The philosopher [Immanuel] Kant was right long ago to notice that moral activity implies a religious dimension. The atheist [Friedrich] Nietzsche also saw the point and argued forcefully that the person who gives up belief in God must be consistent and give up Christian morals as well, because the former is the foundation of the latter. He had nothing but contempt for fellow humanists who refused to see that Christian morality cannot survive the loss of its theological moorings, except as habit or as lifeless tradition. As Ayn Rand also sees so clearly, love of the neighbor cannot be rationally justified within the framework of secular humanism. Love for one’s neighbor is an ethical implication of the Christian position.
This suggests to me that the world’s deepest problem is not economic or technological, but spiritual and moral. What is missing is the vision of reality that can sustain the neighbor-oriented life style that is so urgently needed in our world today.
What brings life meaning? Three components: wonder, truth, love, and security. 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.
Forgiveness is held as a virtue by many in our world, in a way which is quite foreign to some other world views. (I recall the shock on being told by a friend in the Middle East that forgiveness had never been seen as a good thing there.) We know we don’t do it, by and large, but we think we should. The result of this, unfortunately, is that we have developed a corollary that is neither love nor forgiveness—namely tolerance. The problem with this is clear: I can “tolerate” you without it costing me anything very much. I can shrug my shoulders, walk away, and leave you to do your own thing. That, admittedly, is preferable to me taking you by the throat and shaking you until you agree with me. But it is certainly not love.
Love affirms the reality of the other person, the other culture, the other way of life; love takes the trouble to get to know the other person or culture, finding out how he, she, or it ticks, what makes it special; and finally, love wants the best for that person or culture. It was love, not just an arrogant imposition of alien standards, that drove much of the world to oppose the apartheid regime in South Africa. It was love, not a dewy-eyed anti-business prejudice (though that’s what they said to him at the time), that drove abolitionist William Wilberforce to protest against the slave trade. It is love, not cultural imperialism, that says it is dehumanizing and society-destroying to burn a surviving widow on her husband’s funeral pyre, or to kill the daughter who has eloped with a man of a different religion or race. Love must confront “tolerance” and insist, as it always has done, on a better way.
I wonder if this very hunger we have to be loved is a sign of another kind: not of God’s transcendence, but of His immanence, His being with us. I wonder if our lovesickness is, in fact, God’s image, broken, gaunt but still potent, within us. It is the footfall or thumbprint of Another, evidence of Things Unseen, rumors of a Visitor in the camp.
We still need to feel that our life matters in the scheme of things. We still want to merge ourselves with some higher self-absorbing meaning in trust and in gratitude. But if we no longer have God how are we to do this?
One of the first ways that occurred to the modern person was the romantic solution. The self-glorification that we need in our innermost being, we now look for in the love partner. What is it that we want when we elevate the love partner to this position? We want to be rid of our faults. We want to be rid of our feeling of nothingness. We want to be justified. We want to know that our existence hasn’t been in vain. We want redemption; nothing less . . . Needless to say, human beings can’t give you that . . . No human relationship can bear the burden of godhood.