Monday, August 21, 2006


I had an interesting conversation on the train on Saturday with a couple of students, who knew each other vaguely. One of them revealed that their mother was suffering from cancer at a fairly young age (except like a lot of people these days, she couldn't bring herself to say the word "cancer").

That sucks. Jesus wept when a friend of his died young - I don't see any reason why we should do otherwise. It is horrible, it is painful, it is not the way things will be in eternity. With that in mind, I'm really sorry if what comes next upsets people. This isn't what I said; this is me looking at some of what was said in a detatched way. This is what I might have said to the student whose mum was not suffering like that, if I'd known him well, and if the other person hadn't been there.

He came up with various "consolations", which were pretty rubbish and didn't really help.

Everything happens for a reason.

It's true! I agree with it! Everything happens for a reason! But the only reason I can believe that is that I know there's a God who is in control, who knows what he's doing even when everything seems to be going wrong, who isn't sitting idly by when people suffer but who radically came into the world as a man, who suffered, bled and died and yet who was still in control then, who used that for good.

But I don't see any reason why someone who doesn't believe in a God like that should think that everything happens for a reason. As far as I can tell, without God, there is no real purpose to anything. Things happen. They cause other things to happen. People die. But there's no real point to any of it without God.

Whatever doesn't kill you can only make you stronger.

Yeah, right. Like cutting both your legs off and giving you a frontal lobotomy makes you stronger.

I'll be honest. I can't see what hope people who aren't Christians can have in this world. Several years ago, I got very depressed. I got to the point where I felt so down about my faith that I decided to stop being a Christian (not because I thought it was untrue, but because I thought it was too difficult psychologically). It took me about two or three minutes before I realised that life seemed completely pointless and futile and I changed my mind again.

Seriously, I know there are some very bright and seemingly pretty well-adjusted people who read this who aren't Christians. How do you cope? Where do you find your hope in life? All that I can see is something along the lines of it's probably pointless, but might as well enjoy it while it lasts.


Anonymous said...

Life has as much meaning as you give it.

Of course there's no ultimate "point" to life if you don't believe in God. So what? What is the ultimate point of life if you DO believe in God? What does God get out of his creation, in your view? Why would an omnipotent perfect being NEED or WANT anything, eg creating us? And why would he need or want our praise? And ultimately, once we're rejoined with God, then what? For all eternity. (Check out James Joyce's description of eternity for a little perspective on that concept.) And the idea that God was so angry with his own creation that he had to sacrifice his son to appease himself....well, let's just not go there.

I was totally depressed as a theist, always trying to figure out what God wanted me to do. Now I know I make my own reality. It is an enormous relief.

Sure I could check out at any time (I was suicidal for years before becoming an atheist). But instead of feeling that is a depressing thought, I figure I may as well enjoy life while I'm here. I feel liberated and my lifelong depression has pretty much disappeared.

Guess were on the right track. Most atheists go through a brief period of feeling lost and empty when they finally admit that the concept of God does not explain the universe and they can no longer believe it. It is tough losing your lifelong imaginary best friend. I think a period of grief is normal. Then you go on to realizing it is an amazing miracle that we exist at all. And why not enjoy it?

I am more productive and happier than I have been in many many years.

John said...

That's interesting - thanks for your thoughts. You seem (to my limited sight) to have been coming from some kind of non-Christian (or nominally Christian) mystical background with an unhelpful attitude to "always trying to figure out what God wanted me to do". Hey, if that's what it was like, I don't blame you at all for packing it in.

As regards what the purpose of life is with God, I don't think I can do much better than the old "The chief end of Man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever."

That's about where I'm at.

Anonymous said...

You are correct regarding my religious background but it seems to me that Christians of all denominations struggle with the same issue of trying to figure out what God's will is on any given subject/day.

As regards what the purpose of life is with God, I don't think I can do much better than the old "The chief end of Man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever."

