A friend told me about a billboard along a local freeway, which reads: “Are you happy without God in your life? Millions are.”
I found this question (and the fact that someone paid thousands to advertise it) so intriguing that I went online searching for the group that might have sponsored it. I’m not sure but it might have been one of the groups on www.experienceproject.com, which asks visitors to add their experience to the list of “I Am Happy Without God in My Life” stories. Perusing the stories gave way to thoughts about the question. Is it possible for a person to be truly happy without God?
Yes and no. Certainly there are millions of people who believe they are very happy and content living their lives without God. I have met many and attest that this is so. But from a Christian perspective, there are a couple of issues to deal with here. First, is anyone really living a life without God? The Bible says that whether we realize it or not, God created all of us and holds our lives in the palm of His hand. Additionally, God gives sunshine and rain to the earth, which enable life in all its forms. James 1:17 tells us that “every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of Lights,” without respect for whether a person is a believer or not. While I’m sure atheists and many agnostics would disagree, I do not believe anyone on earth is truly living without God.
One of my favorite verses in Scripture is Ecclesiastes 3:11: “God has placed eternity in the hearts of man.” Blaise Pascal elaborated on this idea with this quote from his Pensees: “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and unchangeable object; in other words by God himself.” But perhaps no one said it as simply or eloquently as Augustine in his well-known prayer, “God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.” There is a deep inner part of our being that longs for, and can only be filled with God.
Another issue is perspective. I’ve heard the analogy that living without God is like looking at the back wall of a cave while a parade goes by near the mouth of the cave, and thinking that the shadows you see of the parade – reflected by the sunlight on the back of the cave – is the actual parade itself. From this perspective, the parade would be flat and colorless in comparison to the real thing, but if that was all you ever saw, it would probably seem quite lovely. Am I saying that a life without God is flat and colorless compared to living life with God? Yes, I suppose I am.
What would a world without God really look like? No one really knows (in my opinion) because God is still very much immersed here. There is a lot of debate these days about whether there is a literal hell, and while I do believe in such a place (or dimension), Biblical imagery does not provide a clear description. But one thing is for sure, a world without God – a world without goodness and love – would be a living hell. Whatever hell is, it is a place of misery if for no other reason than God is absent.
Most interesting to me, on the Experience Project website, were the minimal stats presented, presumably telling what percentage of the polled population were happy without God:
52% in their teens
11% in their twenties
16% in their thirties
Kind of hard to see a trend here, but it doesn’t surprise me that over half the teenage population polled stated they are happy without God. Teens are often living on the edge, pushing the limits, without a clue of how miserable their lives really are! Or they are truly in a happy place, buoyed by loving family and friends and great school experiences. Only when they reach their 20s do they discover the more challenging aspects of life and what is expected of them…no wonder the percentage plummets. The slight rise in the 30s may mean people are somewhat happier in the peak of their careers and child-bearing and child-rearing years. But I wonder how the percentages would change as people age past the empty nest years and the elderly years beyond? My guess is that like my dyed-in-the-wool atheist father, they too will start to wonder about the meaning of life, and contentment will wain as doubts about their long-held beliefs and fears about death and eternity set in.
Are people happy without God? I welcome an honest dialog.