In a haunting dream sequence in Ingmar Bergman’s film Wild Strawberries, an old professor is arraigned before the bar of justice. When he asks the charge, the judge replies, “You are guilty of guilt.”
“Is that serious?” the professor asks.
“Very serious,” says the judge.
But that is all that is said on the subject of guilt. In a universe where God is dead, people are not guilty of violating a moral law; they are only guilty of guilt, and this is very serious, for nothing can be done about it. If one had sinned, there might be atonement. If one had broken a law, the lawmaker might forgive the criminal. But if one is only guilty of guilt, there is no way to solve the very personal problem.
And that states the case for a nihilist, for no one can avoid acting as if moral values exist and as if there is some bar of justice that measures guilt by objective standards. But there is a bar of justice, and we are left, not in sin, but in guilt. Very serious, indeed.
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.
Some say my faith is no more than an illusion, and insist there is absolutely no scientific basis for it. Others claim that Jesus never existed, that he is no more than a myth. It’s all a fabrication.
If that is the case, I have a lot of questions…
How is it that this “illusion” has turned my life around? (And the lives of millions.) How in the world does it empower me to live with hope, to experience deep joy, and to walk through life with purpose and a song in my heart? How is it that the deeper I go into this “illusion” the richer my life becomes?
If Christ never existed, why do I find such satisfaction in prayer and praise? In studying His Word? Where does this power come from that helps me to love my enemies, to choose right over wrong, to forgive 70 x 7, to have a heart full of gratitude, to smile at storms, to keep getting up when I stumble, and to face death with confidence?
If this is all an illusion—what a fabulous illusion!
I think I’ll stick with it.
It sure beats anything I had when I tried to live life without Jesus.