Skating Rinks, Secondhand Smoke & the Gospel
If you’re from a small town like I am then your childhood memories likely include bowling alleys and skating rinks.
“The Eight Wheeler,” our local skating rink, revolved around adolescent relationships and the smell of fresh popcorn.
Our bowling alleys, on the other hand, offered a thick smog of second hand smoke and the best of eighty’s rock on the quarter operated jute box. Both are icons of my past and both surprisingly illustrate the history of ideas.
Like a skating rink, philosophy has circled around the same topics and questions throughout the centuries. And much like bumper bowling (where rails or inflatable pads prevent gutter balls) humanity’s answers have proverbially bounced between the alternatives of relativism and theism in every generation of thinkers.
While relativism may be undesirable it is not easily avoided in a non-theistic universe. The pre-Socratic philosopher Protagoras illustrated this in his maxim, “Man is the measure of all things.” The Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky demonstrated this in his line from The Brothers Karamazov, “If God is dead, then all things are permitted.” You can add Nietzsche to the list for effect if you like, but you don’t have to go far to recognize the insurmountable threat of the loss of objectivity.
At some point the ideological momentum shifts and the conceptual bowling ball bounces the other direction. Philosophers like Immanuel Kant, who had a gift for aggravating the sensibilities of serious apologists, could not reject the existence of God even though he did reject the classical arguments for God’s existence. He knew an atheistic world offered no basis for meaningful justice. And thus, the ball moved away from relativism towards theism.
There is a fundamental problem, however, in theism’s claim to be a complete worldview. For many, the linchpin argument against God’s existence is the problem of evil. If theism is to be the best explanation of reality then why is life so evidently marred by overt wickedness? In short, if there is an all-powerful and all-loving God then why is the universe so screwed up? Mere theism struggles to answer this question to the satisfaction of many skeptics. This obtrusive problem spins the intellectual ball back across the lane.
It is at this critical point that Christianity takes on flesh. While theism provides the best explanation of reality, Christianity provides the best explanation of theism. In the gospel narrative you have the explanation of a world which was created as good yet is fallen due to man’s free moral decisions. Man’s home is now marked by both moral and natural evil as described in the third chapter of Genesis.
In Christianity you have not only an explanation for evil, but a remedy for it. God himself has visited his creation. He took the form of man, stood in our place, and endured the wrath of God. In his death he atoned for our sins and in his resurrection he purchased our freedom.
Herein is the hope of the Gospel and the answer to philosophy’s perennial problems.