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World Congress on Evangelism, 1966
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GOOD NEWS FOR THE SPACE AGE
Akbar Abdul-Haqq


 

Man seeks perennially to transcend himself. He longs to change for what he considers to be good. He can change in two possible dimensions only. He can subdue and control outward circum- stances to his advantage. He may also change for good by spiritual and moral progress within himself.

One distinguishing characteristic of our age is man's preoccupation with material affluence to the increasing exclusion of spiritual needs. Und6r the impact and promise of the technological sciences, this concern to make life physically comfortable tends to become an end in itself. For many it has become a religion and philosophy of life. No longer are they interested in other realms of truth, but seek to subject all transcendental aspirations and intuitions to the gross world of five senses. This type of secularism may be rated unique in history. Even the renaissance of religion all over the world is symptomatic of a continual enslavement of man, in the disguise of spirituality, to the grossly mundane interests of life. Secularism has invaded the very heart of religion and the church, too, is becoming more and more 'of' the world. On modern religious secularism, Dr. H. Kraemer has remarked: "A great deal of religious life of mankind... is merely very crass materialism and a massive natural secularism, related to objects known as religions. To express it still more adequately, the objects of religious worship and worship itself, are in this case means exploited to satisfy man's coarse and materialistic hunger for life; what goes by the name of 'religion' in the world is to a great extent unbridled human self-assertion in religious disguise. The whole world of magic and a great deal of religion are the expression of this human exploitation of the so-called 'divine' world. This dominant but concealed materialistic vitalism in religion is not a specific characteristic of the East, but of man all over the world, and therefore in all the religious areas of the wor3.d in the West and in the East, one can notice it in differ forms " (The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World, pp. 212-213)

A peculiar secular mentality therefore governs the life of modern man in the temple as well as in the world. He tacitly assumes that human life is limited by sense experience and that pursuit of pleasure is its goal. He seeks to justify this outlook on the basis of science, even though modern science cannot really support it. Dr. W. G. Pollard, Director of Oak Ridge Nuclear Institute, writes: "No scientific bases whatever exist for the universal assumption that the explanation for everything which is and happens in space and time must be found within space and time. Yet, the sheer unanimity of agreement on this axiom of the entire educational process gives it an unassailable dogmatic force. In liberating man from false superstitions, science has unwittingly locked him securely in another prison house of its own making. This prison is exclusive bondage to nature and the natural. Modern man cannot even conceive any longer of any possible way of escape from nature. He cannot imagine any place transcendent to nature where he might go if he were to leave it. In many ways this bondage is worse than ancient bondages from which science has liberated man." (Space Age Christianity, p. 33.)

The Lord's famous parable of the rich fool speaks even to man in this wonderful space age, who seeks to gain not only the whole world but possibly the whole universe. In the process he has lost his own soul. Even some prophets of secularism have sensed the great loss. Thus, Carl Jung titled one of his searching books in the field of depth psychology Modern Man In Search of a Soul. Unfortunately, even modern psychology has not helped the modern man to rediscover the lost dimension of his soul.

The modern man has thus been robbed of the transcendental and spiritual aspects of his destiny. He finds no way out of his peculiar dilemma. When he seeks instinctively to transcend himself, he ends up by debasing himself in the name of contemporary science, philosophy, art and morality. Of the influence of contemporary philosophy upon modern man, P. A. Sorokin writes: "Like science, contemporary philosophy has also contributed its share to the degradation of man and his culture. First, in the form of the growth of mechanistic materialism for the last few centuries; second, in the debasement of truth itself either to a mere matter of convenience, or to a mere fictional arbitrary convention, ideology or rationalization; and third, in making the organs of the senses the main and often.the only criterion of truth .... Truth reduced to a mere convenience or convention destroys itself. For this reason the very difference between true and false disappears." (The Crisis of Our Age, P. 245-246.)

Contemporary art has likewise suffered tragically under the secularizing trend of the age. It has lost power to help man transcend his littleness, and leaves him debased. Sorokin remarks: "...Contemporary art is primarily a museum of social and cultural pathology. It centers in the police morgue, the criminal's hideout and the sex organs, operating mainly on the level of social servers. If we are forced to accept it as a faithful representation of human society, then man and his culture must forfeit our respect and admiration. Insofar as it is an art of man's debasement and vilification, it is paving the way for its own downfall as cultural value." (Ibid., p. 67.)

