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.

Why God?

The question at hand is “Why God?” I was brought up in a Christian home and so I had a marvelous advantage over some who were not; God was just assumed in my home and none of the people around me thought otherwise. They had relatively minor differences about their understanding of His attributes but no one denied His existence or asked why He was important.

I have now had decades to consider the issue and decide for myself, as most people eventually get the chance to do. As a result, I believe in God more strongly than ever, for three reasons:

1. The evidence for God, both scientific and historical, is overwhelming.
2. I have experienced God in my own life.
3. I have seen the effects of the disbelief in the lives of others.

One important preface. God is infinite, all powerful, imminent, transcendent, and beyond the imagination of mortal man. All we know about Him we know because He has revealed Himself to us. His ultimate revelation was in the person of a man, Jesus Christ. Thus the unknowable God the Father becomes knowable in the person of God the Son, Jesus Christ through the work of the indwelling God the Spirit, the Holy Spirit. This is what I mean when I speak of God.

Along with Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, and others, I am impressed by the evidence for God in the world.  First, most people throughout history have believed in the existence of some type of God. When billions of people of all races, sexes, cultures, areas and ages believe something, it is at least worth considering. Skeptics might retort that science has ruled out the possibility of God, or at least made Him unnecessary, so belief in God belongs to yesteryear. They fail to understand or to acknowledge that science, which is limited to studying the natural, cannot rule out the existence of the supernatural; the best it can do is have no opinion. They also fail to understand or to acknowledge that the fact that the universe exists at all, that something instead of nothing is present, and the fact that the universe is limited in extent and duration, suggests that God is necessary. The billions who believe in Him seem to need Him, and the fact that people need Him is not proof that He is not there. Therefore, God is neither ruled out nor made unnecessary by science. Neither is He ruled out nor made unnecessary by the arguments of Hume, Hawkins, Hitchens, or anyone else. If people do not believe, there must be some reason besides reason. For some at least, perhaps dismissing the views of billions of others about God is more snobbery than science.

Other lines of evidence for the existence of the God of the Bible abound. The complexity of and design evident in the universe begs for a designer. The archeology and manuscript evidence for the truth of the Bible is surfeit. The very existence and growth of the Christian Church after 2000 years, given the fact that most faiths decline after the death of their founder, is remarkable. The endurance of Christianity despite furious opposition from Diocletian to Voltaire to Stalin and beyond suggests that Someone greater than man is growing the Church. Ultimately, the greatest evidence for the existence of God is the person and work of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was the greatest of all supernatural works and only the a priori denial of that event can eliminate it as evidence for the existence of God.

Second, I have experienced the presence of God in my own life. I felt a surge of His courage during combat convoys in the streets of Baghdad and in fortified outposts on the banks of the Euphrates. I have seen Him enlighten my thoughts and guide my hands as I cared for patients. I have experienced Him speaking through me as I counseled a grieving mother and taught His word to His people. I have felt His peace while trying to land a light plane in a thunderstorm and His exhilaration while standing at Uhuru Peak at the summit of Kilimanjaro. I have seen Him work in answer to my prayers, and felt Him through His word, the Bible. He has wiped the tears of my heart away. I sensed His presence during my darkest nights, such as while standing at the grave of my father.

Third, I have seen the effects of the disbelief in God in the lives of others. Defending America in the Middle East was a great privilege but also a trial. The strain was too great for many, and in my experience those who best weathered the storms were those with a vibrant relationship of faith in God through the Lord Jesus Christ. The same goes for the patients I have encountered in my medical practice. Sickness, failure, loneliness, unemployment, aging, and death eventually overtake us all. The backdrop of our lives in childhood is our family and local environment and that in our young adulthood is the world. But as our years swiftly pass, with many dreams unrealized, many failures remembered, and many sins unforgiven, we must look outside of ourselves. We long for someone greater to right the wrongs that we have failed to right, give us the rewards that we feel were denied, forgive our sins, and lead us into a bright future, though our light on earth grows dim. Every man and woman faces this end, and in my experience, those with a sure knowledge of God and a passionate dedication to Jesus , God the Son, best weather these storms.

“Why man?” is a far better question than “Why God?” because God is the center of the universe, and the center of the existence of every man. All creation and all history sing out the glory of God. Each person is designed to love Him, enjoy Him, and acknowledge His worth. Like every man, I succeed sometimes and fail others as I walk this earthly highway towards this heavenly goal. My prayer is that I succeed more and fail less each day, and my brothers and sisters in the church and in all humanity do the same.