Why Reality Has Consequences

Ideas have consequences.

Elections have consequences.

More importantly, reality has consequences.

So why are we so eager to ignore reality?

For instance, there is a common conceit that all people are basically good. But reality is more subversive. Yes, God made us good. After all, we bear his image and are designed for his good purposes. Our intelligence, strength, passions, and sociability enable us to accomplish extraordinary feats. If we were not good in this sense, it would not matter if we were not so moral.

Yet, as G. K. Chesterton so neatly observed, “Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.” The reality of a pervasive bent towards selfishness and pride, in all their socially respectable and disreputable forms, is easy enough to see.

This reality has consequences. It implies that any salvation will need to be a gift and cannot be earned. That our redemption will involve our repentance. That a new life could never make us better than others, only grateful recipients. And that any genuine turn to God will involve far more than craving prosperity, accepting an argument, or vocalizing a scripted prayer. Salvation will have to go so deep into the human experience that it replaces our fundamental self-love with—what will remain an eternal surprise—a greater love for our heavenly Father.

This reality has consequences in every other aspect of human existence. Our general moral deterioration should yield useful predictions about the expected behavior of the powerful, whether we are reviewing the economy or taking stock while waiting in line at a local bureaucratic branch. I’ve found that reflecting on this sober reality consistently yields valuable insights.

Reality with No God

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Reality also has consequences when it comes to the question of God. Sometimes I observe (and have naively participated in) conversations about God’s existence that pleasantly assume we are all homo rationalis—rational men—equally interested in the truth of the matter.

But of course, if there is no God, this changes the game entirely. For one, we wouldn’t be made in the image of the non-existent God. We would be, at best, the hardscrabble result of an intensely competitive, high stakes game called “survival of the fittest.” As philosopher Alvin Plantinga explains:

If naturalism is true, there is no God, and hence no God (or anyone else) overseeing our development and orchestrating the course of our evolution. And this leads directly to the question whether it is at all likely that our cognitive faculties, given naturalism and given their evolutionary origin, would have developed in such a way as to be reliable, to furnish us with mostly true beliefs. Darwin himself expressed this doubt: “With me,” he said, “the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”

It’s a nice fiction to pretend we’re all equally invested in believing the truth. This is a basic assumption in polite society. But if there’s no God, then humans aren’t “designed” to know truth. Or perhaps we’re meant to know the truth, but remain sadly unable to consistently acquire it, or are limited in our capacity to do so on great, abstract topics like the existence of God. Or, maybe we can know the truth, but there is no moral obligation to do so, and choosing to perpetuate lies is literally no better than deciding for what is right. If rationality conflicts with my survival, then throw it off the lifeboat; let’s live another day

By contrast, if the triune God of the Scriptures reigns in heaven, that reality will have consequences as well. “I believe that Jesus is my Savior” is a declaration of allegiance. Though painfully hindered by self-love and self-deception, all who claim such allegience can legitimately be aided in their rational search to find God by prayer, church attendance, Bible reading, miracles, and the gracious kindness of the Holy Spirit. To neglect these resources is like trying to fly around the world blindfolded. If there exists a loving God who can remove the veil, and directly show himself to you, why not go that route?

Story of Reality

Reality has consequences. If only ideas had consequences, then perhaps theologians would be the most moral, reasonable, and respected members of our society. Instead, it seems knowing what is right or true is a different kind of thing than being right or true. Perhaps you and I could team up and win an argument against your grandma. But chances are she’s got us all beat at loving and serving people. Conversely, we all know brilliant people who can make any wrong idea seem reasonable, and eventually their lives reflect how easily they deceive themselves and others. 

Reality has consequences. Who you choose to be, how you choose to live, what you choose to believe—these are all weighty decisions. Powerful trends in our culture make light of ideas and tend toward the trivialization of life. But our lives matter. If the Christian story is the story of reality, then our lives matter so much that God became human, lived a perfect life, died on the cross for our sins, rose on the third day, ascended into heaven, and will one day come again to fully establish his kingdom. The reality of your life choices had consequences. It led to the reality of God in Christ dying, out of love for you, to rescue you.

Reality has consequences. Thank God, the greatest reality for your life is that the triune God of the universe loves you.

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