Sorokin goes on to comment on other areas of the aesthetic: "Still more conspicuous is the pathological bent in literature, painting and sculpture. In these fields the heroes are.... the warped and morbid characters of Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Chekhov and the like consisting of insane, and criminal types, hypocrites, the disloyal, the wrecks and derelicts of humanity." (Ibid. , p. 66)

Saint Paul's apt description, "the God-of this world has blinded their minds," seems to fit even those in the Church who in establishing dialogue with the world secularize the very Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. They quietly assume the unproven secular dogma that there is no reality beyond the world of nature, sense perception, space-time and the "here and now." Thus, going into the world supposedly to help secular man rediscover his lost soul, they accept the dogmatic presuppositions of the secular mood without truly critical examination, and create their own secularized versions of the Gospel. They aim at denuding the Good News of the spiritual and transcendental.

The so-called new morality is another trend hastening the total depravity of the age. There is, of course, nothing new about it except the odd fact that here the old immorality is called morality. Even then the perversion is not entirely new. It is at least as old as the times of the prophet, Isaiah, who wrote: "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter" (Isaiah 5:20).

The civilized man is psychologically sick and the more cultured and civilized he now becomes, the more sick he will be. For modern man is seeking to feel at home in the world without any reference to God and the transcendental.

Philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, and other students of man and society in our time agree, by and large, as to the sickness of the secular world. Even their diagnoses agree in general not only with each other but also with the insights of the Bible. By his own admission, however, is no panacea for his ultimate ills visible to the secular man.

And yet the strange situation is that on the one hand he cries for help in his desperate sickness, while on the other hand he refuses to consider even the possibility of a panacea beyond the range of his ability. Incorrigibly he seeks secular remedies for his illness of secularism. Any talk of meeting his need in and through the spiritual and transcendental dimension leaves him in rebellion and violent reaction.

There is no logical justification for such a reaction. It is a mystery which at best may be accounted for in terms of the blindness of the mind which has too long been chained to an anti-spiritual mentality. The basic predicaments of life as understood by the secular mind are border problems because they are beyond man. Modern man has learned to talk about his border problems without a readiness to raise border questions. That is one reason why he is not willing to cross his self- prescribed borders of possibility into a possible new realm of comprehension, encounter and existence.

It would be worthwhile for a messenger of the Gospel to our modern world to be sure of the Biblical perspective on the incurable ills the secular man is declaring about himself.

1. Emptiness

The famous Swiss psychologist, Dr. Jung, held that the central neurosis of our time is emptiness and meaninglessness. A consciousness of an ultimate emptiness in life is reflected clearly in modern art, literature, philosophy and life as a whole. One may attempt to describe this emptiness in terms of the five year old girl, who was found crying bitterly by her parents. The parents could not easily find out what she really wanted. After long persuasion, however, the daughter said to her father, "Daddy, I want something, but I do not know what." The secular man often finds himself in such a mood even in the most affluent societies of this world. As a matter of fact, much of the available evidence suggests that the more affluent a society is, the more pronounced is the sense of ultimate emptiness on the part of its members.

As to reasons for this emptiness in the Western prosperous societies some sages have made guesses. Karl Jaspers considers a secular mentality responsible for the situation: "The despiritualization of the world is not an outcome of the unfaith of individuals but is one of the possible consequences of a mental development which here has actually led to nothingness. We feel the unprecedented vacancy of existence, a sense of vacancy against which even the keenest skepticism of classical times was safeguarded by richly peopled fullness of an undecayed mythical reality." (Man In the Modern Age, p. 20.)

This loss of contact with God has not been felt keenly by the average man today because psychology has attempted to provide a substitute for it. Otto Rank remarks: "Psychology is searching for a substitute for the cosmic unity which the man of antiquity enjoyed in life and expressed in his religion, but which modern man has lost -- a loss which accounts for the development of the neurotic type." (Beyond Psychology, P. 37.)

The Bible tells us that in the deepest reaches of his personality man is so constituted that he needs God. The experience of the bottomless pit of emptiness on the part of the modern man is certainly due to his secularism whereby he is cut off arbitrarily even from a serious thought as to the possibility of the divine world. This alienation from God is the very heart of human depravity according to the Word of God.

