The world around us has been influenced by many ideas — some good, some bad, and some simply not well considered and shockingly malformed. These ideas (baked or half-baked) float in the currents of our culture — seemingly lending weight to our opinions when we avoid the harsh light of reason. The music we listen to, the movies and television, even the commercials we watch, start with premises and progress to conclusions whether we fully realize it or not. The Beatles’ music influenced many modern artists, but they to were influenced by a point in time and that time’s culture; passing on ideas and capturing them in musical prose.
Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky”
—Imagine by The Beatles (1971)
John Lennon was not the first to imagine a world without God, but goes only so far as to say, “I’m a dreamer,” and avoids any critical thinking. So I’m not going to over-analyse his catchy tune, but the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche did more than a sing-along and was quite likely part of the cultural soup that influenced The Beatles.
“God is Dead”
Nietzsche gets right to the point and says, “God is dead.” It’s hard for me to write the words having studied the heavens and done the mathematics that removes all the doubt in my mind and my heart. But Nietzsche is a philosopher and he explores the question as a philosopher. He had an impact on the world around him and the world around you and me — even down to the Super Bowl XLVII commercials (which will carry forward their own payload though time). I wonder what the messages during the entertainment spectacle will be, and what it may say about us.
So who influences a culture and who does not? Lot is an interesting example. Yep, I’m talking about Lot from Genesis 19 (and if you want a little more context read Genesis 18 as well). The site of the destroyed city was near Zoar, near the south-east shore of the Dead Sea.
In the end, the city was destroyed and all who lived there except for Lot and a few members of his family. It would seem that Lot did not impact the city around him. How do we know this? Abraham pleads with God for Sodom. God had told Abraham He is going to destroy Sodom, so Abraham asks God not to destroy the righteous with the wicked. It’s interesting Abraham asks again and again — eventually lowering the count to ten. God agrees to Abraham’s wish: if there are 10 righteous people in the city, He will not destroy it. Why did Abraham stop at ten? Perhaps he was thinking of Lot and his wife, his two daughters and the men they were about to marry. With 6 in his immediate family, all Lot would need to have done over 20+ years is meet with 4 guys, tell them about God, and have them believe. That’s about one guy every five years and Lot’s city wouldn’t have been destroyed!
“They Don’t Care How Much You Know Until They Know How Much You Care”
It seems Lot didn’t have a impact in his city. It seems that Lot’s life, being different, was able to keep his family from burning — but everyone else died! They came pounding on his door to abuse the visitors who were angels sent from God. No one in the city, “cared how much Lot knew after seeing how much he cared.” Even his daughters’ future husbands thought Lot was kidding when he tried to warn them that God was about to destroy the city! This, and the later behavior of his daughters, shows Lot was losing ground in the Spiritual struggle with Sodom — not impacting it. Lot chose Sodom for his economic gain, his comfort, the fertile valley’s plenty, and lost every friend in the city — even his own wife.
If you don’t open your mouth and engage the people God has placed around you, people will die — your wife, your daughters, your friends at work. The young man at the market, the restaurant worker; from the mayor of your town to the homeless man, God has you where you are for a purpose greater than your comfort and more glorious than your work. The lies seep through the ages to this very day and must be countered with God’s Truth.
The Madman by Nietzsche brings an interesting resemblance to Sodom, and a warning to a world that lives as if God is dead. The blind arrogance of the culture and the suicidal foolishness of a world with no anchor moves towards the day of judgement.
Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: ‘I seek God! I seek God!’ — As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated? — Thus they yelled and laughed.
The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. ‘Whither is God?’ he cried; ‘I will tell you. We have killed him — you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.
‘How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us — for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.’
Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. ‘I have come too early,’ he said then; ‘my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars — and yet they have done it themselves.
It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: “What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?'” –Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882, 1887) para. 125; Walter Kaufmann ed. (New York: Vintage, 1974), pp.181-82.
If you feel weak in your faith, if your religious experiences seem lacking, get into God’s Word. Read it daily and prayerfully and ask God questions (to explain the passage, to grow your faith, to lay at your feet the clear mission and how to reach your people). He will answer. You have a choice to make. Will you turn to Nietzsche and Sodom? Will you be untethered from the sun, not knowing up from down, heading every direction and getting nowhere? Or will you turn to God and invest in your walk with Him and save more than yourself from destruction? What did Lot need to do to change the destiny of his whole city? If you don’t feel equipped, then get equipped and practice along the way — don’t wait to tell someone about the saving Grace of Jesus Christ.
What are you going to do, Lot?