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Moral Dilemma
Objections Noted and Overruled

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The popular song “Is That All There Is?” was recorded by Peggy Lee and released in 1969. It reached number 11 in the U.S. Pop Singles Chart. The song was composed by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and based on a short story, “Disillusionment,” written in 1896 by Thomas Mann. Wikipedia notes:

Most of the words used in the song’s verses are taken verbatim from the narrator’s words in Mann’s story.

It is a song of Nihilism, or the idea that life is essentially meaningless. It is an outworking of the ideas of philosopher Frederick Nietzsche, who exerted great influence on Thomas Mann. Nietzsche argued there is no God, and that life is essentially pointless. The lyrics of the song takes the listener through a series of life events – the fire that destroys the family home, an outing to the circus, and finding a love that does not end well. Each verse is spoken and after each event the chorus is sung:

Is that all there is
Is that all there is
If that’s all there is, my friends
Then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

It is the eternal question which prompts and is answered from four other questions. Where did I come from? (Origins) Why am I here? (Meaning) Why should I live any particular way at all? (Morality) and Where am I going when I die?” (Destiny). If human beings are simply products of evolution, coming from nowhere, living a few short meaningless years and going to nothingness, life is pointless. We are nothing going nowhere. Carl Sagan famously said, “The cosmos is within us. We are made of star stuff,” merely the residue of exploding stars, an idea which Joni Mitchell glamorized and popularized in her 1969 song, “Woodstock”:

We are stardust
Billion year old carbon
We are golden
Caught in the devil’s bargain
And we’ve got to get ourselves
back to the garden

The last verse and final chorus of “Is That All There Is?” is truly the heartbreaking conclusion of a meaningless life:

I know what you must be saying to yourselves
“If that’s the way she feels about it
Why doesn’t she just end it all”
Oh, no, not me
I’m in no hurry for that final disappointment
‘Cause I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you
That when that final moment comes and I’m breathing my last breath
I’ll be saying to myself

Is that all there is
Is that all there is
If that’s all there is, my friends
Then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

The question of what if anything happens after we breathe our last is a question which has plagued – and often terrified – mankind down through the centuries. William Shakespeare plays with the question in Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy. Would it be better to commit suicide than to live though the dreadful trials and tribulations of this life? Death, Hamlet muses, is:

a consummation devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep. To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub; for in that sleep of death what dreams may come

Indeed death, if it is only like sleep, may not be as terrifying except for the contemplation of “what dreams may come” to the one who sleeps. Shakespeare identifies these unknown dreams as “the rub.” Hamlet then comes to the essence of the dilemma, that certainly many of us would kill ourselves if it were not for the terrible fear of what may come afterwards, what those “dreams” could possibly turn out to be. After all, muses Shakespeare, none of the dead have returned to give us an account.

But that the dread of something after death, the undiscover’d country from whose bourn No traveller returns, puzzles the will, and makes us rather bear those ills we have than fly to others that we know not of? Thus, conscience does make cowards of us all.

No man has returned from the “undiscover’d country,” in other words, but our consciences tell us that what we deserve cannot possibly be anything favorable. That is of course why the idea of nihilism with complete non-existence after death has earned such popularity among human beings. However, this idea has the side effect of making one’s life completely pointless. If Frederick Nietzsche, Thomas Mann, Peggy Lee, Joni Mitchell, and Sagan are correct, there really is no point in living. We are living through the nightmare of “all there is” and it isn’t a pretty sight.

The Apostle Paul concurs with Peggy Lee that if  this life is all there is, we should just party on bravely, grabbing all the gusto that we can:

“Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32)

But herein lies “the rub” of that philosophy – life is not completely made up of such pleasures as eating, drinking, parties, and such; therefore, pain cannot be avoided and/or dulled to any satisfactory level. That being obviously true, we are brought back full circle to the Shakespearian question as to why any of us would continue on in such pain and distress, not even to mention such frustration, that life inevitably brings to us all. Life is very difficult, so Hamlet was correct in pointing out that “the fear of what might come next” is likely a strong deterrent to suicide, though some do resort to it.

But Shakespeare was wrong on an especially important point, when he refers to death as “the undiscover’d country from whose bourn No traveller returns.” Someone did come back from the undiscovered country of death. We are entering the season of celebration concerning the only person Who did return from “the undiscover’d country,” whose birth among men brought “tidings of great joy to all people” – and hope to overcome our greatest fear and enemy, death. The Creator of all that exists took on human nature and incarnated in the womb of a young virgin girl and born in Bethlehem. He is known as Yeshua Hamashiach or Jesus the Christ. He existed as a man on earth approximately 33 years and lived a perfect life which none of us is even slightly capable of living, but which is God’s requirement for entering into an eternal life of happiness and peace. Since we cannot earn our entrance into the eternal kingdom, He offers to us the greatest gift of all – a crediting to our account of His own righteous perfection. He came to earth specifically to die to pay our debt of sin and grant us the reward that He Himself earned by living a perfect life. And, by His glorious resurrection after three days in the grave, He defeated our enemy death.

Back to Shakespeare for a moment, he rightly reminded us that our own consciences make cowards of us all. We all know to the depth of our being the penalty that God has imposed on lying, cheating, stealing, hating, murderous, idol-worshiping, rebellious, immoral, self-serving people – which pretty much describes humanity in a nutshell – and are inwardly aware of the certainty of His coming judgment. The human conscience is an immensely powerful thing, even in those who would wish to invalidate its work. Jesus very effectively used the consciences of the Pharisees to defeat their own bloodlust, when they were filled with self-righteous fervor to stone a woman caught in adultery. He merely asked them to consult their own consciences, so that the one without sin could throw the first stone. But, when forced to look inward, their consciences “made cowards of them all” and they slunk away, ashamed.

Individually, we know better than anyone that we are sinners, under condemnation for the things we have done, regardless of any show of goodness we may wrap ourselves in and project to others. But thanks be to God, we need no longer fear death and judgment because Jesus has borne that penalty for all who will believe on Him, accepting His forgiveness and full pardon.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1 ESV

Believers in Jesus Christ inherit eternal life, so there is no longer a reason to fear the death of the body. The people who do have legitimate reason to fear death are those who reject Him and His offered pardon, because they will sadly inherit eternal death. Eternal death means eternal separation from God and His goodness, existing in a place of torment. It is a fearful thing, and we would beg people to consider thoughtfully, because no person need choose that option. God gives us all complete freedom of choice.

Many people would deny there is any such choice to be made. They claim to believe, as we have pointed out, that human beings are merely “candles in the wind,” and their personal curtain comes down when that candle goes out. Stardust, they may choose to believe, is both our origin and our destiny. But what reason can they offer for the great unease which envelopes them when they see the “candle” flickering?

1 Corinthians 15:35-54 is a rather long passage about the resurrection, which culminates in Paul cheerfully “singing” about death:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.
 O death, where is your victory?
 O death, where is your sting?”
 
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

If you have never chosen to accept Christ’s offer of forgiveness and eternal life, please consider making that choice today.

You can receive full forgiveness and eternal life by simply recognizing that Jesus is God, that He died to pay your debt and rose from the dead, and then calling upon His name. It is a free gift.

For by grace, you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no man may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)

It is Christmas time. God’s greatest gift of all time is offered to you, but gifts must be received.

But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12 ESV)

A gift left on the table will never be yours. Please do not reject God’s gift this Christmas. Ω

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Moral Dilemma
Objections Noted and Overruled