To fathom the spiritual emptiness of the non-Christian and the secular Christian, one needs to hear his talk about God. That is an acid test for any religious group. Thus, when we listen to a Hindu or Moslem describe the ultimate nature of God, we realize soon that they talk in endless negatives. God in His nature remains unknown to them. The founder of Buddhism had an overt agnostic attitude towards God. But the emptiness of the Buddhist soul appears in the concept of Nirvana. There has been endless discussion among the Buddhist scholars as to the nature of Buddha's concept of Nirvana. However, it cannot be gainsaid that it is negative, and the term “emptiness" used by some Buddhists in regard to it (Shunwad) is very descriptive of an existential truth about the soul of a seeker after truth. In this connection the cry of 'death of God' within Western Christianity is another indication of the basic emptiness felt by the secularized Christian. The concern to demythologize the Gospel is likewise partly an attempt to conform to the mentality of secular man. Thus, the Hindu or Moslem description of God's nature in endless negatives, the Buddhist Nirvana and the secular Christian theologian's concern to demythologize or to declare the death of God all rise out of a basic emptiness of his soul.

The forty-second Psalm expresses an aching emptiness of soul. But the writer goes on to state the source of satisfaction, when he says, "As the hart panteth after the living water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, 0 God" (Psalm 42:1). It is part of the tragedy of 'emptiness' today that modern men feel the pangs of spiritual hunger and the pant of divine thirst, and like babes fill the air with their cries, not knowing what they really need. Some of them have taken to thumb-sucking in terms of various escapes from emptiness. But they keep crying for something, they know not what, which may satisfy them deeply. The Gospel of the one who said, "I am the Bread of Life" remains the only answer for the empty man today.

The spiritual famine across the world in our time is of greater moment and far-reaching consequences than any spectre of food scarcity that may threaten some areas of the world. Unfortunately, the era of spiritual leanness is upon the whole human society and the starvation of the human mind and soul has reached alarming proportions!

2. Loneliness

As a result of his spiritual alienation, man today is also experiencing loneliness. The psychologist does not seem to have penetrated the deep mysteries of the nature of this loneliness. But the phenomenon itself is the subject of much attention and discussion on the part of the sages of the secular society. The psychologist Eric Fromm observes: "We have developed a phobia of being alone; we prefer the most trivial and even obnoxious company, the most meaningless activities to being alone with ourselves; we seem to be frightened at the prospect of facing ourselves." (Man For Himself, p. 44.)

There are different kinds of loneliness. A person may feel lonely for a friend. Again, he may feel lonely for wife or children. But deep behind it all there is a variety of loneliness which may be called 'existential loneliness.' It has to do with man's relationship to God. This loneliness has a peculiar way of appearing on the scene most unexpectedly when a person may be deep in enjoyment of human company. On such occasions a man may feel a pang of sudden loneliness in the presence of a most beloved friend. This mood he may attribute to some lack or change in the friend. He may not stop to realize that the lonely feeling is the cry of his soul for neglected fellowship with,God. As a result the secular man may find himself making scapegoats of friends, children or wife instead of attending to his existential loneliness in the right way. That is why a person alienated from God may go from divorce to divorce and from friend to friend looking for that 'one' and 'only' who seems always to elude the grasp. Even in the twentieth century man is still attempting ineffectually to hide the nakedness of his lonely soul behind the fig leaves of a thousand and one eacapisms. The problem with escapisms is that they only lead to ever-confusing and dissipating blind alleys. The secular Christian preaches the escapism of an abstract Gospel of service to humanity without a point of departure in an encounter with the living God. Thus, we hear an exclusive emphasis on the social implications without a concern for the divine orientation of the Gospel. Some would even forget the divine rootage of the Good News completely. The secularized Christian tends to make his social concern a religion by itself. Therefore, he talks about the plight of man with no worthwhile interest in the destiny of man.

People who belong to non-Christian religions have other escapisms from existential loneliness than mere humanitarian- ism. Many seek to escape in terms of various auto-suggestive practices. The Hindu system of 'Yoga' is a good example of escape from loneliness through self-hypnotic techniques. Again, drug addiction has been another classical way of escape from existential loneliness offered in the name of religion. Thus, for example, tracing the role of Indian hemp in Indian religious philosophy, Norman Taylor writes: "For centuries nearly every system of Indian philosophy or religion is inextricably bound up with Indian hemp. At least 1600 years ago cultivated Hindus set out to explore the emotional and fantastical properties of hemp ... their object was to produce some flight from reality less harmful than most others, and to produce an effect different from any other." (Narcotics, P. 17.)

The use of euphoric drugs by the Islamic mystics, Buddhist saints or religious men in any ancient society is a story well-known. Alcoholism and drug addiction in the secular world also is symptomatic of the spiritual sickness we have called here 'existential loneliness.' It should not be construed as merely an escape from the external strains and stress of modern life. It is more of an escape from the stress of a soul out of touch with God. The cure, therefore, of the problem lies primarily in a moral and spiritual dimension than medical and physical alone.

