Cormac McCarthy wrote a post-apocalypse book called the The Road that was turned into a movie last year. In his vision, we see a world where few people have survived, the planet is dying, and the few people who remain are cruel. It’s hell on earth. The main plot involves a dying father trying to get his boy safely across America to what he hopes will be safety. He fails. One of the quotes from the movie could be the tagline for the story:
“There is no God, and we are his prophets.”
Here are some of those prophets in a world without God:
We must build our lives upon “the firm foundation of unyielding despair.” – Bertrand Russell
“Modern man does not feel the chasm that unceasingly surrounds him and that will certainly engulf him at last...” - Ernst Bloch
But the prophets are not just philosophers in universities. There are plenty of prophets in pop culture too. Smashing Pumpkins’ 1994 “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” voted as one of the top 100 Rock Songs of All Time by VH1, states:
And I still believe that I cannot be saved
Despite all my rage am I still just a rat in a cage
Linkin Park wrote “In The End” in 2002. (It was the second Most Successful Rock/Alternative song between 2000 and 2010). Their conclusion about a relationship gone wrong seems symbolic for a world equally daunting:
I tried so hard and got so far
I had to fall to lose it all
McCarthy also wrote a play called The Sunset Unlimited (recently made into a movie starring Samuel L. Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones). In it, a ex-convict Christian stops an atheistic college professor from throwing himself in front of a train. The rest of the play involves the Christian trying to provide hope to the atheist. It ends badly. The atheist concludes:
“The shadow of the axe hangs over every joy. Every road ends in death, every friendship, every love. Torment, lost, betrayal, pain, suffering, age, indignity, hideous lingering illness... and all of it with a single conclusion. For you and everyone and everything you have ever chosen to care for… Perhaps I want forgiveness, but there's no one to ask it of. And there's no going back, there's no setting things right, there's only the hope of nothingness.”
And at the end of the play, he leaves to kill himself, engulfed at last by the chasm. In the end it didn’t even matter.
DESPAIR IS A SHARED HUMAN EXPERIENCE. I know this is grim, but the Bible doesn’t shy away from recording despair.
- Solomon in Ecclesiastes sounds like he understood Bertrand Russell’s “firm foundation of unyielding despair.”
- Job wanted to die, and the Bible records it all. I can almost hear, “I tried so hard and got so far, but in the end it doesn’t even matter.”
- Gideon, a great warrior, gave up and hid on a farm until an angel went and got him. Despite all his rage he was still just a farmer in a barn, hiding while his nation was dying.
- Naomi said to Ruth, “It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD’s hand has turned against me!” Sounds like she felt something of the chasm that she believed surrounded her.
We know these stories have happy endings because we read the biblical stories in hindsight. Solomon finds true wisdom; Job’s life and health are restored; Gideon leads God’s people out of bondage; the story of Ruth and Naomi has become one of the great stories of love, companionship, and hope. I think it’s easy for us to forget that they didn’t know at the time how the story would end.
I grew up in the South. I spent my formative years listening to spirituals, and it’s a style of music that doesn’t look away from these seasons of life. “Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on and help me stand, I am tired, I am weak, I am worn….”