August 4, 2015
There is a difference between the temporal meaning that we create in this life, and ultimate meaning which survives the grave. Believers and non-believers alike can both create temporal meaning, i.e. meaning in this life. Believers and non-believers can both do good acts such as raise good children, and believers and non-believers can do evil acts, such as wantonly destroy human life or property. However, implicit in the very notions of "good" and "evil" is the belief in moral absolutes given by a Higher Power that will somehow right the scales; He who will reward the righteous and will ensure that the wicked are brought brought to ultimate justice.
Setting aside the question of divine inspiration, if you simply read the Old Testament as a work of literature, you will read these sentiments over and over again in David's Psalms, and also Solomon's Ecclesiastes. Job asks, why do the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper? God answers Job out of the whirlwind, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?" Solomon, the wisest man who ever walked the earth, could only conclude "...fear God, and keep His commandments." Inherent in Solomon's pronouncement, then, is the guarantee that the prosperity of the wicked will not endure forever; God promises that justice will be served; both the just and the wicked shall receive their rewards.
The potential for the scales of justice to be righted at all depends entirely on the existence of a higher power than ourselves. I call Him the God revealed in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. My argument is not, "if God exists, then..." Believers in God acknowledge that men do gross evil--in fact the greatest evil a man can do is evil in the name of God. That is why Islamic terrorism is so utterly abhorrent.
We also believe that God exists as a Person; that is, He stands utterly in the community of persons together with us. So if I assert that men doing evil makes God complicit in that evil, it would be akin to saying, "Thomas doing evil makes Steve complicit in that evil." Steve may be complicit, it does not follow from the mere fact that I do evil that Steve is complicit in the evil that I do. But we believe that God is not a doer of evil, therefore God cannot be complicit in (human-caused) evil, period. So this really takes the wind out of any argument that begins by asking "what God are you talking about?" (I answer, the God of the Hebrew Bible), or "If God exists, then..." because my assertion begins not with the premise that He exists, but rather the premise that He does not.
If God does not exist, then life has no ultimate meaning. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. If there is no God then there is no Judge. And if there is no Judge, then what is right and what is wrong are no more than personal preferences. To put it starkly, whether murder is right or wrong is reduced to a preference similar to whether one prefers chocolate or vanilla ice cream. I like vanilla ice cream. Johnny thinks murder is okay. Just as reasonable people wouldn't give me a hard time about liking vanilla ice cream, I can't challenge Johnny's belief that murder is okay. Without God, there is no moral truth. Without moral truth, there are, unfortunately, only moral opinions. If God does not exist, all morality is relative.
Non-believers can have beautiful ethics. Religious people don't have a monopoly on goodness, far from it.
However, if God does not exist, then the possibility of ultimate meaning is foreclosed - after we die our lives and deeds matter no more than rocks on Pluto. If there is no life after this one and there is no God to whom we are accountable, then ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and we should live by the YOLO creed - "You Only Live Once." I may be remembered by my children and my children's children as a good man, but ultimately when these are gone and there is no one to remember me, what then? Ultimately, I will have entirely ceased to be. If there is no God, then ultimately we will all have entirely ceased to be, period, end of story.
A world without God leads to crushing, nihilistic despair. How could I not despair realizing that the gross evil that is done by humanity in this world shall go unpunished, that the scales of justice shall never be righted, the wicked punished and the just rewarded? Not to mention the devastating fact that not only do I die, but my existence as a person in the community of persons is snuffed out forever: if there is no God and we are simply random accidents of chemicals to be consigned back to cosmic oblivion after a few short scores of years, then clearly life is, in the most tragic sense of the word, hopeless.
Yet, in his darkest hours of despair, Job said:
I know that my Redeemer lives, and though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.God is necessary for our lives to have ultimate meaning.