3. Guilt
The Bible tells us, "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." The basic sickness of the entire humanity originates from man's alienation from God -- 'coming short of the glory of God.' This existential estrangement of the natural man is the root cause of all his personal and social problems. The centrality of guilt has been recognized by the psychologist. However, the question, what constitutes guilt exactly and why is it part and parcel of the mental life of man?, is something beyond the reach of psychology. Freud tried to explain away guilt in his early attempts to understand man. Nevertheless, it kept coming back to him as an inevitable fact of mental life. Most of the psychologists today acknowledge that guilt is a constituent element in the mental life of the secular man and that it cannot be put by lightly. Mowrer writes: "Guilt is the central problem -- not just guilt-feelings, as Freud so benignly suggested, but real, palpable, indisputable guilt.... Where neurosis or psychosis is purely functional (as it usually is) the individual, I believe, always has a hidden history of serious misconduct which has not been adequately compensated and redeemed." (Crisis in Religion and Psychiatry, PP- 56,57.)

We should take a second look at the Biblical account of the tower of Babel. For man's concern to build metropolitan areas, and to reach out for heaven in terms of civilization and culture, may all be a grand manifestation of the ever-increasing guilt of a creature in rebellion against God and out of touch with the spiritual ground of his being. Freud clearly saw the growth of guilt in the whole march of civilization. Unfortunately, no cure for guilt is available to man on his own. Even psychology cannot help him beyond certain ameliorative measures which leave the central sickness unhealed.

Mowrer protests against the whole secular psychological approach, to the problem of guilt: "The fact is that those persons who are most deeply burdened and broken by guilt and moral failure are now quite regularly turned over by the churches to the state for care and treatment... I have also cited extensive evidence for the assertion that the state mental hospital as a therapeutic agency, is a failure and that the time is upon us for rethinking the whole attempt to help guilt-ridden persons in a secular, medically controlled setting." (Crisis in Religion and Psychiatry, p. 167.)

It seems that the situation involved in psychiatric treatments is to help the guilt-ridden, sick individual integrate with a guilt-ridden, sick society. For the guilt feelings of the secular and spiritually alienated man are poles apart from confession or repentance. McKenzie remarks: "Unfortunately we cannot take the guilt feelings as signs of repentance. for, as often as not, these guilt feelings are a sign that the offending tendencies are very active, although repressed; there is no change of heart, and the guilt feelings, by preoccupying the individual's mind, act as a self-defense of a repetition of the prohibited behaviour." (Nervous Disorders and Religion, p. 75.)

The problem of guilt remains unsolved both in religion in general and in psychiatry. The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world offers not only to remove the disease of guilt but also its penalty of death towards God. A regenerated person becomes reconciled to God. He is born a new being in Christ, and his old nature prone to sin and guilt is crucified.

4. Fear of Death

Our age has rightly been characterized as an age of anxiety. All anxiety is due ultimately to man's fear of his own death. According to the Bible, Satan, the archenemy of man holds his tyrannical sway over mankind through fear of death.

"Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." (Hebrews 2:14, 15.)

Many psychologists agree with the above insight into man's fear of non-being. Thus, Herman Feifel writes: "Gregory Zilboorg, a noted psychiatrist, has stated that fear of death is 'present in our mental functioning at all times. Melanie Klein, the English psychoanalyst, believed that fear of death is at the root of all human anxiety. Paul Tillich, the renowned theologian, bases his theory of anxiety on the orientation that man is finite and must die. The Austrian psychiatrist, William Stekel, went so far as to express the hypothesis that every fear we have is ultimately fear of death!" ("Death," Encyclopedia of Mental Health, Vol. 21 p. 438.)

The fear of death which is experienced in our age in an unprecedented way, is so acute that the subject of death has become the forbidden subject. Theologian Helmut Thielicke has pertinently observed that death is coming to have the same position in modern life and literature that sex had in Victorian times. Psychologist Rollo May feels that this type of repression "is what makes modern life banal, empty and vapid, we run away from death by making a cult of automatic progress, or by making it impersonal. Many people think they are facing death when they are really sidestepping it with the old eat-drink-and-be-merry-for-tomorrow-you-die. Middle aged men and women who want to love everybody, go every place, do everything and hear everything before the end comes. It is like the advertising slogan, 'If I have only one life... let me live it as a blonde.'" (Time, "Death kit a Constant Companion," Nov. 12, 1965, P. 52.)

