Unbelief is actually perverted faith, for it puts its trust, not in the living God but in dying men. The unbeliever denies the self-sufficiency of God and usurps attributes that are not his. This dual sin dishonors God and ultimately destroys the soul of man.
Recently, I was watching a CNN news report on the migrant crisis in Europe. EU leaders had met and were proposing to increase the amount of aid given to the UNHCR to combat the problem. And it just struck me that for centuries, the wisdom in human societies has been that our problems are to be solved solely by us. Whatever the problem is – Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, Boko Haram, and now the Migrant Crisis – we (humanity) are to find a solution. And, of course, the drive is normally from that sword-wielding and obedience-compelling institution we call the ‘State’ or ‘Government’.
I am not advocating that we abandon responsibility for the problems in our societies. Indeed, when I have a leaking roof, I would not remain on my bed hoping it would somehow fix itself. In a short while, I would have more than a leaking roof; I may not even have a roof any longer. However, what I could not help noticing is that utter reliance on Man by Man to interpret, explain, and solve his problems by Himself without help or support from any transcendent being or power. It is the assumption that this is ‘our’ problem and only ‘we’ can solve it. As Man, we have no one to call on. And we define great leaders by their ability to resolve challenges. The strong leaders are not those who have called on God for help in crises. No. They are those who have grasped the dynamics of a problem, identified a solution, and successfully implemented it.
This mindset is not new. It was birthed in the world shortly after humans were created. It was the outlook which prompted Adam and Eve to disregard God’s view of things, and formulate their own interpretation. Thus, Adam had sinned before he sinned. He had broken faith with God before he took a bite from that fruit. Unbelief isn’t new.
Human unbelief, however, became sophisticated and refined about five centuries ago (in the western world) during the period known as the Enlightenment. This was when Europe, turning her back on her Christian heritage and worldview, began to rethink life and reality from the ground up. The Western world attempted to create for herself a comprehensive understanding of the world, but with one notable omission – God. Of course, God wasn’t just thrown out the window of society. It was believed that the cold and turbulent weather of Progress would be too harsh for him. Therefore, they could lock him up in the churches, homes, and maybe individual hearts. In time, though, he would be kicked out of these places, too. However, that is for another post. The crucial agenda here was that God was to have no place in the proceedings and discussions of modern man and civilized society. It was okay to do God in the days of Charlemagne and Albert the Great. However, this is the modern era, the age of knowledge, technology, and innovation. We have risen beyond our intellectual childhood; we have grown up. God is a concept we no longer need. We are fine on our own. Perhaps no one better captured this mood than the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) when he wrote:
Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. ‘Sapere Aude!’ Have courage to use your own understanding! – that is the motto of enlightenment.
And indeed, since the world embraced this system, it has had quite a lot to handle. In the midst of much technological progress (if all inventions can be seen as ‘progress’), we have experienced so much evil, disaster, and calamity. War, oppression, crime, terrorism, economic upheavals, disease, social breakdown – they all bedevil our ‘modern’ world. But we, enlightened and educated as we are, must find a way around them. We will not abandon our basic premise – we do not need God. And so the cycle continues.
A patient God, however, still holds out his hands to a foolish and conceited world. Like the father in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15), He is ever willing to run to us, lift us up, and restore us to all the privileges of sonship. If only – if only – we would admit our need. The great offense of God’s people in the Bible was unbelief. By worshipping other gods, they professed their unbelief in the true God who had created and redeemed them. The modern world has done the same for centuries. Our gods have been Humanity and his reason. We worship our ideas, our opinions, and ourselves. We have not sought counsel from the God who made us and to whom we belong. We may confess Him in private, but He belongs in the open. God belongs in the public square. And until we realize that this is his world, not ours, we will keep going in cycles, frustrated and defeated.