It is no mere coincidence that when God is rejected virtue and pleasure depart. God is the ultimate source of such things, the fountainhead from which we all partake, reflecting and mirroring as image bearers.
Sin tragically results in separation. When Adam and Eve fell, they were cast from the garden. When Israel sinned, the land vomited them out. When we are saved, we are said to be “in Christ,” a description denoting profound proximity. But before we were made new, the language was different. Distance takes over. “You were once far away…” says Paul, “alienated” and “excluded.” No reconciliation. No closeness. Strangers. Enmity.
Now picture a circle. Write in that circle things like joy, holiness, peace, righteousness, goodness, life, love, justice, truth, beauty. The circle is God. Now stand back and consider the two realms of possibility. There is the circle and there is that which resides outside the circle.
If all joy and righteousness is found inside the circle, what is there to be found outside the circle? Not joy. Not righteousness. Since every last drop of joy exists in the circle, its utter absence resides outside.
But it is more than that. It is not as if the absence of joy is mere nothingness. It is not as if the space outside the circle is neutral territory, an empty void. Where there is no joy there is sorrow. So it is not nothingness, but antithesis. The opposite follows. A negation ensues.
So think now of the list of virtues and pleasures. What is found outside of God?
Not joy, but sorrow
Not peace, but anxiety
Not righteousness, but unrighteousness
Not goodness, but evil
Not life, but death
Not truth, but error
Not justice, but injustice
Not holiness, but unholiness
Not beauty, but ugliness
Not love, but malice
Not pleasure, but displeasure
Not glory, but ignominy
Not hope, but despair
Not light, but darkness
This is the result of separation from God. Ever since man has fallen into sin, walking away from God, and being excluded from God, the deadly effects of living outside of the circle have come crashing in infecting every area of life. Even the physical order is not left untouched. It is cursed and groans with the straining effects of sin. Without common grace, the universe would fall apart. Without common grace, the natural man would break under the weight of antithesis, becoming all that which is opposite of God.
We call the consummation of such things hell. That is the place outside the circle where the full weight of negation takes hold, and it is very terrible.
It ought not, therefore, come as a surprise to see in the godless worldviews of modern man an inability to ground the virtues they so desperately want to maintain. They may speak highly of such things, and even embody such virtues, thereby exhibiting to the spiritual world the wonders of common grace, but they cannot ground them. They cannot provide an adequate justification. Outside the circle it cannot be found. It doesn’t exist. And this, I would urge, explains why the most extreme view, that which is known as atheism, most clearly demonstrates the awful strength of antithesis. It is a godless worldview, and as such, it portrays the logical results of life outside the circle. No ultimate meaning. No moral facts. No ultimate purpose. No hope.
Thanks be to God that we are not left to wander outside of Himself. Indeed, as Paul reminds us, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”