Francis Schaeffer and the God who is there

I’m reading Francis Schaeffer’s The God Who Is There. The first part was a very nice introduction to the shift in philosophy which has trickled down through all aspects of our society: art, music, general popular culture, and theology. Through the very brief summaries Schaeffer gives of the philosophical systems of Hegel, Kierkegaard, Jaspers, Sartre, and Heidigger, I gained a sort of appreciation for the way their thinking has developed and eventually pervaded modern thinking. It’s a cautious appreciation, though, because, as Schaeffer brilliantly points out, their systems don’t really lead to meaning and answers. As much as philosophers (and laypeople) think that Christianity requires of believers a non-rational, non-logical leap of faith, believing that these philosophical systems “work” is also a leap of faith. It’s sad how these philosophers, when fully faced with the implications of their systems, were driven to despair and anguish. Some abandoned their views altogether. The true existentialist desires to find significance in experiences which are uncommunicable. And this is what happens:

But in their struggles there is a horror of great darkness. Though they may be people of great sincerity, this does not of itself make them able to communicate to others their experience. Nor can the individual verbalise to himself what has happened. Tomorrow morning they may say, ‘Yesterday I had an experience’. The day after they still say, ‘I had an experience’. A month and a year later they are hanging on grimly to their only hope of significance and certainty of being by repeating, ‘I know I had an experience’. The horror of this situation is due to their putting their hope on a non-rational, non-logical, non-communicable experience. (23)

Schaeffer continues by describing art’s plunge into despair. And I was especially struck by his concluding paragraph of the chapter:

These paintings, these poems and these demonstrations which we have been talking about are the expression of men who are struggling with their appalling lostness. Dare we laugh at such things? Dare we feel superior when we view their tortured expressions in their art? Christians should stop laughing and take such men seriously. Then we shall have the right to speak again to our generation. These men are dying while they live, yet where is our compassion for them? There is nothing more ugly than an orthodoxy without understanding or without compassion. (36)

We may shake our heads at philosophers and artists who committed suicide in despair or were paralyzed by paranoia and dismiss them as crazy, but their views, though diluted, are part and parcel of society today. These men sat and thought about these things long and hard, to the point where they honestly believed it didn’t matter if they killed themselves. There are no absolutes, no real reasons to do any particular thing.

Some people we know also view life in this way. “Already men are part way to the Gospel, for they too believe that man is dead, dead in the sense of being meaningless. Christanity alone gives the reason for this meaninglessness, that their revolt has separated them from God who exists, and thus gives them the true explanation of the position to which they have come” (47). There is an explanation for the despair they feel. Christianity is brutally realistic. Paul says that if the resurrection of Christ didn’t happen, then let’s eat and drink, for tomorrow we die (1 Corinthians 15:32). But that’s not the end of the story: there is an answer. And it is Good News to weak, weary, despondent souls.

To be glad in one sense that men like Dylan Thomas have ended by weeping, does not mean that we should not be filled with compassion for our fellow men. To live below the line of despair is not to live in paradise, whether that of a fool or any other kind. It is in a real sense to have a foretaste of hell now, as well as the reality in the life to come…Should we not grieve and cry before God for such people? (46-47)

I love how Schaeffer seeks secular knowledge not just to contend against the false teachings of the world but to have compassion for the lost. As my last semester of college draws ever closer to the end, I hope that the things I have learned inside and outside of the classroom, of ideas and of people, will enlarge my heart for the lost sheep.

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5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Michael on February 23, 2009 at 8:52 PM

    I think it’s a very real and pervasive problem in today’s evangelical society to not consider the effects of such thinking in all aspects of our faith, not just theology. We tend to forget that many of those “lost sheep” and even the ones that are found have been under such thinking, consciously or sub-consciously, and do not take into effect that we need to teach in ways that envelope the need for essence but that the essence people are searching for is only in Christ. Soul is a fusion of heart, mind, and body. I remember hearing a good quote about this from Pastor Piper I think, or P.Mike. “The heart cannot believe what the mind cannot perceive.”

  2. I share your love for Schaeffer’s work. He was amazing. I reblogged this article.

  3. […] Francis Schaeffer and the God who is there […]

  4. […] Francis Schaeffer has written extensively on art and culture spanning the last 2000 years and here are some posts I have done on this subject before : Francis Schaeffer’s “How should we then live?” Video and outline of episode 10 “Final Choices” , episode 9 “The Age of Personal Peace and Affluence”, episode 8 “The Age of Fragmentation”, episode 7 “The Age of Non-Reason” , episode 6 “The Scientific Age” , episode 5 “The Revolutionary Age” ,  episode 4 “The Reformation”,  episode 3 “The Renaissance”, episode 2 “The Middle Ages,”, and  episode 1 “The Roman Age,” . My favorite episodes are number 7 and 8 since they deal with modern art and culture primarily.(Joe Carter rightly noted, “Schaeffer—who always claimed to be an evangelist and not a philosopher—was often criticized for the way his work oversimplified intellectual history and philosophy.” To those critics I say take a chill pill because Schaeffer was introducing millions into the fields of art and culture!!!! !!! More people need to read his works and blog about them because they show how people’s worldviews affect their lives!!!!) […]

  5. […] Francis Schaeffer has written extensively on art and culture spanning the last 2000 years and here are some posts I have done on this subject before : Francis Schaeffer’s “How should we then live?” Video and outline of episode 10 “Final Choices” , episode 9 “The Age of Personal Peace and Affluence”, episode 8 “The Age of Fragmentation”, episode 7 “The Age of Non-Reason” , episode 6 “The Scientific Age” , episode 5 “The Revolutionary Age” ,  episode 4 “The Reformation”,  episode 3 “The Renaissance”, episode 2 “The Middle Ages,”, and  episode 1 “The Roman Age,” . My favorite episodes are number 7 and 8 since they deal with modern art and culture primarily.(Joe Carter rightly noted, “Schaeffer—who always claimed to be an evangelist and not a philosopher—was often criticized for the way his work oversimplified intellectual history and philosophy.” To those critics I say take a chill pill because Schaeffer was introducing millions into the fields of art and culture!!!! !!! More people need to read his works and blog about thembecause they show how people’s worldviews affect their lives!!!!) […]

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