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The Unbearable Darkness of Being Without God

Aug 1, 2008
The news is not good. A Governor of a large state throws everything away for a few hours of hidden pleasure with an expensive prostitute. Common sense would suggest such behavior is insane, but is it? Or a presidential candidate spins a tall tale about her brush with sniper fire on an official trip to war torn Bosnia. But TV cameras had followed her to Bosnia and the footage reveals that she had made the whole story up. How could she believe that she would not be found out?

History is littered with powerful people wrecking their own lives as well as the lives of countless others. And we are not even counting the rest of us. Why is this? What is it about human nature that reveals a compulsion to succumb to self destructive forces that contradict reason and common sense? Have lying and adultery suddenly become acceptable as a new moral norm or is something more troubling and insidious in play? Is this a problem for our time only or has it been a problem since the beginning of history?

At one point in his new book The Devil's Delusion, David Berlinski addresses these questions from the perspective of Ivan Karamazov in Dostoyevsky's famous novel The Brothers Karamazov: In that novel the question is asked: What happens if God does not exist? The answer: If God does not exist, then everything is permitted. Berlinski goes on to tell a story about an elderly Hasidic Jew who was commanded by an SS guard to dig his own grave. When he had finished digging, the Jewish man stood up straight and addressed his executioner: "God is watching what you are doing," he said. And then Berlinski wrote: "And then he was shot dead." If God does not exist, everything is permitted.

Berlinski goes on to say this: "What Hitler did not believe and what Stalin did not believe and what Mao did not believe and what the SS did not believe and what the Gestapo did not believe and what the NKVD did not believe and what the commissars, functionaries, swaggering executioners, Nazi doctors, Communist Party theoreticians, intellectuals, Brown Shirts, Black Shirts, gauleiters, and a thousand party hacks did not believe that God was watching what they were doing. And as far as we can tell, very few of these carrying out the horrors of the twentieth century worried overmuch that God was watching what they were doing either."(The Devil's Delusion pp 26-27)

Those who would have us believe that God is a delusion, never tell us about the downside, for there are dark potentials that seems to reveal themselves in daily headlines with alarming frequency. In a world where everything is permitted, "everything" must include holocausts, mass starvation, atomic weapons and every other instrument of crime, large and small, known to man. If the world is godless, where are we meant to place our bets? Surely the relevant evidence would suggest that the innate goodness of human nature is a very thin reed to build hope upon.

The biblical diagnosis is as bleak as Berlinski's. Unredeemed mankind's descent into darkness has no limits, for without God, everything is permitted: This is the way it has been from the earliest days of liberated man restlessly wandering the earth. "The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time."(Genesis 6:5) Jeremiah, the great prophet of Israel tells us that "the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?"(Jeremiah 17:21)

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, catalogues a litany of horrors that we can expect when godless men''futile thinking darkens their hearts. (Romans 1:21) What is interesting is that Paul does not exempt himself from the probability of falling prey to the desires of a rebellious heart: "When I want to do good, evil is right there with me...waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work in my members." (Romans 7:21-23) But whereas the godless indulge the dark inclinations of a corrupt heart, Paul wages war against such inclinations through the power of the Holy Spirit.(Romans 8) Elsewhere, he says that we are to live as free men, but warns that we should not use our "freedom to indulge the sinful nature."(Galatians 5:13) The Bible reveals that man is utterly and hopelessly lost because he has abandoned God in pursuit of a lie.

When God is expelled, the heart naturally turns to indulging itself by becoming blind to the voracious appetites of our human nature. Everything is permitted. Who will see? Who will hear? Who will judge? Nobody is the answer we want to hear because then we are like God indulging ourselves in the most ungodly ways.

"They encourage each other in evil plans; they talk about hiding their snares; they say, 'Who will see them?' They plot injustice and say, 'We have devised a perfect plan!' Surely the mind and heart of man are cunning."(Psalm 64:5-6)

It is only when we know that we are known that we pause in our pursuit of our own dark desires. This picture of the other side of human potential is a necessary anecdote to the relentless tide of opinion that would have us believe that a world without God would be a better place. History is littered with the corpses of such deluded promises, and we should resist the temptation to fall into the first sin of believing the devils claim that "you will be like God, knowing good and evil."(Genesis 3:5) For we know that the devil will keep part of that promise. "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour."(1Peter 5:8)

The psalmist says, "The fool says in his heart, 'there is no God'" Then he says, "They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good."(Psalm 14:1) But elsewhere, a different more hopeful picture is painted: "What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him. You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor."(Psalm 8:4-5)

Man without God is a fool; man under God is capable of being crowned with glory and honor. Take your pick. The evidence would suggest that there is no real choice at all.
About the Author
Eric Kampmann received an undergraduate degree from Brown University and a graduate degree in English at Stony Brook. Eric is the author of two other books: Tree of Life (2003) and The Book Publisher's Handbook (2007). For information on his newest book, Trail Thoughts, visit: Trail Thoughts.
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