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At Christmas it’s good for those blessed by Christ to see how the other half lives.
Michael Ruse’s A Meaning to Life (Oxford, 2019) begins with atheistic honesty: “You are born. You live. Then you die. If you don’t think so, then you should! We come from an eternity of oblivion. We return to an eternity of oblivion.”
Ruse is not writing this abstractly: He is 79, a distinguished professor who has written or edited more than 50 books and says, “In the end, you know truly that it doesn’t mean a thing.”
Ruse offers this not only as his opinion but as the supposed wisdom of the ages. He quotes the 1882 version of Tolstoy saying we end up as “stench and worms.” He quotes William James in 1902: “We are all such helpless failures in the last resort.” He jumps to Albert Camus, 1942: There “is but one truly serious philosophical question, and that is suicide.”
Ruse, even seeing the futility of writing about life’s meaning, quotes David Hume’s musings: “I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends. And when, after three or four hours’ amusement, I would return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strained, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.”
And yet, 100 pages later, Ruse is still at it, trying to see if “Darwinism as religion” will satisfy. He concludes “this is a bleak world indeed,” but tries to rally on the last two pages: “In the end, I can give you a good Darwinian account of Meaning in terms of our evolved human nature. This is not a weak substitute. This is the real thing.”
Really? To go “From an eternity of oblivion. To an eternity of oblivion. Everlasting dreamless sleep, without the need to get up in the middle of it to go to the bathroom. Absurd if you will, although I would not call it this.” Well, with all due respect, I will call it that. I’d prefer waking up in the middle of the night to never waking up. At least I could check the Red Sox score.
Better than that, though, will be seeing Jesus and joining others in the heavenly stands to see how all of history is glorifying God. It will be wonderful to walk in the new Jerusalem where we need neither sunlight nor lamps, because (as the last chapter of Revelation tells us) the Lord God is our light. And maybe Ruse will have that joy as well. Although Wikipedia declares, “Ruse is an atheist,” he finished his last book with some squirming: “I am an agnostic.” That represents movement. Let’s pray that his progress doesn’t stop there.
Scott Harrower, in God of All Comfort: A Trinitarian Response to the Horrors of This World (Lexham, 2019), asks how Christians can help those traumatized by massively horrendous evil (like the Holocaust) or personal suffering. He proposes study of the Gospel according to Matthew, because starting with the genealogy in Chapter 1 we learn about “a carnival of failure,” including “deportation to Babylon. … Israel’s fragility and the impermanence of life are striking.” Matthew goes through more than 42 generations but lists only five women, all trauma survivors: Rahab the prostitute, Ruth the refugee, Tamar who had to sleep with her father-in-law to gain justice, Bathsheba who had to sleep with her husband’s murderer, and Mary who became pregnant prior to marriage.
Bruce Reichenbach’s Divine Providence (Cascade, 2016) overviews why humans would be hurt if God eliminated evil: “The parents who step in and prevent the child from ever experiencing pain, suffering, or frustration will have a helpless child on their hands.” Reichenbach recognizes the Biblical path—suffering to perseverance to character to hope—but acknowledges that natural and moral evil will lead some to turn away. He does not pretend that no mysteries remain. —M.O.