 29). (See also 1 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 6:8; and Colossians 3:11.) Peter said it well in Acts 10:34, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” The whole premise of the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5 – 7 is predicated on that understanding. We love our enemy, we turn the other cheek, we go the second mile, and we live at peace with all men because all men are of equal value. Human life is sacred and special. Being created in the image of God and being created for a reason is centered around believing that we are all one and need to care for each other with no one excluded because of his circumstances.
If our belief system is that everything is rooted in survival of the fittest, and if Singer's views mentioned earlier are what guide us, we will not only euthanize the physically and mentally unfit, but also the human populations we deem as unfit. The struggle for survival we see in the natural world spreads to humans if God is thrown out of the picture. If I am more fit than you, we are clearly not equal. Why should I tolerate you if your presence threatens my supremacy. We are like the alpha male wolf or elk who drives off or destroys the opposition. Most atheists would be repulsed by this concept, but it is inescapable if naturalism is the basis of all morality.
Real motivation to sacrificially give to others only comes when we know what our purpose is. Why is it that a massive percentage of charitable work in the United States is done by churches or people with religious reasons for doing it? Who runs the homeless shelters or works in them? Who leads in disaster relief? Who runs the food pantries? What are the names of the major benevolent organizations in your community? If I am a Christian then I know that God has called me to share what I have with the less fortunate. James (James 2:15 –16) talks about any belief system that does not serve our fellow man, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” When Jesus pictures the judgment scene in Matthew 25:31– 46 the basis he gives is what was done to serve our fellow man. Jesus says in those verses that how we address the hunger, thirst, housing, clothing needs, and imprisonment of others has a role in whether we go to heaven or suffer eternal punishment.
Atheist publishing houses have been releasing books attacking and ridiculing people like Mother Teresa. A favorite atheist theme is that all religious people do is beg for money. When some misguided minister misuses money it makes the front pages of the newspaper. Atheists like to stereotype Christians as selfish, gluttonous abusers of people and resources. There is no question that these things have happened, but when they do happen it is a contradiction to the teachings of Christ and in violation of what the Bible tells us we should do.
If I am an atheist who believes in survival of the fittest, and believes that the struggle for survival depends upon being superior to everyone else in survival skills, why would I do anything that endangers me or helps the competition? If this life is all I have, then I will only give to others if there is social pressure or if it is to my advantage to divest myself of something. Sacrificial giving is at odds with survival of the fittest. The Christian believes that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7) and that it really is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). Learning to give is not only a key to benevolence, but it is a key to happy marriages, good families and friends, the best of sex, and joy in our dealing with others.
I do not believe it is possible to provide a meaningful answer to what happens in life or how I should live my life if I have not developed a reasonable understanding of why I exist. The Bible even gives a practical answer to the question of why God created an ugly, bald headed, struggling old man like me.
Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life, (New York: BasicBooks, 1995), 133.
Anthony Smith, The Human Pedigree, (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippencott Co., 1975), 103.
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