When God is Absent

What does a nation look like when God is not there? Or at least when its people live like God is absent.

Events in the world and in America have taken a dark turn at many levels in 2021. The COVID epidemic rages on, though natural and vaccine-related herd immunity is increasing. Political divisions, riots, and even hatred, continue at levels unseen since the American Civil War. False accusations fly without regard for the truth and without considering different perspectives. People and organizations lock down to protect themselves at all costs, and sacrifice individuals regardless of prior contributions or future potential.

God is, in Christian tradition, the triune, eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good creator and sustainer of the universe. He is the ultimate ground of reality, transcendent beyond space and time and yet also imminent within space and time. God is the ultimate source of truth and beauty, and the laws of the universe, physical and moral, spring from His being and His character. He is far beyond man, and yet through His Creation, His Word, and His Incarnation, man can know Him, at least in part.

The presence of God logically suggests important truths that guide how we live our lives. If God exists eternally, then men can hope to live after death. If God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good, then He can and will right every wrong ever perpetrated in the cosmos. God’s justice will ensure that good works are rewarded, and sacrifice is acknowledged. His triune nature, the mysterious union of three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, in one God, provides the model and the power for community between persons.[1] God’s greatness and His justice, as revealed in His Word, teach that all men are created equal.

In the absolute sense, God is not absent. Were He to be, all of creation would instantly cease to exist. Though many men would like to believe that God does not exist, they have no idea what they are asking for. Others acknowledge that He exists but mentally squeeze Him into what they think He should be. Either way, functionally and in our lives and communities, the real God is absent.

If God does not exist, our understanding of the world changes in profound ways. Man is the highest life form, and mankind’s aspirations can rise no higher than his potential, individually and corporately. Worse, mankind can fall no farther than the evil lurking in his heart.

Life After Death

If God does not exist, then nothing eternal exists. Science has conclusively demonstrated that the earth and the universe had a beginning and will end.  Consequently, there is no reason to hope that man will not end. Our expectations of life after death have no more basis than our hopes.

Justice

If God does not exist, standards of right and wrong cannot be based in a perfect, everlasting God, but only in the consensus of men.[2] Morality becomes relative, with the powerful doing what they want because they can, and common people living or dying at the whim of the mighty. When a group in power loses, as when the Bolsheviks overthrew the Romanovs in the Russian Revolution, the tyrannical Czarists gave way to the more tyrannical Leninists. The common people were worse off than before, and justice was not done.

If there is no ultimate power, no God, no one else can hold dominant groups to account. If there is no afterlife, justice must be done in this life or it will never be done. The victims of the Holocaust, the Stalinist purges, the Chinese Red Guards, and everyone else who has suffered in history will never be avenged.

Christians believe that all sin, all wrongdoing, is ultimately against God. Since He is the ultimate standard, He alone decides what is right, what is wrong, and the appropriate penalties. Since God is the ultimate victim, He alone can forgive. His will, not our emotions, determine the severity of an act. More vital, God’s intent is always forgiveness, understanding, and reconciliation. Man is cruel, but God is good.  God commands people to work out differences and misunderstandings between themselves (Matt 5:23, 18:15-17). [3]

If God is absent, there is no ultimate authority directing how people and groups handle conflict. Party A may say or do something to Party B which Party A thinks is a positive good or at least not harmful. Party B can respond in whatever way he or she pleases, from appreciating what Party A has said or done to despising it. If Party B grows angry, offended, or somehow uncomfortable, a conflict arises between the people, a conflict which Party A may not realize exists. Party B may confront Party A about the situation and try to resolve it directly, but there is no obligation or even encouragement to do so. Alternatively, Party B may go to a supervisor, the police, or some other authority.[4] The authority will then confront Party A, but without revealing the identity of the accuser or what the accusation was. Party A has no chance to defend him or herself, apologize, explain, or provide restitution. Simply by being offended, Party B (“victim”) becomes the plaintiff and jury.

If God is absent, objectivity flies away like the wind, and the whim of the masses, or the desires of the powerful are all that remain. Whichever group is favored at the moment gets away with murder, figuratively and literally, and everyone else suffers. Justice dies.

Equality

Christians hold that all men are equal before God in four ways, 1) Equal in being created, 2) Equal in value before their Creator, 3) Equal in being separated from God by sin, and 4) Equal in being eligible for salvation through Jesus Christ. The US Declaration of Independence and Constitution affirm that each man is equal before the government.

