Freedom, Hope, and Heaven: Why Christianity Best Explains the Human Condition
In “The Matrix Reloaded” (2003), the second of the Matrix film trilogy, is a fascinating scene in which the prophesied liberator of the human race, Neo, confronts the Architect, the creator of the Matrix. As laid out in the first movie, the Matrix is an elaborate computer simulation into which captive humans are “plugged” from birth to keep them from rebelling against the system. While continually distracted by the living of their lives, so to speak, in the Matrix, humans provide an unending energy source for machines, which have become self-aware and have taken over the world. Neo is one of a handful who have been “unplugged” and are now in the “real world” leading a resistance. When Neo finally arrives at the Source of the Matrix, the machine mainframe, he faces the Architect, himself a machine who speaks with godlike authority and precision. The Architect explains why the Matrix has been intentionally redesigned with its numerous and transparent fundamental flaws:
The first matrix I designed was quite naturally perfect. It was a work of art, flawless, sublime. A triumph equaled only by its monumental failure. The inevitability of its doom is as apparent to me now as a consequence of the imperfection inherent in every human being; thus I redesigned it based on your history to more accurately reflect the varying grotesqueries of your nature. However, I was again frustrated by failure. I have since come to understand that the answer eluded me because it required a lesser mind, or perhaps a mind less bound by the parameters of perfection.
As the Architect’s speech suggests, human beings do not seem comfortable with the idea of a perfect existence, because perfection entails a lack of freedom to be, well, imperfect. History’s long record of rebellions and revolutions indicates that many, if not most, people value freedom more highly than even their own health and happiness. But could there exist a world in which decisions borne of genuine freedom culminate in everlasting joy? As a Christian theist I would answer in the affirmative. I suggest that Christianity best explains and fulfills humanity’s strongest psychological inclinations, two in particular:
1. The universal human awareness and experience of evil is evidence of the fall of man, the violation of God’s transcendent moral law through the abuse of free will.
2. The universal human longing for absolute happiness is evidence of the hope of eternal life, to be ultimately realized in the kingdom of heaven through the exercise of faith.
By contrast, atheists have been known to argue not only that Christian faith is "wishful thinking," but that the very world which Christians believe God to have created is loaded with "gratuitous evils." But that position doesn't seem coherent. Given that the Christian God exists, the hope of heaven is clearly not wishful thinking, precisely because we live in a sinful, fallen world scarred throughout by the painfully stark reality of evil;" and evil is not demonstrably gratuitous, because in heaven God will remove every trace of pain forever. On the other hand, given that no God exists there is no real "evil" to speak of (beyond emotional responses to suffering in a morally indifferent universe); neither is there any real hope to speak of (beyond the hope of various fleeting pleasures to be had here in this life). Thus atheism fails to explain some very basic realities of the human condition.
Through his sacrifice on the cross, Jesus has offered humanity not only forgiveness of sins committed via moral freedom, but the hope of eternal life in heaven. Moreover, God has retained for us the freedom to accept or refuse the offer. Christian theism thus best explains the concurrence of two well-documented but otherwise disjointed human psychological realities: the desire for moral autonomy and the desire for unceasing happiness. By this reading, the purpose of human existence on earth is to make eternally binding decisions to accept or refuse God’s offer of everlasting life in the kingdom of heaven, through either self-denying faith in Christ or self-seeking unbelief. Or as Neo put it to the Architect: “The problem is choice.” That is, the perceived dichotomy of hope and evil reveals that we simply can't have everything we want. More than that, the problem is desire. As humans beset with a corrupt nature spiritually transmitted through the fall of Adam, we cannot choose to be righteous or sinless. However, we can desire it. It could be argued, then, that our purpose in this sometimes dangerous and heartbreaking, sometimes exciting and beautiful world is to decide what it is we really want. And so the wisdom of Christ calls:
"For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Mark 9:35-37).