During a speaking engagement at the University of Illinois, I was once handed a question scribbled on a note card from a student who hesitated to come to the microphone. It read, "The state of humankind as we know it is on a serious downward spiral, and from my perspective, it's only getting worse. Do you have any hope in the future of humankind and specifically our generation, and if so, why?"(1)
I was both saddened and heartened to read his question. Overwhelmed by the maze of conflicts facing humanity, this young heart sought a way out. And I believe he represents large numbers of young people in the world. Contrary to the "couldn't care less" image we are often given of university students, he revels how close to cynicism—and pessimism—many of them actually are.
Students today are not easily taken in; they do not trust readily. But their questions show a depth and an understanding of our world that is lost in the shuffle of cultural cynicism and hopeless pessimism.
Here, G.K. Chesterton makes a significant point: there is a world of difference between sorrow and pessimism. He explains, "Sorrow is founded on the value of something, and pessimism upon the value of nothing."(2) In terms of hope for the future, this makes all the difference.
I once had breakfast with an atheist who repeatedly insisted that there was no evidence for God—absolutely none. At one point during our meal he told me how much he loves his wife, and painfully recounted the details of her battle with disease. His wife was dying and he could do nothing. After all the intellectual arguments had run into a headstrong willful resistance, I asked him why he loved his wife. He stared at me.
"Don't you see her as a unique woman of intrinsic value to you?" I asked.
"Yes," he answered.
"But how can she have such value," I replied, "if all life is nothing more than chemicals?"
Suddenly, the conversation took a turn. As we got up from the table, he said, "You just keep doing what you're doing in life. You are bringing back common sense into our heads."
Only in Christian theism is love preexistent within the Trinity, which means that love precedes human life and becomes the absolute value for us. This absolute is ultimately found only in God, and in knowing and loving God we work our way through the struggles of pain, knowing of its ultimate connection to evil and its ultimate destruction by the One who is all-good and all-loving—who in fact has given us the very basis for the words good and love both in concept and in language.
What thoughts occupy my mind as I ponder the world at this present time? Above anything else, I, like the young man from the university, want to believe in hope for the future. I see reason for sorrow, but it is founded on the value of so very much. Hope, like character, takes years to build and minutes to shatter. But friends, hope, like character, can also rise beyond the moment to reinvest in what is of ultimate value—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This hope points in cumulative strength to the person and power of a God who is real, and will not let you down.
Ravi Zacharias is founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.
(1) A version of this essay appears in Ravi Zacharias’s The Logic of God, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019). (2) G.K. Chesterton, As I Was Saying, Ed. Robert Knille (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 267.