Only in a postmodern culture could we find a chaplain for unbelief at Harvard University. Dr. Albert Mohler notes that Harvard’s “…humanist chaplain considers himself something of a ministerial vanguard -- a help and inspiration to fellow unbelievers. Furthermore, he is evangelistic in his promotion of unbelief as a foundation for meaning.” “David Abel of The Boston Globe describes the chaplain, Greg Epstein…[as one who] disavows God, preaches to atheists and agnostics, and seeks to build the equivalent of a church for nonbelievers and others skeptical of or alienated by religion.’” Epstien himself affirmed his commitment to humanism and defined it as that “philosophy of life without supernaturalism that affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment aspiring to the greater good of humanity.”
Of course, Epstein’s philosophy is fatally flawed. One may not inject meaning into life on a worldview that denies God. If we are mere accidents, we have no purpose, no moral standard, and no existence beyond this life. He has not only contradicted himself, he has given to the worship of himself as he, like all humanists, has created his own meaning. Humanism is a philosophy of self; a philosophy of self apart from God. The implications of such, as noted, are fatal as hopelessness is the end result. As Dr. Mohler points out, Epstien has taken his philosophy into the funeral service. What need does a non-supernaturalist have for a funeral service? It’s simply that when confronted with ultimate questions concerning life and death, he has no answers. As one commentator quipped, all a humanist can do at a funeral is wait for answers that never come.
Yet, there is a line of truth that provides the answer for the humanist. It is the reality that human beings have been created in the image of God. That understanding provides answers to ultimate questions concerning life and death as well as supplies meaning to the activities in which we engage in the here and now.
First, being created in the image of God furnishes answers and meaning by virtue of the fact that such means we have a capacity to relate to Him. We are created in His image, not someone else’s. This reality, among other things, means that we are distinct from the animals (Gen. 1:26). This truth is implied in the fact that humans have dominion over the animals. Moreover, if we can relate to God, then we may develop meaningful relationships with others. Of course, this dynamic is implied in God’s creation of a man and a woman (Gen. 1:27). These things give a unique significance or meaning to our lives.
Such an overarching actuality gives us a number of implications for the culture in which we live. For one thing, human beings have more value than animals despite claims to the contrary. Further, human beings have essential dignity and worth. Every life is precious. This truth certainly has bearing on issues such as abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, etc. Further still, issues of liberty come into play in that God has granted human beings the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These rights do not come from government but from God. The devaluation and oppression of others is not good and is but an outworking of a godless, humanistic philosophy. Only when we see the essential dignity of every human being and the God-given liberty belonging to each one do we have a worldview that puts God’s goodness on display and provides meaning to all of reality and in particular to our lives. Humanism cannot do that.
Second, being created in the image of God furnishes answers and meaning on account of the fact that He blessed humankind, gave them dominion over the earth, and mandated they fill and subdue it. We have the blessing of God in a way that no other creature has (Gen. 1:28a). We have a dominion mandate from God to subdue the earth (1:26b; 1:28b). In addition, we have a mandate from God to populate the earth as part of the fulfillment of the dominion mandate (1:28b).
The dominion mandate has a number of implications as well. Agricultural, technological, medical, and cultural advance of all kinds is a good thing. Of course, Christians engage in all these things for the glory of God and the good of others. Beyond that, the resources of the earth are to be used for the glory of God and the good of others including coal, oil, minerals, etc. Heating oil, cars, and gasoline stations, for example, glorify God. Of course, we are to be good stewards of God’s creation. That means that we must be wise in the way we subdue the earth. But, we are to subdue it nevertheless. There is therefore meaning in such a dynamic only because of the dominion mandate given to human beings created in the image of God.
Without the affirmation that God is, no objective standard exists regarding how human beings are to use and/or treat the earth. It is indeed ironic that the very philosophy that touts human achievement should hinder human beings in their quest for progress and productivity whether it be through worship of the earth itself to the detriment of human beings or through the economic oppression of human beings in the name of preserving the earth.
At the same time, implied in the dominion mandate is the necessity of discussion concerning the environment. Such discussion is something Christians need to take the lead in for the simple reason that we are the only ones who have the proper and balanced approach to the subject (subduing the earth while being good stewards of it at the same time).
With regard to populating the earth, getting married and having children is generally good. God has given some the gift of singleness and He has chosen not to give children to some couples. Christian couples who are fertile are not commanded to have as many children as possible, but, they are responsible to pray and search the Scriptures when it comes to the issue of children. We may not simply adopt the values of our culture and indiscriminately put careers or other desires ahead of having children. We must seek the will of the Lord for us specifically in these areas. These issues too flow from our being created in God’s image. At the same time, it is also that which gives life and populating the earth meaning.
Third, being created in the image of God furnishes answers and meaning on account of the fact that He gave humankind specific responsibilities that are designed both for His glory and for our fulfillment. We too have been called to specific work by God (Gen. 2:15). That work even now can be fulfilling in numerous ways despite the fall and can indeed show forth God’s goodness in dynamics like ability, opportunity, provision, productivity, etc. It is our creaturehood and God as Creator that gives these pursuits meaning.
Fourth, being created in the image of God furnishes answers and meaning in the ultimate sense in that He set boundaries around our relationship with Him that define the way of life and death. He was gracious to give the first couple the way of life and the dynamics of rightly relating to Him (Gen. 2:16-17). And, God is gracious to give to us the way of life in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The foregoing necessitates a universal, invariant, moral standard that has been set forth by God. The undeniable reality that human beings everywhere have a sense of right and wrong not only debunks an evolutionary worldview, but highlights the truth of Romans 1:18f where Paul writes that everyone has a knowledge of God. The problem is that everyone has suppressed that knowledge and is therefore in need of a saving revelation from God. It is God who has sent forth His Son that guilty sinners might be saved. Ultimately, that means we can have a relationship with God. At the same time, it also means that there is life after death for human beings. That too is meaningful.
Humanists wait for answers that never come. By grace, we have the answers. Let’s give them to the humanists that we might have fellowship, that our joy might be full, and that they might experience lives of meaning.
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About Paul Dean
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
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