Earlier this year, the earth tried to tell us something: it doesn’t like Corvettes. At least that’s the interpretation given by ABC news analyst Matthew Dowd, who suggests the universe is sending us a message.
Maybe he’s right. Perhaps the earth was unhappy with the materialism of the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and therefore opened up a sinkhole large enough to swallow several collectible sports cars. Or maybe it’s just an unfortunate byproduct of building over Kentuckian limestone formations.
The comments for the online posting of the article demonstrate that much of Dowd’s readership was unconvinced that the sinkhole was a subliminal message for man to be “more in sync with the Earth.” I agree. I think Dowd’s theory should be buried beneath the subterranean stack of rusting automobiles.
But if the universe did want to tell us something, what might it look like?
Hardwired in Humanity
We reject Dowd’s theory out of hand because we don’t anthropomorphize the earth. There’s not a mind grinding away at the earth’s core analyzing consumer data and determining where to inflict naturalistic disasters.
But the vast majority of humanity, past and present, has believed, and still believes, in some sort of transcendent Mind, not subservient to creation, but sovereign over it. So, when Christians speak the gospel, they are not fighting a counterintuitive campaign like Dowd’s pseudo-pantheistic eco-friendly conspiracy theory. The evangelist speaks to the universal intuition of the divine that is hardwired into humanity.
In this way, all of reality is the believer’s ally in sharing the gospel. Our universal longing for transcendent meaning actually points to a transcendent source. And only Jesus can satisfy this persistent craving. To paraphrase Pascal, this is a God-sized problem that only God can fix. Only the gospel provides an exclusive foundation for human flourishing. All other ground is sinking sand.
The Faulty Foundation
If this is true, and I certainly believe it is, then most of our neighbors have built their lives upon a faulty foundation. Like the Corvette Museum, their lives are constructed upon the volatile bedrock of limestone that is highly affected by the changing environment. Jesus told a parable about this very thing, illustrating the utter importance of the foundation of our lives.
But this message is not popular in our day where secular humanism is thriving and is mass-marketed and amplified to us through every channel available. Some may ask: What is the big deal with objective morality and intrinsic worth? Can’t we just determine our meaning for ourselves? Is the limestone life really that bad?
Consider another illustration; imagine that my children are playing a game of Monopoly in the basement of our home. Do the multicolored bills have worth? Of course they do. But their worth is determined by our house rules and is subject to the overall temperament of those playing the game. If they left our house and took the Monopoly money to the corner store, they would discover the limited value of their fake currency.
It’s not that the game money doesn’t have value; it just doesn’t have objective value. And our “real” money doesn’t have objective value in this sense either. It is subject to numerous factors. To have objective value, it would need to be backed by a treasury that is not liable to change, political, economic, or otherwise.
Jesus or Nothing
The same is true for human value and worth. The only way humans can have objective worth is if it is grounded in a transcendent source that is not subject to the changing whims and wishes of contemporary society. Have we really come so far from the twentieth-century that we have forgotten the tragic price of the relativizing human dignity?
The late Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer asked a similar line of questions in his important work He Is There and He Is Not Silent:
It is important to remember that it is not improper for men to ask these questions concerning metaphysics and morals, and Christians should point out that there is no answer to these questions except that God is there and he is not silent. Students and other young people should not be told to keep quiet when they ask these questions. They are right to ask them, but we should make it plain to them that these are the only answers. It is this or nothing. (30)
Schaeffer is right. It is either this — the gospel — or nothing. These are mankind’s categorical options: Jesus or nothing.
If the Gospel Is True
Consider the famous quote from the late atheistic Harvard professor Carl Sagan, “The cosmos is all there is, or ever was, or ever will be.”
If we accept this proposition as true, we must, to be consistent, recognize a complete loss of intrinsic worth and objective purpose. Eternal, impersonal, and non-rational matter cannot provide a foundation for human dignity.
But if the gospel is true, then the world is filled with unchanging purpose, and man is endowed with an inalienable worth. Maybe this is what the universe is trying to tell us after all. The heavens are declaring the glory of God (Psalm 19:1), and only in our Creator is there a corresponding dignity for man (Psalm 8:4–8).
I originally wrote this post for Desiring God and it was published on April 22, 2014.