It would be fair to admonish the young people of today for being vain, selfish, and simply swimming in the enchantment of illusions of their own making. It would be fair to criticize the youth of the day for rebelling against everything, regardless of merit or warrant, in the final analysis slowly fading the issues of rebellion into the backdrop making rebellion itself the chief end. But along with so much chaos among the youth, there are young people today who care deeply about the issues humanity is wrestling with and there is a sense of great optimism about the progress of humankind in its elusive journey to find itself, its ultimate purpose and destiny. Some of the young people today also care about world peace, ending hunger, selfless devotion to one another and deep lasting friendships that are hard to tear apart. The youth of today likes to decorate reality with great and wonderful pursuits, and for this there should be a true sense of elation, for these are the truly meaningful ends.
But however wonderful and virtuous these pursuits may be, in the total sum of things, they are forever shrouded in nonsense without the centerpiece. After all, what are virtues without God? Imagine if you will we decorate a room by painting the walls a nice vibrant yellow with “Peace” written in large red type. We hang a painting that reads, “Selflessness” in the middle of the biggest wall. We fill the room with things we want, perhaps an armchair embroidered with the word, “Tolerance” in the corner. We fill this room nice and full with virtuous things. But, when we look at the room it feels a little dim, and we get the feeling that something more substantial is actually missing.
Virtues without God: What Have We Forgotten?
What we have forgotten is the light overhead in the very center of the room. We have forgotten God. And without God who sheds His light on the things we’ve added to this room, we cannot see why they ultimately matter. After all, if a human being is nothing but an extravagant animal, why should we care about tolerance, or selflessness, or peace? If this life is all that there is, why not live selfishly and without regard for others? As the sweeping secularism dehumanizes mankind to the level of other animals, should we not feel more at ease to follow the dictates of nothing but mere instinct that also guides the animal kingdom? Why curb our desires and lusts? Why should we strive for equality? Why give humanity more worth than the common housefly? Within a reality where the purpose of life is nothing more than survival and reproduction, why would we ever strive for moral excellence, goodness or righteousness? And, were we to change the way we live to be more in line with this view of “reality” we think is legitimate, would we be able to find happiness? The answer is a resounding ‘No.’
We crave the things that we feel are intuitively part of our very nature. We crave the world for which we were ultimately made. And what of this desire that just can’t come to fruition? What of this internal need that just won’t be quenched? C.S. Lewis put it best,
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in the world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”1
I venture to say that the ultimate fulfillment of these internal cravings will continue to elude us until the grandeur of heaven is exposed to us in all its overwhelming majesty. But for now, we will continue to crave the proper things, mostly without understanding why we crave them. The longing of the human heart for the things that give it true joy is not understood when the room is dark. We do not and cannot understand why the things we aspire to, should be aspired to. They seem good to us, but we do not understand why that is so, and the pursuit of human progress plunges us deeper into confusion about the things we intuitive feel are good things without being able to justify them as such. As the brilliant writer C.S. Lewis once wrote,
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”2
The innocent fervor of radical optimism has been indwelt with too much naivety that it fails to adequately realize the true ills of humankind, that at its core humanity is a paradox! We are both great and wretched; we are always and forever at our best and at the same time at our worst; our greatest ally, and our worst enemy. The ultimate problem with humanity is humanity itself, and our pointless pragmatic efforts to correct ourselves have brought upon far bigger problems. We have made our homes in the prisons we erect. We have hardened our hearts towards God, and now we feel that our humanistic efforts devoid of the “encumbrance” of a God is sufficient. We have exalted ourselves to the status of Godhood and have domesticated God. Yet in the final analysis when we are finally faced with a catastrophe that shakes us to our very core and finally faced with, but unable to account for our own paradox, sitting in the darkness, confused, answerless and empty handed, without direction we look up at the sky and something inside makes us shriek with fear, ‘Life is meaningless without God and so is every virtue!’
(inspired by the passing of a young man who shall remain anonymous, and a youth pastor whose name I do not know)
1 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (HarperOne, 2001; revised and amplified edition) 136–137.
2 C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (New York: Macmillan Co., 1949) 92.