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Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Thursday, 25 September 2014

If life is an accident, can we celebrate it as a gift?

I was watching a TV show the other day in which one of the people on it said that even if we believe that there is no God and that life is no more than an accident, we can still celebrate it as a gift.

This confused me a little.

Accidents don't give gifts.

So presumably celebrating life as a gift (for the accident believer) is celebrating life as if it were a gift (when, in fact, it is not).

However, to celebrate life as if it were a gift is presumably to celebrate it as if there were a giver. The problem is that if you don't believe that there was a giver, why would you treat life as if there was? This seems to amount to rejecting the claim that God is real but then proceeding to treat life as if you had not rejected that claim. That's quite a tricky tension to maintain. One can only suppose that the reason for it is that treating life as a meaningless accident is not the best way to live it well.

God, eh! You can't live with him and you can't live without him. Dang!

7 comments:

Terry Wright said...

This isn't an especially thought-through response, but I guess you could take the word 'gift' as a kind of description or recognition of one's contingency. There may be no giver, but you could still receive life as a gift, if by this you're implying you have something that you didn't have or needn't have. Of course, this may be stretching things a bit!

Robin Parry said...

Thanks Terry

That helps my feeble brain to "get" it a bit more. So the idea is that:

1. I am alive,
2. I do not have to be alive
3. I am glad that I am alive

I think that this is indeed what people are probably saying.

My continuing problem is that the analogy of life as a "gift" doesn't quite fit that response. Being happy that I am alive is one thing, being grateful that I am alive is something more.

Implicit in the idea of gratitude is the notion of one to whom I am grateful. If you take away the object of one's gratitude then one is left only with the joy—which is indeed a good thing—but not gratitude.

On the plus side, using the analogy of gratitude does more than express how the accident believer feels—it actually serves to generate new possibilities, namely, the possibility that there may indeed be One to whom gratitude is due.

Terry Wright said...

Yes, I agree. I can imagine that when Genesis talks about people beginning to call on the name of the Lord that there's a suggestion here that people are becoming aware of something transcendent. I dare say that atheists or agnostics could still be grateful to something outside of themselves in a way that reflects an awareness of transcendence, though. Perhaps what's needed is for Christians to point out to these folk what they worship as an unknown God. :)

Billy North said...

Gratitude vs. Joy.

Hmmm... I like that.

RonH said...

Bart Ehrman says something along these lines in God's Problem when he talks about what is, for him, the hardest part about being an atheist: "The problem is this: I have such a fantastic life that I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for it; I am fortunate beyond words. But I don’t have anyone to express my gratitude to. This is a void deep inside me, a void of wanting someone to thank, and I don’t see any plausible way of filling it."

G. K. Chesterton said, "If [a man] can manage to be thankful when there is nobody to be thankful to, and no good intentions to be thankful for, then he is simply taking refuge in being thoughtless in order to avoid being thankless." (Autobiography, ch. 16).

For Chesterton, this deep, intrinsic, universal need to be thankful was highly significant. It was a primary reason he became a Christian.

Andrew Peterson has a fantastic song about this: Don't You Want To Thank Someone"

Robin Parry said...

RonH

Thanks so much—that is all really helpful and interesting.

Robin

Robin Parry said...

RonH

The lyrics to that song are fabulous! YES

Robin