It cannot be often that Kim Kardashian, Karl Popper and King Solomon are all quoted in the same book. Nonetheless, these three are among the 800-plus references in John Blanchard’s new exploration of the old philosophical question, ‘Why are we here?’
As ever, he writes in an erudite yet conversational tone. His style is immediately engaging and clear, academic but not technical, thoughtful but not obscure.
Refuting the trendy and tricky philosophy of relativism, he deftly writes: ‘If there is no absolute truth, how can we know that postmodernism itself is true? The whole idea trips over its own feet’ (p.16).
What of the content itself? The book begins with a chapter on the scientist Stephen Hawking. In a recent documentary, Hawking declared that supposed meanings to life were simply constructs of the mind: ‘meaning’ was merely what one chose it to be. It was this view, Blanchard reveals, which incited him to write this book.
The shortcomings of science in answering transcendent questions of meaning are then explored. Next, the author presents arguments that the universe, in the light of its grandeur, calls for a designer and creator. Here I noticed he carefully avoided taking a stance on the question of the age of creation. His focus was on the fact rather than the means or timing of creation.
Nonetheless, Darwinian evolution is repudiated in the following chapter, before the ubiquitous human desire for meaning is charted in the chapter ‘The restless search’. Sticking more with philosophy than theology, Blanchard proceeds to outline the aspects of humanity which make it distinct from the animal kingdom. Among other factors, these include our sense of dignity, self-consciousness and moral dimension.
At this point I realised that a fair amount of material from Blanchard’s earlier apologetic work (such as Does God believe in atheists?) was being revisited. Readers should be aware that familiar ground rather than new territory is often the focus.
‘People die. That’s life’. This quotation from the film Schindler’s list is used by Blanchard in a chapter exploring how the inevitability of death informs the meanings given to life. The chapter encourages readers to lift their eyes beyond the here-and-now in order to find the true source of meaning and fulfilment.
Indeed, like a welcome dawn following night, the book moves from the chapter on death to a beginner’s guide to the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, who he is and why he came. It is from this point (the final quarter of the book) that the biblical answer to the title’s question is presented: ‘We were created by God and for God, and we will never have life in its right perspective until we grasp this’ (p.194).
All-in-all, this is a well-written and fascinating read. It is showered with a range of different anecdotes and references from interviews, films, songs and books. A great strength is that it does not presume readers to be knowledgeable of Christianity. Blanchard appeals to common sense as much as Holy Scripture to make his points.
Although ideally suited to newcomers and thoughtful sceptics, this will also help mature Christians understand the philosophical poverty of life without God and the spiritual richness of life with him.