Christian Existentialism

I’ve been mulling around a lot of thoughts in my head about existentialism and how I as a Christian reconcile the way the world is with the faith I hold. I am a student of philosophy, I enjoy reading about and studying different viewpoints but I don’t think that’s what attracts me to existentialism, I think the way that my life has played out is what draws me to it.

When I talk about existentialism I am talking about the way that we view the world. How we as individuals deal with the absurdity of life. Things happen that defy explanation and we all have to find ways to deal with those events. This is what is called existential dread and there are 3 classically defined responses

1: Suicide. Every successful suicide has taken place because the victim has felt an overwhelming sense of the meaninglessness of life. They live out the realization that Solomon writes about in the first chapter of Ecclesiastes.

What do people gain from all their labors
    at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
    but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
    and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
    and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
    ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
    yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
    there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
    more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
    nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
    “Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
    it was here before our time.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
    and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
    by those who follow them.

2: is Nihilism an acceptance of the meaninglessness of life. It is from this viewpoint that the New Atheist movement(Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens et al) has taken it’s root. Life has no meaning and no purpose so in order to avoid suicide one must assign his or her OWN meaning and purpose. It is also from this 2nd viewpoint that our biggest anxieties have grown out of. Before the 19th and 20th centuries anxiety disorders were simply unheard of. But in comes the enlightened age where more and more secular thinkers feel that we know enough about science that we can do away with thoughts of the divine. Religion is thought of as nothing more than a fairy tale told to make us feel good about our lot in life and everything in this world has come about by pure cosmic chance. Ernest Becker says this:

“Man is out of nature and hopelessly in it; he is dual, up in the stars and yet housed in a heart-pumping, breath-gasping body that once belonged to a fish and still carries the gill-marks to prove it. His body is a material fleshy casing that is alien to him in many ways—the strangest and most repugnant way being that it aches and bleeds and will decay and die. Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with atowering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever.”

3: Spirituality. Faith, not certainty pushes us toward this 3rd response. The Nihilist would claim that this is only the human assigning meaning where there is none but Kierkegaard, the father of existensialism, defines it more about finding the ONLY thing that holds meaning in an otherwise meaningless world.

How, then, shall we face the future? When the sailor is out on the ocean, when everything is changing all around him, when the waves are born and die, he does not stare down into the waves, because they are changing. He looks up at the stars. Why? Because they are faithful; they have the same location now that they had for our ancestors and will have for generations to come. By what means does he conquer the changeable? By the eternal, one can conquer the future, because the eternal is the ground of the future, and therefore through it the future can be fathomed. What, then, is the eternal power in a human being? It is faith. What is the expectancy of faith? Victory-or, as Scripture so earnestly and so movingly teaches us, that all things must serve for good those who love God.

In all worldviews there MUST be at least one eternal component. Either the universe itself is eternal or there must exist something outside of the universe that brought it into being. I understand God to be that agent. It’s not about my ability to be able to define God or explain how he did this or that, my answers would prove futile to those asking the questions, my only job is to trust and to have faith in that which I have found to be eternal.

So when faced with the absurd, or what might be better defined as the meaninglessness of life, when people I love die or when horrible things happen I can see the separation from that which is eternal(God) and that which is not(us, and this world) God, whoever or whatever he is cannot be defined by terms created by broken, non-eternal beings.  I feel that the reason that so many atheists are unsatisfied with the idea of faith is because they have yet to let go of their stranglehold on the material world. “SHOW me, PROVE to me” are their requests, because to admit that there was something that couldn’t be defined, scrutinized and understood is to admit that the world really doesn’t begin and end with the human and the material worldview. It is to relinquish  the throne with which we can sit on and the alter with which we can put our material possessions and pursuits on. It’s not only out of pride that we do this it is also out of fear, fear that “we’ve got it all wrong” fear that this God of which is being spoken of is nothing more than a tyrant. SO better to believe that this is all there is than to be faced with that possibility. So we live and die and our anxiety grows.

 

But the more I read scripture the more I am convinced that the God of this universe is NOT a tyrant, he is a lover. He is desperate to woo his creation like a courting male wooing his future bride. He wishes nothing more than to take this world into his arms and love us and enjoy us. It is only when one lives within that worldview that the anxiety and dread is erased. I will bet my entire life on it.

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