Everything Means Everything, an excerpt from “Is Atheism Dead”

December 23, 2021

This excerpt is from Chapter 30, “Everything Means Everything” from my book IS ATHEISM DEAD?

Does not the idea that we long for meaning tell us something—or everything—about who we are and how we are made and by whom? Does not our deep longing for meaning in our own lives and for the meaning of life itself not tell us that we were created for meaning, and that without it we can hardly live

In his incomparably beautiful book Chance or the Dance?, author Thomas Howard talks about these things. The book is written in some of the most gorgeous prose I have ever read, and in a series of short essays it provides a critique of what Howard calls “modern secularism” by contrasting it with the “medieval Christian view.” He is really only contrasting atheism and a simple biblical view, but Howard reckons that the Christendom of Medieval Western Europe was the fullest cultural expression of the latter. I am inclined to agree with him, and with C. S. Lewis, too, whom Howard met and from whom he got many of his ideas (just as I knew and loved Tom and got many of my own ideas from him).

In the book he asks some of the questions we have been asking here. But his central question is whether the modern secular view—which is atheistic, materialistic, and reductionist—is correct, or whether the biblical view is. Can it be that there is only matter and more matter and nothing more than matter? Can it be that the music of that midnight trumpet in the midst of war was merely sound waves pointing to nothing, but which those who heard them imagined were pointing to something? Can it be that the Grand Canyon is just a big hole, and that our reaction to it is the reaction we have been programmed to have through eons of evolution, but which really means nothing except that some chemicals have been released in us for reasons we don’t know yet and that make us feel a certain way for reasons we also don’t know yet? In Chance or the Dance? Tom Howard says no. He says that everything actually means more than what it is, and he says that everything in creation somehow points beyond itself, and ultimately points all the way to God.

If a secularist believes that nothing points beyond itself, nor “means” anything, we could say they believe that “Nothing means anything.” But how might one sum up the Christian view? What is the opposite of “Nothing means anything”? Would it be “Everything means something”? Perhaps. And if “everything means something,” then it follows that “Nothing means nothing.”

So let’s settle on the first of these, since it implies the second. “Everything means something.” But Tom Howard in his genius says that even that is not quite enough. He says that the polar opposite of the dreary secular view “Nothing means anything” would really need to be “Everything means everything.” Or better yet, to capture the inescapably exultant reality of the idea, “Everything means everything!” In other words, the opposite of a Godless and dead universe where meaning does not exist is a universe so entirely suffused with meaning that not only does everything mean something, but everything means everything. Everything in creation somehow points to everything else in creation.

Somehow—in God’s impossible economy—everything is connected. Somehow. Through him. And because the good and beauty and truth in each thing points to him, it reflects off him and points back to every other good and beautiful and true thing that exists. It is a dizzying concept, and it is so magnificent that even those of us who believe life has meaning don’t often think about how much meaning it has because it can be too much to take in. It can be unbearably beautiful and heartbreaking. It undoes us. But it is meant to undo us, too.

Because God who has made us in his image has created all of creation to point us to himself in every conceivable way. We are not incidental to what he has done. We are central to it. Which makes us see that his love for us is so impossibly and unimaginably great that it really is infinitely too much for us to bear. If he did not shield us from it in some way, it would really and truly undo us. It would destroy us. Imagine a goodness so good and a beauty so beautiful and a truth so true and a light so white and so impossibly and blindingly bright that apart from God’s infinite love and mercy sheltering us from it, we could not bear it even for a moment. And then imagine a God who shows us his infinite love and mercy precisely so we can bear it—and not just for a moment, but for all eternity.


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