The Fundamental Problem of Human Existence


Open the newspaper, turn on television news, tune in to talk shows on satellite radio, or read internet news or text feeds, and you will be overwhelmed by a flood of information, mostly negative, about what is going on in the world. It would be easy to despair at the chorus of doomsday prophets describing how the world will end in dozens of different ways.

Get out of bed, get ready for work, work as best you can at the job you have, spend the evening with family and friends, and go to sleep. Throughout the day you will experience a mix of pleasure and pain, a combination of successes and failures, and if you reflect on the day you will wonder why things turned out as they did.

Be born, grow and know the victories and defeats of learning and developing, enjoy the milestones of graduation, marriage, career, and children, fulfill some of your dreams and fail to fulfill others, gradually lose all that you have and often much of what you think you are, and die.

Such is life on earth.

But why?

Why is the news so bad? Why are our days a combination of pleasure and pain? Why can’t we accomplish everything that we set out to do? Why can’t we meet our own expectations, much less those of anyone else? Finally, why do all of our lives end in loss and death?

The answer is clear to all of us and present in some form in every religion, or secular worldview…all is not right in the world. There are many wonderful things in the life we are given; beautiful sights, delicious food, exciting experiences, treasured friends and family, and meaningful work, and yet something is amiss. The world is not functioning as it should.

Christians would say that man rebelled against God, Muslims and Jews might say that people don’t do enough good works, and Buddhists and Hindus might blame bad karma. Atheists might argue that mankind hasn’t evolved far enough to eliminate ignorance and bad behavior in the world.

If we believe in some type of god, we can blame Him or ourselves for the state of the world. If we reject the possibility of god, we have to blame ourselves.

Many Christians, and perhaps Jews and Muslims, would argue that we have to blame ourselves for the state the world is in. If the account of the Fall of Man in Genesis, accepted in some measure by all three faiths, communicates any reality at all, it teaches that the fundamental problem in human existence is that man wants to be God, and he is not.

Did not the serpent suggest to Eve that if she ate of the fruit, she could be “as God”? Did not the earliest humans Adam and Eve, eat the fruit so they could be “as God”? When the ancients worshipped idols, either engaging in fertility rituals or sacrifice, were they not trying to curry favor with the gods? Even more, were they not trying to shift the cosmic balance in their favor and thereby compel their god to give them what they wanted?

I have heard many people say that they don’t really want to be God, but is that true? How often do we wish that we could bring rain, or stop rain, when it interferes with our activities? How often do we wish that we could compel a slow driver in front of us to get off the road? How many of our conflicts with others are about us wanting our way, even at their expense? Do we sometimes wish real harm to people who anger us? As we gain money, fame or power, do we not constantly want more? Is not the end of all this exalting ourselves and wanting to be like god?

Many religions tell us that we can compel God. Some Muslims believe that if someone loses his life in a holy war, no matter what else he has done, he will gain entrance into heaven. Some tell us that we can become God. A few, especially in the New Age movement, tell us that we are God. Is this not a root of pantheism, panentheism, and much modern and postmodern thinking?

If the fundamental problem of human existence is that humans want to be God, but we are not, what do we do about it? As a Christian, I would argue that the first step is to acknowledge our problem. The second step is to apologize to Him for trying to usurp His job and failing to be content with the work He has given us. The third step is to carefully consider His instructions to us, as given in the Bible, and do them. Our lives are centered around God, not His around ours. When we try to influence Him in prayer, for example, we do so as children asking for something from an all-good, all-knowing and all loving Father, not rebels who are demanding their due. The battle against our selfish will is life long, but as we align ourselves with reality, that He is God and we are not, we will win.

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