The Special of the Day… From the Orange Moon Cafe…
(a repeat and update from 2014)
"Did (Does) Joe Exist?"
I frequently raise the question when speaking at funeral services, "Does the deceased (we'll call him Joe) still exist?" That is, does Joe still possess consciousness and awareness of being? Or, did the cessation of physical brain activity and heartbeat put an end to Joe?" (other than the old aphorism, 'Well, ole Joe will always live on in our memories and hearts!' - nice for us, maybe, but it doesn't do much for Joe!).
Recently, I've added another question to the consideration: "Did Joe ever exist?" That is, did Joe exist according to the normal understanding and perception of personal reality whereby all human beings define the sensibilities of "I am... you are...he is… we are?" Was Joe more than merely matter?
The materialist must answer in the negative:
"No, Joe never existed as more than matter. He was rather the product of an unconscious physical process that united trillions of what might be called 'Joe atoms' during a relatively brief span of life, resulting in a temporary physical structure composed of form and force. Electrical impulses and chemical combinations dancing through the structure of Joe's brain resulted in a facsimile of 'consciousness.' This awareness of himself, others, and the universe, however, actually existed as part of the physical system in which Joe was temporarily a part. No matter how much it appeared otherwise, that's all there was to Joe."
According to this view, Joe existed as far more as a thing than a person. The materialist must acknowledge the inescapable inference of his perspective, namely, personhood does not exist according to the accepted meaning intuitively held by all human beings. Indeed, the materialist must affirm that he himself does not actually exist in the personal terms every human being perceives and understands. We are things - complex things, no doubt - but things no less than a rock or a leaf are things.
Conversely, Christians believe that a part of Joe - the very heart of Joe - actually existed (and still exists) as a being composed of more than matter. We maintain that a transcendent reality serves as the source and sustenance of material realities. The Bible refers to such "substance" as spirit, or that which exists apart from the material structure of the universe. The Lord Jesus Christ declared that "God is a Spirit" (John 4:24). Scripture also defines humanity in terms of the spiritual, and furthermore affirms that other such beings exist, known as angels (I Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 1:14). Atoms do not compose the spiritual substance and being of who we most deeply are. Those who hold to this view of Joe readily affirm his existence in these terms, maintaining that the essence of Joe was, is, and will always be. "I know that whatsoever God doeth, it shall be forever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before Him" (Ecclesiastes 3:14).
The believer comfortably resides with this common understanding of personhood, affirming the consciousness that includes freedom, thought, self awareness, and moral sensibility that exist as something more than physical reality. The materialist, conversely, finds himself trapped in an unavoidable conundrum. He lives life as if he and others are more than matter. He thinks, emotes, relates, decides, and views his existence in an awareness perceived and experienced as transcendently spiritual, moral, and relational. He views himself and others in personal terms. He makes choices believed to be real and freely determined. He bears some form of moral compass within his thoughts and emotional sensibilities. Indeed, he feels like something more than merely the matter of the world in which he finds himself. He knows that he conciously exists, but he maintains that a mindless, inconscious universe led to his existence and awareness. The materialist cannot escape this reality pressed upon him by the nature of things, and even more, by the intuitive realities that transcend things. His thoughts and manic devotion to materialism drive him to this conundrum and its discomfort. Little wonder materialists so often seem distressed and unhappy!
Joe was more than matter. He is more than matter. His spirit lives on, either joyfully in the presence of the Lord Jesus who redeemed him by grace through faith, or unhappily because he rejected this freest of all gifts and the most Divinely revealed of all truths. Does Joe still exist? Absolutely! Did he ever exist? The answer seems so obvious as to require no mention, both to the materialist and to the believer. Indeed, despite stated denial of the truth by some, every human being knows he is something more - much more - than matter. Moreover, the Spirit of God bears witness to all that somebody made us, Somebody much more than matter. Believers can and must be confident as we declare to all the unavoidable truth that continually bears witness to the source of an existence that is eternal rather than temporal, transcendent rather than transient, spiritual as well as physical, and meaningful because Joe - like all of us - was and is more than matter.
"The things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal."
(II Corinthians 4:18)
"In Him, we live and move and have our being."
Weekly Memory Verse
I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be forever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before Him."