Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of His Servant?

The Root of All Sin: Why Atheists Can’t Be Happy

[Note: The  full title should be (it would have been too long): The Root of All Sin: Why Atheists Can't Be Happy and Many Christians Aren't]

Most Christians are familiar with Jesus’ answer to the Pharisee’s question about the greatest commandment. The question and answer are found in Matthew 22: 36b-40.

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him,

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.

And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Based on this text John Piper has a penetrating analysis on the root of all sin. It is worth reproducing below:

“The root of our sinfulness is the desire for our own happiness apart from God and apart from the happiness of others in God…ALL SIN comes from a desire to be happy cut off from the glory of God and cut off from the good of others. The command of Jesus [to love others as yourself] cuts to this root, exposes it, and severs it.”

Piper goes on and equates this root of all sin with PRIDE. At first sight, it is difficult to see the connection, but it is clear that he is on the right path because pride is historically considered the most deadly sin in Christianity (it is the sin that we find in Lucifer himself).

Piper explains the connection:

“Another name for this root of sinfulness is PRIDE. Pride is the presumption that we can be happy without depending on God as the source of happiness and without caring if others find their happiness in God. Pride is the contaminated and corrupted passion to be happy. It is corrupted by two things:

1) The unwillingness to see God as the only fountain of true and lasting joys, and

2) The unwillingness to see other people as designed by God to share our joy in him.

If you take the desire to be happy [which is good and put there by God Himself] and strip away from it God as the fountain of your happiness in God, what you have left is the engine of PRIDE. PRIDE is the pursuit of happiness anywhere but in the glory of God and the good of other people for God’s sake. This is the root of all sin.”

I think that Piper is right on and this analysis was eye-opening for me. Pride has to do with misguided self-love. And this means at least two things:

1) Atheists cannot be happy (for they do not even believe in God who is the real fountain of joy and happiness).

2) “Christians cannot be happy either.” They cannot be happy unless they understand that the greatest commandment can only be made visible in the second. It is not enough to say that you love God, this love must find its true and normal (visible) expression in our love for the neighbor.

Piper explains in greater detail the root of all sin and the path to real happiness. It is a service that he does for every human being. For Pascal was right when he said:

All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end…This is the motive of every action of every man, even for those who hang themselves [of course - this is a classic case of a misguided act of self-love].”

Have you been looking for happiness and satisfaction in the wrong places? Consider going to the Source. All other streams get lost in the desert.

It is worth reading the rest of Piper’s article. See here (chapter 32). He explains very well the importance of God and of loving one’s neighbor.

Jeremiah 2:12-13

Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
SHALOM,

Pastor Chris

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12 responses

  1. I think you need to define what it is to be happy. Its a rather subjective thing happiness, I certainly believe an atheist could be happy as the attributes i associate with the word aren’t needful of a higher power.

    http://www.QuestioCunctus.com

    April 26, 2008 at 4:43 am

  2. Good point for Prez ’24. I did not define the term.
    Maybe I will have a post on this soon.

    Meanwhile – I will give it a basic definition: the desire to live with self-satisfaction.

    A more biblical definition is in Psalm 1 (Happy is the man…), and in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5). You can find these passages in any Bible.

    My favorite expression of happiness (and joy) is in Habbakuk 3: 17-18. It describes a joy that is not affected by external circumstances:

    Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

    Of course – this rejoicing and satisfaction in God (unaffected by external circumstances) is something that an atheist cannot have, since he denies God (the source of joy and real/lasting satisfaction) in the first place.

    April 26, 2008 at 3:19 pm

  3. There are also different variations on atheism. Buddhism is a form of godless(one definition of atheism would apply) religion, and tends to drive home the point of that ‘good’-ness in all creation better than most Christian theories I’m familiar with.

    Self-satisfaction seems counter intuitive to your argument against atheism. Without an invisible hand, you are wholly responsible for your satisfaction; most situations are to some degree your fault that your present at them and your reaction.

    Psalms 1 is impossible to experience if you buy into original sin, but then i suppose thats just the reason a person needs Jesus. Psalms 1 appears to just be a fluffy version of telling you to live the way that makes you happy and without regrets. Following the Lord’s Law becomes more of a failsafe to guide people to a more generous way then they might normally follow without regret.

    Matthew 5 is more of the guide to good living and a bit saying that you’ll be rewarded for accepting trouble against you and not returning it.

