When Tragedy Strikes

Most people would picture Charles Darwin as a self-assured, convinced evolutionist. But there is a little-known side of his life that highlights the failure of non-Christian world views to provide meaning and purpose for human existence. Charles and his wife, Emma, had a little girl who was the joy of their lives—a devotion many parents identify with. In her fifth year, however, little Annie Darwin fell ill. Despite the best efforts of the doctors, she died. The Darwins' grief was profound and deep. Charles was inconsolable. Twenty-five years later he wrote that the thought of her still brought tears to his eyes. Those of us who are parents can empathize with the Darwins' anguish. Charles Darwin grieved, and well he should have. But the fact that he mourned the loss of his daughter exposes a fundamental contradiction in the world view he spent a lifetime propagating. Darwin's evolutionary world view purports to explain the existence of the universe—a universe in which there is no room for concepts like "meaning" or "purpose." The human species "happens" to possess certain biological traits that enable us to survive. And if any part of humanity should perish through some natural or man-made calamity, it will simply be added to a long list of "nonsurvivors." Like, for instance, little Annie Darwin. One can only imagine the dark doubts that must have clouded Darwin's mind about the meaninglessness of his own life's view. Eastern religions fare no better when it comes to providing meaning for human existence. In his book The Dust of Death, Christian thinker Os Guinness relates the story of the nineteenth-century Japanese poet Issa, who also suffered a great tragedy. His wife and all five of their children died before he was 30. Issa went to a Zen master for solace, only to be told that he had no business grieving. Why? Because Zen Buddhism teaches that the world is an illusion, like the morning dew that evaporates with the rising sun. There is no enduring meaning for the existence of his wife and family. Issa returned home and penned the following poignant words: The world is dew— The world is dew— and yet, and yet . . . Issa the believer in Zen Buddhism confessed that the world is an illusion, just as Charles Darwin believed it was the product of evolution. But, faced with their inconsolable losses, both grieving fathers could only cry out, as Os Guinness puts it, "into the unfulfilled darkness." In stark contrast to such pessimism, the Bible teaches that every person is indelibly stamped with the imago Dei—the image of God. We can rejoice with the psalmist, who declares: "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful." While Christians surely mourn the loss of their loved ones, the apostle Paul taught that we "do not grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope." That's because we recognize a spiritual purpose and a future that transcends our mortal lives. And we can rest assured that every precious life—like Annie Darwin—is endowed by our loving God with infinite value.


Chuck Colson


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