If the Creator is absent, He did not make men equal, and people can question in what sense all men are, or should be, equal. Individuals clearly differ in strength, intelligence, beauty, and virtue. Few deny that individuals and groups are unequal in their wealth, position, and connections. Governments can affirm the equality of all men before the government and can enact laws to “level the playing field,” but such attempts have been at most partly successful. Some groups have dispensed with what they call the “fiction of equality” altogether.

Historically, many civilizations have held that individuals are not equal. The Hindu caste system ranks people in four categories: Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Sudra. The Muslim concept of dhimmi (protected people) implicitly denies equality and potentially even the right to life for non-Muslims.[5] According to karma in Buddhism and Hinduism, good deeds in a prior life produce a better standing in this life. Similarly, bad deeds in a prior life produce a poorer standing in this life. A prince must have performed many good works and generated good karma in a prior life since he was born into a good station in this life. Therefore, he deserves his exalted position. A beggar in this life must have been bad in a prior life, and therefore also deserves his position.

If God is present, then His thoughts are the ultimate thoughts, peerless in truth and power. Man’s thoughts are good or bad, true or false, only to the degree that they reflect or fail to reflect His thoughts. Man’s goal is, therefore, to understand God, which includes General Revelation (the universe) and Special Revelation (the Scriptures). Afterwards, man must bring his thoughts in conformity with these truths. All of science is based on discovering the objective truths of creation. Albert Einstein said,

“I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details. Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind. My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.”[6]

If God is absent, man’s thoughts become the gold standard, and one man’s thoughts are no better than another’s. If my group says, “killing any other person is wrong” and your group says, “killing another person is wrong, but the humans in group X are not people and therefore can or should be killed,” both groups’ views are equally valid.[7]

Relationships

The triune Christian God demonstrates the perfect relationship between separate but equal persons united into one being in perfect love. With God as the model for relationships, man sees the ideal and can seek to imitate it. Without knowledge of the perfect, man can at most stumble from one poor example to the next. The relationship between each man and God is most important, followed by relationships between humans. If God is absent, human relationships ultimately fail.

God encourages marriage. He made Eve as a helpmeet for Adam because it was “not good for man to be alone (Gen 2:18.” He commanded them to “be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28).” Later, God told man that children were a blessing (Psalm 127:5).” He also encourages friendship, providing examples like David and Jonathan, or Paul and Silas. In addition to encouraging relationships, God’s justice, power, and love provide man the freedom to trust.

Relationships, whether leading to marriage, to friendship, or to some other end, require trust, and forgiveness when that trust is broken. Humans being what we are, our best efforts at relationships result in beauty, unity, love, and power, but also pain, suffering, and injustice. The adage “it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” sounds hollow, or even terrifying.

Without trust, we routinely and increasingly question others’ motives and actions, trying to protect ourselves from harm. We break off promising relationships because we fear being hurt, or fear that they will abandon us first. Without widespread, socially accepted rules to guide our conduct, we blunder. Unintentional slights become “microaggressions” that we harbor and nurse until they grow into resentment or even hatred. It is any wonder that marriage rates in America are lower than ever?[8]

When I worked in Washington DC, I daily walked from the L’Enfant Metro Station to the Department of Health and Human Services. Many people walked beside me on the sidewalks, their faces buried in their cell phones. Try as I might, we rarely interacted. If we had, we would have interacted according to a set of social rules that differ by sex, age, culture, and a host of other factors. If either party violated one of those rules, and thus broke “trust,” intentionally or unintentionally, or was even perceived to, the interaction would have ended, and a budding acquaintance or friendship would have been aborted. The readier either party was to take offense, or grow uncomfortable, the less likely they would have been to make a new friend.

Government

If God is absent, then no transcendent power guides and governs the universe. Man, individually and in the aggregate, and chance, bear the responsibility for the destiny of the earth. Politics, defined as “the activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power,” becomes paramount in its importance. Restated, if there is no God to ensure that everything turns out well, then man has to do it. For people who deny God, politics often becomes the most important thing in the world. Political opponents are no longer well-intentioned folks who happen to disagree. Such people are either deluded, in which case they should be retrained, ignored, or institutionalized, or are evil, in which case they should be destroyed. Reasoned discourse and goodwill become impossible. If politics is the only way to fix what ails the world, then tolerance towards political adversaries being complicity in their wicked. Oppression is the logical result.