Yes, but why? Why does an infinite perfect being need man to glorify him? What could he possibly get out of it?

John said...

As regards the will thing, I for one don't get hung up about it. Yes, sometimes there are difficult decisions to be made. I don't see that God's existence makes that any more difficult than it already is.

In fact, if I'm wanting to figure out what's best (say, for example, whether to have sex with someone or to save that for someone more special), the fact that God has said something on the issue makes it a lot easier.

It also makes it much easier living with the consequences. As you probably know, I'm currently in the middle of quitting my job, home and leaving most of my friends to go and train for the ordained ministry. Apart from the whole motivation thing, I don't think I could make a change of this magnitude without knowing that God is in control - without God, I'd be running the risk of losing everything.

As for why God created us, ever been satisfied and happy then get into a relationship? Why did you "need" that relationship? You didn't. What could you possibly get out of it? The joy of giving yourself to another, of loving and being loved, of having people know you....

It's largely the same with God. He did it because he loves us and because he wants us to know him and enjoy him, because he enjoys us enjoying him. It's not a "need" thing - it's a love thing.

Anonymous said...

I'd have to disagree with you Elisabeth when you say that the concept of God doesn't explain the existence of the Universe; God is all-powerful, and thus by definition could create all. The problem is not the explanation of the existence of the Universe, but the explanation of the existence of God.

As someone who has considered myself a theist, agnostic or atheist at various points in my life (to refer to your later post, Custard!) I found Elisabeth's comments relating to her mental health (for want of a better expression) and her concomitant religious disposition very interesting. From my own perspective, I have tended to become more religious at those points in my life when I have felt at my lowest. During these times I have found comfort in prayer. Selfish, I know. So, why not continue as a Catholic (in my case)at all times? Because when I feel 'normal' I acknowledge the fact that scientific evidence explains much of the 'physical reality' of the Universe (although there are gaps).

Another big subject!


Anonymous said...

That's interesting - my faith (Catholic-Christian) was at its lowest ebb when I was depressed. I think for me it was a communication thing - I found it difficult to communicate anything person with anyone, which consequently made prayer difficult. The detachment I felt from life in general made it hard for me to believe anything about anything!

Personally, I don't find scientific explanations of the process of the genesis of life and the universe a barrier to faith. They are a mechanism, but still don't answer the question of origins.

Anonymous said...

Oops - I meant 'anything personal'.

Anonymous said...

hj I believe you are right - I also don't think that 'scientific explanations of the process of the genesis of life and the universe' *have to be* a barrier to faith. It just happens to be that at certain times in my life I am content with such explanations without needing anything else. As your own experience seems to be, if not the opposite then very different, I guess that there is no general rule and that it is entirely dependent upon the individual. Peaks and troughs ...ah life :)


John said...

Yeah - I really ought to post some stuff on the theology of science at some stage...

Steven Carr said...

Romans 9:18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

What is the point of helping your loved ones feel better when God has decided to harden their hearts?

Steven Carr said...

The Onion has a good article about how only faith in God keeps Israelis and Arabs going.

Seek Solace in Religion

You have to admire the person who said that he fought for the land of Israel , because God had spoken on the subject of who it belongs to.

John said...

On the whole Romans 9:18 thing, who on earth says whether God has hardened individual people or not?

I as a Christian am called to love everyone. Yes, some of them will reject that in the end and some of them will be hardened to it (don't know who), but that doesn't affect my responsibility to love.

Steven Carr said...

I shall repeat what Paul said ' Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

How does God choose which heart to harden? Does he choose a heart which is hard and then harden it?

John said...

Yes, God hardens people. Plenty of Scriptural comment on it suggests that the people he hardens are also the people who harden their own hearts and that the two are connected or even different ways of describing the same process.

On meeting someone, is there any way for us to know in advance that God has hardened them? No.

John said...

So Steven, if you're still reading these comments, what do you see the purpose of your life? How do you find hope for the future?