Reformed Reflections

From the Pastor's Desk (1989 - 1993)

Theatre of the Absurd

In Jean Paul Satre's play, No Exit two women and a man are confined to a room devoid of windows on the larger world and a room which they cannot escape. They are without hope.

Satre called life "absurd". Macbeth called it "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Bertrand Russell,whose History of Western philosophy I had to read for a course in philosophy, expressed a conviction that "no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; and that all the labour of the ages, all the devotion, all the aspiration, all the noon day brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and the whole temple of man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins."

Russell's vision of despair is shared by most modern authors and most modern life. But, life without hope cannot survive very long. If the grim reaper ends all, does life still have purpose? If death has the last word, we might as well say of life "all is vanity." Christians, on the other hand, have a message of hope. On Easter Day we celebrate hope. This hope is more than a continued existence in the spirit world. Our hope is not a mere endless series of reincarnations as the New Age teaches. There is no hope apart from Jesus Christ. When Christ died on the cross, hope appeared crucified. The disciples were confused, frightened and heart broken. On Easter, they became transformed. Christ had walked out of the grave. The resurrection was not "a conjuring trick with bones", and the risen Lord is "neither corpse nor ghost." Christ's resurrection was a physical, tangible, objective, historical event. If Christ had not risen, His death would have been an utterly wasteful failure. The apostle Paul testified to this fact," If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith" (I Cor.15:14). Doubting Thomas saw Christ in His glorified body and confessed Him as his Lord and his God. After the disciples had met their risen Lord their hearts were filled with joy. Their despair was gone. And after Pentecost, they went into the world to preach the Gospel of Christ crucified and risen.


Viktor Franks wrote in The Unheard Cry For Meaning, "Consider today's society: it gratifies and satisfies virtually every need-except for one, the need for meaning! One may say that some needs are even created by today's society; yet the need for meaning remains unfulfilled-in the midst of and in spite of all our affluence." This feeling of meaningless is new. The influence of Ionesco and like-minded authors made the absurd a philosophy of life for many. If we must accept death as final than any meaningful existence is impossible. This feeling leads to despair and fatalism. /True. In the past, people also saw and experienced absurdities. But they believed that what one cannot understand is not necessarily without meaning. Because they considered life meaningful, they were prepared to suffer or offer sacrifices.

For the Christian life is not absurd. The Gospel judges the absurd. God reaches out to sinners, alienated from Him (Rom.3:10-12). Through Christ we are reconciled to God the Father. Because of His resurrection, death has been overcome and we are heirs to eternal life. And what we do on earth for the Lord is not in vain (1 Cor.15:58). But the Christian life is also more than a preparatory school for heaven. The Bible, especially the Old Testament, concentrates on our earthly duties. What gives purpose to our existence is the fact that we are God's co-labourers here on earth (1 Cor.3:9). God's gracious will for our life gives meaning. The relationship between God and man is fundamental. The meaning of my life is that I am a partner in God's covenant, the small friend on earth of the great Friend in heaven. I may live here as a child of God to the glory of His Name.

Not only modern authors speak about absurdity; the Bible also refers to it. Sin is absurd. The Bible calls the unbeliever foolish (Ps.14:1). The foolishness of sin makes the seemingly absurdity of the cross necessary. Paul writes, "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor.1:18). As Christians we don't have all the answers to life's absurdities. The whole book of Job deals with the painful questions of suffering, loss and death. Yet Job could still say, "I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God" (Job"19:24f). Over against the pessimism of the Theatre of the Absurd we place the Gospel of Hope, which proclaims "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!"(Phil.4:4).

Our hope is the risen Christ. We will not merely survive death, but be raised from it. We too will be given new bodies. We will have a body like His. "And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man (Adam), so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven (Christ)"(l Cor.15:4g). Christ has risen. As He has risen so shall we rise on the day when history ends. Christians are people of hope.

Johan D. Tangelder