    The wellness of being you describe seems to simply be someone who is thankful of their lives regardless of if its troubling or fantastic at that point. It does not necessitate god, though its worded as though it does in the bible as paying worship to him. Seems to me love of life itself is just as effective for what you describe. God is love, god is life, god is creation; Does it matter if you are grateful for these things? Is the happiness somehow inferior if they are not divine?

    http://www.QuestioCunctus.com

    April 26, 2008 at 5:52 pm

  4. “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end…This is the motive of every action of every man, even for those who hang themselves [of course - this is a classic case of a misguided act of self-love].”

    Only in the cases of Stephen Milligan and Michael Hutchence – most men who hang are not involved in a misguided act of self-love.

    May 7, 2008 at 8:43 am

  5. You will have to translate your comments for me jdc325. From what I have read (not very much), it is not clear if Stephen Milligan’s death was an accident or something else…In any case – Pascal statement still stands.

    May 7, 2008 at 12:02 pm

  6. Stephen Milligan and Michael Hutchence were both said to have died as a result of a misguided act of self-love. My contention is that many people who hang themselves do not do so as part of some misguided act of self-love. There is nothing in Pascal’s words about self-love – this is merely your own interpretation of the act of hanging and I have to say it seems to me to be a fairly bizarre interpretation.

    Pascal’s statement may still stand in your view – but in my opinion it does not show that God is the source of happiness or that atheists can never be happy. Simply stating something does not make it true.

    May 8, 2008 at 12:23 pm

  7. JDC – I am giving you here the Christian perspective. I do not intend to demosntrate it, for most likely I cannot.

    However – if you are an atheist, I encourage you to ponder this point of view and if you are not happy/satisfied [You can get no satisfaction...cause you tried...] – seek earnestly after GOD! May God bless you and give you lasting JOY.
    Chris

    May 10, 2008 at 12:12 pm

  8. Thomas

    Hi Chris,

    I have a problem with the title of this page and I want to tell a little of my story so you know why. I’m not as fantastic a writer as some of your previous but here goes.

    I had a Christian upbringing and have had Christian, Muslim and Jewish and friends just to name a few. I have prayed and studied with them all and as hard as I we tried I have never had a glimmer of any meeting with any god.

    After quite a lot of searching I found peace in the faith of Jainism. I would say that I consider myself an atheist in that I do not believe in any god but I do belive that those who have become enlightened become as god.

    This page has as it’s topic “happiness”. I haven’t met anyone who is happy all of the time; or even a large portion of the time for that matter. When you think about it you probably know this to be true in your life as well. I am however content with the situation I am in. This is what the Jain writings have shown me and I strive to live by.

    The implication of the title of this page is that an atheist is the root of all sin – but everyone in the Bible, the Koran, figures in the Talmud had visions, miracles, dreams – whatever. All these characters had some proof presented to them of a divinity.

    I follow Jainism because I do not believe that this world was created – this universe always existed in some form. I believe in the cycling of souls. I try and follow ahimsa as I believe it is a law of the universe. Jainism is to me so obvious and apparant that it should be shown to me as a little kid.

    I hope that you read what I have written with kindness.

    Peace,

    Thomas

    February 12, 2011 at 6:17 am

    • Thomas – I have read what you wrote with kindness and I believe you are wrong.

      A man who has not dealt with the sin in his life (and we are all sinful and Jainism will not solve the problem of sin) cannot have lasting happiness. By this I do not mean that he will be happy all the time – I mean that he lives reconciled with God.

      Of course – since you do not believe in God you do not seek that reconciliation. However, I would argue that since you are not reconciled with God (since you do not even believe in Him and you don’t acknowledge your sin) you are not truly reconciled with yourself and with the people around you!

      Are you?

      February 16, 2011 at 8:01 am

      • Thomas

        Hi Chris,

        Thanks for your reply – interestingly it is similar to the answer I get from evangelical Christians I meet up with but I wanted to think about your response and consider my thoughts more thoughtfully.

        It was probably only a half truth what I said that I had a Christian upbringing – I should have stated that I only went to a Christian school; so in fact I only had exposure to Christian teachings. I took a lot of time thinking about what you wrote and also what I recalled from school. I also discussed this with my Jewish and Muslim friends and did other studies and this has led me to the following conclusions.

        Your reply and my conclusions centre on the idea of “sin”. The Christian churches (I mean here most of the churches under this umberella) have a unique concept called “original sin” when compared with other religions including Judaism and Islam. The more general notion of “sin” as in religions that have evolved from the Middle East seem to echo back to a king executing ultimate punishment for wrongdoing. Religions originating in Asia however do not place any such prominence on a concept such as “sin” and don’t seem to have any concept of “original sin”.