The Future

If God is present, all our works contribute to His perfect and eternal will, and He will reward the good things that we do. If God is absent, nothing lasts forever. Not only do we perish, but our works perish. The pharaohs lie in their adorned (and often ransacked) graves, their monuments and victories reduced to irrelevance or absence. Once the human race perishes, our children, our science, our thoughts, and everything that we counted worthy will vanish in a cold, dying, empty universe.

Given this bleak reality, people can be forgiven for loading up on all the pleasure that they can get. While marriage used to be primarily for procreation and secondarily for restraint from sin and mutual comfort, marriages today exist to provide fulfillment to the partners, whatever that means to each of them. Many unions never produce biological offspring because one or both partners won’t. Only a few unions never produce biological offspring because one or both partners can’t. Children, expensive, unpredictable, and often troublesome creatures, interfere with our happy affluence. Therefore, we don’t have many, or any, of them.[9]

Conclusion

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR, “Soviet Union”) was a terrific example of a nation that lived as though God was absent. The Communist state was explicitly atheist and strove to eliminate God and religion from all areas of public life. One wonders if Communism, and its bedmate, atheism, caused the disaster which ensued. From 1922 to 1991, millions died (not even including those who perished in World War II). The Soviet economy usually underperformed compared to the West, standards of living stagnated, and families wilted.[10] Fertility and birth rates plummeted.[11] In the end, the USSR collapsed under the weight of its own folly.

Increasingly, America and many developed nations resemble the USSR and other places where God is absent. US politicians, academics, business leaders, media moguls, and significant minorities of the American public explicitly strive to make America atheist and Marxist, as the USSR was. Insofar as we think, speak, and act like the USSR, we will resemble it. Insofar as we live as though God is absent, our future will be as it is written here. Reality wins in the end, and as we deny reality, physical, biological, and moral, we will fail. If we do not change, America and the West will collapse under the weight of our own folly.

[1] The Maker of the Universe does not need someone else, such as humans, to love, because He has perfect love within His persons.

[2] Some argue that moral standards evolve to a higher state just like physical characteristics do. The idea is that morality evolves to be more free, more tolerant, and more democratic over the ages. Such a notion is questionable for at least two reasons. First, it is not clear that human character and human morality have improved in the six thousand years of recorded human history. Second, evolution leads to improved survival for an individual in a given environment. As environments change, an adaption which formerly conferred a survival advantage now may be a disadvantage.

[3] The God of the Universe is the ultimate arbiter between parties, and He ensures justice at exactly the right time, which may not be immediately.

[4] Some object that if Party A has more power, however power is defined, then Party B may not feel comfortable confronting Party A, so Party B must enlist some authority. Such an attitude is not condoned in interpersonal relationships in the Bible. To deny Party B’s responsibility to confront Party A denies Party B’s agency, eliminates an opportunity for both parties to learn and grow, prevents reconciliation, and can result in accusations without restraint, since Party B has no penalty for lying. Party B is protected by other parts of the Law, and ultimately by God.

[5] The key question for the dhimmi is “What are they protected from?” In a truly equal society, Muslims and Christians would follow the same laws and be treated equally by each other and by government. No separate status in Muslim-majority society would exist for non-Muslims.

[6] Albert Einstein Quotes on Spirituality, https://www.simpletoremember.com/articles/a/einstein/#:~:text=Albert%20Einstein%20Quotes%20on%20Spirituality.%20I%20want%20to,to%20perceive%20with%20our%20frail%20and%20feeble%20mind.

[7] In history, this is exactly the argument that tribes and nations have used to visit calamity on each other. Most societies have affirmed that killing other humans is wrong, unless those humans are somehow different (lower class, different language/culture/physical features, weaker in battle, disfavored by one’s god, etc.). The argument that morals evolve to produce a better world fails here too, since conditions will change to the advantage and survival of one group and the disadvantage and elimination of another.

[8] https://www.usnews.com/news/healthiest-communities/articles/2020-04-29/us-marriage-rate-drops-to-record-low.

[9] World population: Falling fertility rates to create major shifts in economic power (cnbc.com)

[10] Divorce and out of wedlock births were epidemic

[11] Trends in fertility level in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics during the years of Soviet rule, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12262584/.

Author: MD Harris Family Institute

MD, MPH, MBA, MDiv Colonel, US Army (ret)

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