Thursday, December 7, 2017

Worldview: A Look at Existentialism

Men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chronicles 12:32a).

Mighty men joined with David when he became king. Among them were the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times they lived in, and as a consequence knew how to act in their world. As we seek to understand our times, so that we might join with the Greater David, let us consider the philosophy of existentialism.

Existentialism deals with the human predicament; that is, with existence. Starting with people and their problems, existentialists have tended to reject the traditional avenues of philosophical writing and instead have written novels, plays, and films. Important existentialistic philosophers include Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Heidegger, and Albert Camus. An important “pre-existentialist” of the late 19th century was Friedrich Nietzsche.

The basic formula of the existentialists is this: “Existence precedes essence.” This means that there is no such thing as a “human nature” that was created by a transcendent God and defines who we are. Rather, the reverse is the case: First, we simply are, and then we make ourselves who we are by our own decisions. Because there is no transcendent world, death means annihilation of the personality. 

We live, say the existentialists, on the edge of the void of nothingness. Behind all of human life is an instinctive dread of this nothingness. This dread manifests itself as an unspecified anxiety that warps everything we do.

Most people never come to grips with this ultimate nothingness. The existentialists, however, are calling upon people to stand up courageously and face the fact that there is no God, no transcendence, and no future. The courageous man makes a decision to face up to his inescapable anxiety and dread instead of evading it.

Existentialism sounds courageous, but in reality, it is a cowardly and escapist refusal to come to grips with reality and the coming day of judgment. Only in Christ can people confront the ultimate questions about human life. How does your faith help you face reality and eternity? What does your church have to offer those in your community who are burdened by an existential worldview?