Not only the man-in-the-street but also those who deal with the fear of death and the dying are themselves victims of the fear. Psychologist Faifel writes, "Even psychiatrists seem reluctant to talk or write about death. And in the textbooks of psychology, there is not a paragraph on the topic of death." He goes on to observe about medical doctors: "This writer has completed a pilot study on the attitudes towards death of a group of physicians. The group consisted of thirty, male physicians, mostly internists and a few surgeons with an average age of 39.2 years. The result shows that the physicians think about death less than decontrol groups of patients and normal subjects. Counterphobic attitudes toward death and relief from unmitigated tragedy are undoubtedly at work. Provocative, nevertheless, is the additional finding that the physician group is more afraid of death than either the patients or normal subjects. This writer submits that some physicians often reject the dying patient because he reactivates or arouses the physician's own fears about dying." (Encyclopedia of Mental Health, p. 445.)

The Bible reveals the truth that God did not create man for death. Death came on the scene due to sin and human alienation from God. This insight is not only a revealed truth but also an existential experience. Even though some people have indulgently tried to look upon death as something natural, its unnatural character is manifest in a real situation. Life and struggle for existence go together. If death were natural, this phenomenon would be inexplicable. The very existence of the fear of death, which is the root of practically all human fears, is a clear indication that death is unnatural even though its incidence is universal. The biological tension between life and death becomes conscious on the level of man. According to the Bible God created man in His own image, with a hunger for eternity. Therefore, despite all the evidence, of mortality around him, man remains incorrigibly thirsty for life. Even those who commit suicide are not tired of life but only of the problems of life. Suicide is, to them, an escape mechanism. Even though a man on the street knows better, yet he tends in his daily life, to live as if he was going to live forever. This anomaly of existence is so lucidly displayed in the case of modern atheistic existentialism. This movement has been conspicuous in rediscovering death as a philosophical theme for our secular age. It offers modern man the prospect of a meaningless life in view of a meaningless death. It leaves no justification at all for a prolongation of earthly existence. According to Albert Camus, "There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide." Despite the crippling pessimism of their popular philosophy the existentialists justify continuation of life. None of the great exponents of the movement have committed suicide. Their rationalization is poor when they say that men must live for the sake of living. But it is a grand demonstration of the truth that man wants to live despite all evidence of death around him. This is not due to any philosophical conviction. It is a phenomenon nourished by the springs of a passion for eternity deep within the human soul.

The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ brings the dayspring from on high for a world shivering in the icy consciousness of death and crying for true life and meaning for an earthly existence which by itself seems so absurd and out of joint. The grace of.God Most High has appeared in His Son, our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ,, "Who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel" (11 Timothy 1:10). The Christian hope of eternal life is not a sheer flight into the beyond. It involves conquest of death, in history, through the appearance of the Son of God in flesh. The Christian faith is a resurrection faith. If the Lord Jesus Christ be not risen from the dead, then the Gospel has no meaning and Christians, according to Saint Paul, are the most wretched among men. The Lord Jesus did not come into the world to establish one more religion alongside many religions already in existence. He came to fulfill the deep- est longing of man for life and release from death and its horrors -- longings expressed in various ways among the religions of mankind. By His own declaration the Lord says, "I am come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). This abundant life, a life victorious over the predicaments of our earthly existence, is the verv burden of the Gospel.. In the entire known history of mankind none ever made such astounding claims as did the Lord Jesus. His claim to give the kind of life that man innately is groping for, is based on the fact that, "In Him was life and the life was the light of men" (John 1:14). The life that He offers was tested and tried in the crucible of human experience as He dwelt among us. He proved the worth of His gift of life for us by conquering absolutely sin, evil, disease and death. He actually turned death, the chief weapon of Satan against man and creation, into a secret of victory over the diabolic powers of darkness. Thus, conquering death and sin upon the cross and through His resurrection He has now made available eternal life to all mankind.

The Gospel of'the Lord Jesus Christ has opened up a new way out for the hard-pressed man who is a stranger to God. This transformation takes place in the world but it is not of the world. At the same time it is a blessing to the world. Man seeking to sublimate his dark impulses and to reform society has now got himself into such a serious mess that the very future of the human race is at stake. Humanly speaking, there is no exit. To reject the offer of God-in-Christ is to doom the future of man and civilization. Therefore, the words of the Scripture are more pertinent for our age than ever before, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!” (Isaiah 52:7)

 


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