With the recent celebration of Easter, here’s a reflection of mine that I encourage you to think about:
If human beings are merely the product of a blind evolutionary process that has been in place since the dawn of time, which started with the union of amoral particles in the very picoseconds of our universe, then people are not special. We’re an accident floating wildly through the infinite expanse of space on an impossibly small speck. Inherently, we’re no different than rocks and trees and bacteria and everything else that lucked into survival. Any meaning we think we have is purely a product of culture, which is arbitrary and amounts to nothing. As Richard Dawkins writes in his book River out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference.”
Existentialism counters this by offering the noble solution that we can make meaning in our lives by acts of will. By giving ourselves to some worthy cause, or by following our passions, we can grasp meaning. Yet any such meaning is relative, and no amount of relative significance can amount to anything ultimately significant. Worse still, since man is individually and collectively destined to die, whatever relative significance we do achieve will die alongside us. As Macbeth said, “Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” So not only does our worth equal zero, but all we accomplish equals zero. This is hard to refute, if we start from the position that man began from nothing. Bertrand Russel believed this to be the case. He spoke about such a horror when he said, “There is darkness without, and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendor, no vastness anywhere, only triviality for a moment, and then nothing.”
Now, compare such a worldview to that of Psalm 88:
O Lord, God of my salvation;
I cry out day and night before you.
2 Let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry!
3 For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am a man who has no strength,
5 like one set loose among the dead,
like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
for they are cut off from your hand.
6 You have put me in the depths of the pit,
in the regions dark and deep.
7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah
8 You have caused my companions to shun me;
you have made me a horror[b] to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
9 my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call upon you, O Lord;
I spread out my hands to you.
10 Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah
11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness,
or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
13 But I, O Lord, cry to you;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?
Why do you hide your face from me?
15 Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,
I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.[c]
16 Your wrath has swept over me;
your dreadful assaults destroy me.
17 They surround me like a flood all day long;
they close in on me together.
18 You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
my companions have become darkness.[d]
At first glance, this Psalm seems to echo a dark picture of reality. It starts dark. It ends dark. What the heck? Is man just a cosmic orphan, set here on earth to live long enough to reproduce before being consumed by total and absolute darkness?
The answer to that question depends on the answer to the question of verses 10-12. And so does everything else.