Our Spiraling Descent

black and white spiral staircase

The 19th century Russian novelist, essayist, and journalist Fyodor Dostoyevsky was a devout Orthodox Christian. He was known for his suspenseful plots where his characters often wrestled with questions of faith, suffering, and evil. Recognized as one of the world’s greatest authors, ashamedly I admit I have not read him.

But I did come across him in the book I am currently reading, Scott Christensen’s What About Evil? A Defense of God’s Sovereign Glory. It’s over 500 pages, small font, and no pictures. I may be reading it for a while. But I am really enjoying it.

Christensen quotes from one of Dostoyevsky’s great novels, some say his greatest, The Brothers Karamazov. In it, one of the brothers says to another, “Without God and the future life? It means everything is permitted now, one can do anything.” Christensen paraphrases that quote this way, “No God? No transcendent realm (heaven or hell) beyond the here and now? Well, then…no restraints on our immoral actions. Let’s cast off these illusory chains of morality and live free.” Christensen isn’t advocating such, he’s pointing out that’s what happens. And this is where we are. Who can deny?

When God doesn’t exist there are many problems, certainly for the one holding such a view. But atheists and agnostics make the world worse for everyone else, too.

We are living in it. We are watching it happen. It is all around us. The wake of those who have casted off the “chains of morality,” believing they “live free” is eroding the shoreline of cultural decency. How can anyone with a straight face make the argument we are doing well? You can’t. One can’t even smirk and make the case.

So, here we are. When there is no God, there are no objective moral standards. Atheists and agnostics can’t get around that one. But some try.

Greg Epstein, Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University (Yep, that’s his title) in his book Good Without God (Yep, that’s his book’s title) tries hard to show that secular humanism can adopt “the essential timeless moral features of the Ten Commandments.” Yet he also says in that same book, “Not only do we not need ‘objective’ values to condemn heinous crimes and uphold ethical standards, we cannot ever be confident that objective values exist.” So, which is it, sir? The chaplain seems unaware that condemning evil is impossible without objective moral standards.

But as God is jettisoned, we reap the whirlwind. And it is getting really windy.

God’s divine standard has been replaced by man’s human standard. And what is that standard? Whatever he wants it to be. Man’s fallen heart wants what it wants. He’s the toddler banging his fist on his highchair demanding more cheerios to gobble and less peas.

Packer said it well years ago, “Sin is essentially the resolve—the mad, utterly blameworthy, but nonetheless, utterly firm resolve—to play God and fight the real God. Sinners resolve to treat themselves as the center of the universe and so they keep God at bay on the outer circumference of their lives.”

And so, this is what we are observing, and sadly, sometimes doing. In a delusional stupor, thinking that ignoring God’s moral restraints will result in human flourishing. But in reality, it only leads one to deeper deception and darkness (Romans 1:18-23).

What can we do amidst culture’s descent? We pray. We worship. We live Jesus. We throw out lifelines.

Pastor Rich Hamlin
May 19, 2022

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