By the time I was fifteen years old, the philosophy literally dictated my every thought and deed from the moment I woke up, to the moment I went to sleep at night. Upon hearing that I was once lost in existentialism, most people will look puzzled and ask, "What is that?" So before I continue with the remainder of my testimony, I thought I would take some time to address what existentialism is, and why it is so dangerous.
Existentialism is a philosophy that is not easily defined, because it has no set definition. Basically, the idea is that life has no meaning apart from the meaning that we create and apply to it. Essentially, each person is responsible for defining himself and assigns purpose to his own existence. As a result, man finds himself exposed to the futility of this exercise, and often will succumb to feelings of dread, despair, nothingness, anxiety, and absurdity. These five words accurately describe my secret life as a teenager.
The trouble arises when one desperately tries to assign meaning and purpose to one's existence, only to realize that it is nothing more than a smokescreen. An excerpt from Wikipedia explains this wonderfully (emphasis mine):
When our meaningful representations of the world break down (which they may do at any time, and for any reason - from a tragedy to a particularly insightful moment on the side of the individual), and we are put face to face with the naked meaninglessness of the world, the results can be devastating . . . the concern with helping people avoid living their lives in ways that put them in the perpetual danger of having everything meaningful break down is common to most existentialist philosophers. (Source)When we understand that we cannot control anything beyond our circumstances, life becomes very frightening, depressing, and desperate. For example, suppose I am a talented musician. My entire identity is built upon making music. Thus, I have constructed my own meaning and purpose upon this foundation. But suppose I am involved in a horrible accident that leaves me paralyzed, so I am unable to breathe on my own or move my fingers? I would never be able to play my instrument ever again. My existence, my purpose, and my reason for living are now gone.
Now imagine I am a talented musician, and I am perfectly healthy. I am still able to operate within the confines of the meaning and purpose I have given myself. I have not been involved in any accident at all. But the possibility that I could suffer physical harm on such a grand scale remains. Although I am healthy and making music, in the back of my mind, I know this truth exists only as long as my circumstances allow. Knowing that my purpose can be taken away at any moment is terrifying. And ultimately, my purpose will die, because one day, I will die. And everything that I ever created will be lost, because I am no longer able to act as the author and finisher of my purpose.
Existentialism is dangerous because it seduces the individual into coveting God's sovereignty. The insatiable desire to create meaning and purpose usurps the authority of the meaning and purpose that was made by the ultimate Creator.Depressing, isn't it? That's not even the worst of it. Existentialism is dangerous because it seduces the individual into coveting God's sovereignty. The insatiable desire to create meaning and purpose usurps the authority of the meaning and purpose that was made by the ultimate Creator. The Bible says, "All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being" (John 1:3). When we seek to manufacture our own meaning, we are rejecting the notion that the reason for our existence starts with God, not us.
A second reason why existentialism is so dangerous is because it is true (to an extent). Just read the book of Ecclesiastes and you will see what I mean. Everything will one day fade away. This is Biblical truth. But only when we take our eyes off God and look to our circumstances, only when we embrace the things of the world instead of the things of God, does this become a problem. A healthy outlook on God's sovereignty is the cure. The Bible says, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away" (Matthew 24:35, Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33). When we focus on God's sovereignty, we can channel this truth into the ability to let go of the things of the world, and instead cling to the only thing that truly matters: the Cross.
In Christianity, who you are determines what you do. In existentialism, what you do determines who you are. Perhaps you are familiar with the words of the old hymn: "On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand!" The Christian stands on Christ, the solid rock. The existentialist, on the other hand, has staked his territory on all sorts of sinking sand. This is why existentialism results in a lifestyle of despair. When you realize that everything you hold dear will one day be torn from your hands, either by death or circumstances, it leaves you with a feeling of uncertainty about everything.
Thank God, He has delivered me from existentialism. It is a complex philosophy that I don't think many people understand, yet most have been affected by at one time or another. For this reason, I hope to shed light on the impact it has on the human soul by sharing various highlights of my testimony.
For a more detailed introduction to existentialism and its themes, I encourage you to listen to R.C. Sproul's message by clicking here. The message is approximately 20 minutes long.
Now that you have a working idea of what existentialism is all about, keep this in the back of your mind as you read the rest of my story . . .