Monday, October 15, 2007

Egypt's Unworthiness, Part V

The Pointlessness of Piety

The Preacher’s sphere of reference—life “under the sun”—does not even offer meaning in spirituality, religion, or the search for God. Paul told the Romans that the study of nature (all things under the sun) is sufficient to demonstrate the existence of an omnipotent and omniscient deity, but his conclusion is far from comforting. There is an almost palpable lack of joy in the closing words of Ecclesiastes:

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil (12:13-14).
Though the Enlightenment promised us a god we could discover through unaided reason, the deity we found was anything but a comfort to those wrestling with the vanity of their own existence. This deus nudus – or “naked god” – as he has been called, seems more like an it than a who, a piece of celestial machinery that allows 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Malcolm in the Middle, and countless other atrocities. Though the god we uncover by the efforts of our own rational deduction may inspire awe or fear, he certainly doesn’t make a very good case for why we should love or trust him. This God, the apostle explained to the Romans, does not save anyone, for the Book of Nature reveals a naked God of law, of justice, and of seeming indifference to human pain (1:18ff).

The existence of an x, a First Cause, or an Unmoved Mover who is more like “the Force” than like a Father may cause men and women to begrudgingly assent to his existence with their heads, but they will never trust him with their hearts. This generic deity does not invite trust in the truth but suppression of it, for the observation of brute facts and the “invisible hand” of Providence indicates that he cares no more for the good guys than for the bad or the ugly. Kreeft points out that “innocent little bunny rabbits and human babies do not fare well against predatory coyotes or leukemia…. The good die young, and the better you are, the more likely it is that you will be martyred.” It is for this reason that Solomon offered this advice:

Do not be overly righteous, nor be overly wise: Why should you destroy yourself? Do not be overly wicked, nor be foolish: Why should you die before your time? (Ecc. 7:16-17).
Nature’s God appears as an absentee landlord, an insignificant Other who may be there, but who is certainly not here. A god who, like “the Truth” in The X-Files, is “out there” is far from being “a present help in time of trouble” (Psa. 46:1). And even if he is out there, he appears to be too indifferent to listen, too holy to help, too transcendent to touch, and too vengeful to invoke. This also is vanity.

The “time-ishness” of time, therefore, serves to rob even the most noble of earth’s pursuits of any ultimate value, for the bigger the barns we build to store our bounty, or the more abundant our moral bank account appears, the more damning will be the “Thou fool!” that we will hear from God’s lips on that final Day (Luke 12:16-21; Matt. 7:21-23).