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.
In the LGBT community, the opposite of pride is self-hatred. But in the Bible, the opposite of pride is faith. Was pride keeping me from faith, or was pride keeping me from self-hatred? That was when the question inserted itself like a foot in the door: Did pride distort self-esteem the way lust distorts love? This was the first of my many betrayals against the LGBT community: whose dictionary did I trust? The one used by the community that I helped create or the one that reflected the God who created me? As soon as the question formed itself into words, I felt convicted of the sin of pride. Pride was my downfall. I asked God for the mercy to repent of my pride at its root. . . .
My conversion left my former friends and family thinking I was loony to the core. How could I leave a worldview that was open, welcoming, and inclusive for one that believes in Original Sin, values the law of God, seeks conversion into a born-again constitution, believes in the truthful ontology of God’s Word as found in the Bible, claims the exclusivity of Christ for salvation, and purports the redemptive quality of suffering? Only one reason: because Jesus is a real and risen Lord and because he claimed me for himself.
―Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ
The truly Christian person is . . . not living against the grain of the universe, but with it. He is not barking his shins on the system of things. He knows his way about in a universe of this kind—he knows how to live. I know exactly how I feel when I sin—I am orphaned, estranged, and everything within me cries, “This is not the way.” I also know exactly how I feel when I live the Christian way—I am universalized, at home. Everything within me cries, “This is the way!” His way is my way. –E. Stanley Jones, The Word Became Flesh
[Humanity] fell. Someone or something whispered that they could become as gods—that they could cease directing their lives to their Creator and taking all their delights as uncovenanted mercies, as ‘accidents’ (in the logical sense) which arose in the course of a life directed not to those delights but to the adoration of God.
As a young man wants a regular allowance from his father which he can count on as his own, within which he makes his own plans (and rightly, for his father is after all a fellow creature), so they desired to be on their own, to take care for their own future, to plan for pleasure and for security, to have a meum [personal possession] from which, no doubt, they would pay some reasonable tribute to God in the way of time, attention, and love, but which, nevertheless, was theirs not His. They wanted, as we say, to ‘call their souls their own.’
But that means to live a lie, for our souls are not, in fact, our own.
They wanted some corner in the universe of which they could say to God, ‘This is our business, not yours.’ But there is no such corner. They wanted to be nouns, but they were, and eternally must be, mere adjectives.
Those seeking to condemn religion as the great source of human violence will inevitably cite the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition. Those seeking to defend religious faith and place the blame for human atrocity elsewhere will invariably respond by pointing to the Holocaust and the Gulag…
At the root of these atrocities, whether they are classified as “religious” or “secular,” we find neither religion or ideology. These atrocities and all atrocities are the product of human nature. It is our inborn inclination to pursue our own self-interest and to disregard the interests of those outside our particular group . . . that drives humans to enslave and kill. And it is because humans are born with this evil inclination that genocide and slavery have been so common in so many of our cultures for so long.
The great insight of the Judeo-Christian tradition is that we are the source of evil in the world. The great promise of the Judeo-Christian tradition is its power to inspire men to overcome evil in their hearts…
Modern ideologies such as Nazism and Communism, by contrast, did not seek to transcend human nature, but to empower it. These new ideologies turbo-charged our natural selfishness and encouraged it as the greatest good. Elevating and unleashing humanities dangerous impulses was a perilous enterprise. Genocide was as certain as the sunrise.
The point is this: Communism and Nazism were not evil ideologies that coincidentally rejected the Judeo-Christian idea. These ideologies were evil precisely because they rejected the Judeo-Christian idea.
Cliff Knechtle writes of a conversation that he had with a university student who claimed that the Bible was packed with mythology, even though he admitted that he had never read it. Knechtle challenged him to read both the Book of Isaiah, which contains prophecies concerning Christ, and Matthew, which records the fulfillment of those predictions.
Knechtle thought that he’d never see him again, but the next day, he approached Knechtle and said, “I read Isaiah and Matthew. It was interesting literature. I think it speaks the truth.”
“That’s great!” said Knechtle. “Are you ready to trust Christ for eternal life?”
The student replied, “No way. I have a very active sex life. I know that Christ would want to change that. I don’t want anyone to change that.”
One New Atheist motto says “There is no God and I hate Him.”
You hate someone who doesn’t exist?
That doesn’t make sense.
However . . . perhaps it makes perfect sense. This absurd statement could well be a most revealing one. Maybe the New Atheists have let the cat out of the bag, and we can now get down to the real issue.
What the God-deniers are saying is this: “I reject God. I don’t want Him in my world. I know He’s there, but I want nothing to do with Him. And, to ensure that He doesn’t interfere with my life, I will even deny that He exists. That makes it just a little bit easier to steer clear of God and to run my life just as I please.”
There’s an old word for this: subterfuge. It comes from a verb which means “to evade, escape, flee by stealth.” Avoidance by distraction. We are all good at playing that game, aren’t we?
And here it seems that the New Atheists are playing it. The God-deniers are telling us that they are, in fact, God-rejectors, and that the philosophical and scientific banter is really a smokescreen. The root issue is much deeper and more personal.
We can all find plenty of reasons to reject God, but deep down there is one fundamental reason: We are rebels at heart. We harbor within us a deep-seated craving for self-autonomy. We don’t want God messing with our lives.
If we are honest, that’s what’s going on inside. It’s true of all of us.
Unfortunately, it’s a dead end street. A forever dead end.
Listen to Martin Luther: “It is the utmost stupidity for us to imagine that our cure lies in flight from God rather than in our return to God…”
The incredibly good news of the Gospel is that the God we run away from is the God who lovingly and patiently pursues us. His name is Jesus. He became human and died on a cross to destroy the lies we have believed and to bring us back.
When we finally lay down our arms, listen to His voice, and respond to His call, everything changes. Our life is flooded with light. The truth sets us free.
And we begin to discover that the Good News is better than we ever imagined.