Monday, June 27, 2011

The “I Can Do It” Religion

With an air of assurance, Claire declared, “I don’t believe anyone can know the ultimate answers, but I also don’t think the ultimate answers are important. We can find peace and our meaning in life in the fact that we’re living our lives the best way we can!”

What Claire is saying in effect is that “I know that you can’t know.” How can she say she can know and deny that possibility of knowledge to the other person! A simple question might prove helpful at this point – “Do you know that other people cannot know the ultimate answers?” If Claire answers “yes,” then you can ask, “How is it that you can know, but others can’t know?” If instead, Claire admits that she really doesn’t know, then she might be open to searching. In regards to this, Jesus promised:

• "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)

Whenever a statement is logically incoherent, it also cannot line up with the evidence. If Claire was to be asked, “What evidence do you have that these questions can’t be answered,” she would be unable to provide any. To make this assertion, she would first have to survey every claim to ultimate truth and then prove that all of these claims are baseless – something impossible to do!

More seriously, she denies that “ultimate answers are important.” However, when we lack these answers, we suffer. Jewish philosopher and theologian, Abraham Heschel wrote:

• “It’s not enough for me to be able to say ‘I am’; I want to know who I am and in relation to whom I live. It is not enough for me to ask questions; I want to know how to answer the one question that seems to encompass everything I face: What am I here for”

Similarly, the novelist Norman Mailer wrote:

• “I think we are all healthier if we think there is some importance in what we’re doing. …When it seems like my life is meaningless, I feel closer to despair. I like life to have meaning. That is not to say you have to jump into meaning and find it where there is none.”

Claire might agree that we need meaning, but she evidently thinks that she can establish her own meaning “where there is none.” However, life’s purpose, which can infuse the Christian so effortlessly, is beyond reach of those who don’t know the God of the Bible. If God cannot be known, then His purpose for our lives is going to remain uncertain. In contrast to this, Jesus claimed that He derived His ultimate nourishment by serving His Father:

• "My food," said Jesus, "is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” (John 4:34)

Christians can attest that there is real satisfaction in knowing that they are serving their Savior. However, it’s not just Christians who recognize the necessity of living in concert with our values. Author Karen Wright wrote approvingly of this need,

• “Eudemonia refers to a state of well-being and full functioning that derives from a sense of living in accordance with one’s deeply held values.” (Psychology Today, May 2008, 76)

I would imagine that Claire agrees with this broadly-accepted principle. However, she believes that she can establish her own meaning and purpose for her life, but this isn’t easy. For one thing, if she hasn’t answered the “ultimate” questions, her created purpose will feel arbitrary and empty and will not give her the sense of meaning which she desires.

Besides, we need assurance that this meaning is connecting us to something greater than ourselves. It isn’t sufficient to merely imagine a purpose. It’s like telling someone who wants to get married to simply imagine the ideal spouse and to enjoy this spouse in her mind. Instead, we crave what is real.

In addition to these problems, Claire thinks that “We can find peace and our meaning in life in the fact that we’re living our lives the best way we can?” However, if she can’t answer the ultimate questions, she has no standards to determine when she is living at her “best.” Doesn’t ascertaining what is “best” require that we answer at least one “ultimate question!”

Despite her skepticism, we all have an inner sense of what’s right and what’s wrong, even if our minds will not agree with what our heart is yelling. However, with heart and mind divided, we condemn ourselves to a schizoid and dissonant existence. Even worse, we know that we fall far short of our internal standards. The Apostle Paul explains:

• “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law [of Moses], do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.” (Romans 2:14-15)

What do we do when our hearts condemn us, and they will? If we know the truth about our merciful God, we can confess our failings and trust that He will forgive and help us in our weakness. However, if we lack this knowledge, we have only two choices. We either lapse into depression after getting a painful eye-full of who we really are, or we wage a never-ending battle to deny the truth and convince ourselves and everyone else of our goodness and worthiness.

We need these truths of God. Without them, we remain destitute. Peter explained that all forms of blessing are locked away within the transformational mental nuggets of knowing God:

• “Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:2-3)

Initially, it usually feels good to believe that we are the captain of our own ship. However, this places a weighty responsibility on our faltering shoulders. We have to live up to our standards and inflated expectations, and it’s more than we can bear!

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