John Piper on God and Existentialism

I have just finished listening through a regional conference that Piper did on the topic of not wasting your life. I have to say this is some of the finest lectures I have heard. I have been chewing on it for days. here are some remarks that he shared about his coming to know the Lord and I relate to them and my story is very similar to his.

“So I have a passion to not waste my life and a fear that it not happen. And there is a massive assumption behind this passion and this fear.

There is a reason, a purpose, a why that we exist that we do not create. It is given to us by our Creator. Our calling is to find it out and to do it.

In my college days, as I explored more, I simply could not embrace the vogue of existentialism.

The mantra of that movement was “Existence precedes essence,” which upheld the idea that there is no objective reality outside of me that defines my essence and to which my existence should conform. I define myself by choosing the way I exist. (This movement stemmed from thinkers such as Camus, Sartre, and Nietzsche, with his claim that God is dead. Cf. April 8, 1966 Time Magazine cover: “Is God Dead?”)

But I could not reduce the greatest realities to chemical reactions. Whether beauty, or love, or evil, or goodness, I couldn’t conclude that these were no more than a chemical reaction on a par with a complicated spider web.

Even the problem of evil, the problem of suffering had the reverse effect on me. Instead of making me doubt the existence of God, the very fact that it was a problem—that evil was morally repugnant—prevented me from writing it off as nothing more than a purely biological response.

In the midst of the most horrific evil and suffering our heart screams, “No! This is evil!” At that very moment the naturalistic, atheistic heart fails.

The purely naturalistic mind must say that this outrage we feel on account of evil is the same kind of thing as a headache. It is physical. It is chemical. It is a sophisticated working of nerves like the instincts of beavers who know how to build dams.

I could not embrace that. Neither can you in any consistent way. Therefore, I held to Reality with a capital R. God had me trapped. I had to conclude that something outside me created me and defines me.

If I do not find out what the Reality is that created me and defines me is, then I will have wasted my life.

What that Reality is was settled for me early in my life, and I have never forsaken this gift. The Reality that created me and defines me is Jesus Christ. Paul affirmed it:

By him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. (17) And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-18)

I came to trust Paul’s witness.” – John Piper

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