        To explain further. All religions that have their roots in the Middle East that have the concept of “sin” derive this concept from “commandments” and these commantments seem to come ultimately from a covenant. Ancient Middle Eastern Kings made pacts with their people or people whom they have conquered using covenants. My Jewish friend pointed this covenant structure out to me in the books he calls the “Torah”. The Formula of the covenant that is written in the “Torah” is an almost identical formula that ancient Middle Easten Kings used to make and bind covenants. There is an online PDF by René Lopez on this topic but I’m sure this will be second nature to you. In these covenants the ruling king had the power to execute punishment for transgression of the list of wrongs included in the covenant. The the ancient Middle East the line between man and his gods became blurred because kings demanded that they be deified. This starts to explain the evolution of the concept of sin and why it is peculiar to Middle Eastern religions. Asia however missed out on the central concept of sin in it’s religions because it didn’t use any such covenant structure.

        The concept of “original sin” confounds me entirely but it is essentially an extrapolation on “sin”. The Roman Catholics have a huge workup on this complete with complicated Latin names. My problem was that none of this is apparent at all. I asked my Jewish friend again because he read from the “Torah” daily and he said simply that “original sin” wasn’t there at all.

        So – getting back to the main part of your reply; I don’t believe that the concept of sin exists at all. If I stuff up – I simply go to the person affected and fix it up. If that person has a problem when I apologise – then there is a chance that they might be immature and need to grow up because this is what it means to be human and live amongst others in society. “Sin” on the other hand seems to me a device that priests and popes have used to justify sacrifices and masses and prayers and indulgences for thousands of years too long.

        I have to thank you for prompting me to clarify this in my own mind. The topic of this post relates to the “Middle Eastern God” and the concept of “sin” so it is obvious that to protect Christianity the historical church would have to protect these two concepts. If you remove these you are left with the struggles of ordinary life.

        I have some questions for you as well that would help me better understand some aspects of your faith. I couldn’t find these answered anywhere or the answers that I found were ambiguous but – here goes. What is Chistianity’s teaching on when people started eating meat? My second question is related to the first. The person of Jesus is recorded as eating meat and fish in the Christian scriptures. Does Christianity have a teaching on if he actually killed animals and fish for food for himself or if he commissioned others to do this on his behalf. Does Christianity also have a position on if Jesus ever killed any living thing accidentally or malliciously – maybe when he was young? My third question is if you watched the movie “Food Inc”; what if any are the teachings of Jesus on the treatment of animals are shown in that movie?

        With Metta,

        Thomas

        February 25, 2011 at 6:52 am

  9. Thomas – I am very familiar with ancient covenants and I find interesting what you say. Let me say that SIN and the fallen condition of mankind is something very real and it is one of the few Christian doctrines that can actually be proved (so it does not matter if other Easter religions have a concept of it or not). C. S. Lewis said that this is one of the few Christian doctrines that can actually be proven, and if you pay attention to any human being around you, it is easy to see that this is true (especially if you have kids). You don’t have to teach your children to be selfish and disobedient, they are born that way (regardless of how cute they are :)). And you will not find anywhere (go and check around the world) an innocent person, one who is not born without selfish motives and a rebellious heart. Think about it – human depravity is really one of the easiest Christian doctrines to prove and observe, and it exists in Judaism too (yetzer ra = an evil inclination) as found in the Old Testament.

    I will try to answer your questions.
    What is Chistianity’s teaching on when people started eating meat?

    Many questions and issues are not addressed by the Bible because they are considered neutral or irrelevant to the relationship with God. However – in this case – I think most people believe that the eating of meat is after Genesis 3 – the fall!

    My second question is related to the first. The person of Jesus is recorded as eating meat and fish in the Christian scriptures. Does Christianity have a teaching on if he actually killed animals and fish for food for himself or if he commissioned others to do this on his behalf. Does Christianity also have a position on if Jesus ever killed any living thing accidentally or malliciously – maybe when he was young?
    NO – to most of these questions. It is assumed, however, that Jesus never did anything maliciously, so even if there is no teaching/evidence on these specific questions, because Jesus was truly sinless – it is safe to say that he did not kill anything/anybody maliciously!

    My third question is if you watched the movie “Food Inc”; what if any are the teachings of Jesus on the treatment of animals are shown in that movie?

    Sorry, but I have not seen the movie. However, if you give me your email, I can send you an excellent article by a friend of mine about animal cruelty from a Biblical point of view!

    Many blessings,
    Chris

    March 1, 2011 at 2:03 am

  10. “The whole point of Christianity is that sins can be forgiven. What cannot be forgiven is what chooses to affirm in thought or in act that nothing needs to be forgiven.”

    http://www.ignatiusinsight.com/features2006/schall_atheism_jun06.asp

    March 5, 2011 at 3:54 am

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