Asking the Big Questions

Let’s begin at the beginning. Why does anything exist at all? It’s a rather straightforward question, but it is one with far reaching implications. There are other important questions to be answered in this life, to be sure. Questions such as, “why do we behave this way?” and, “how do we know what we know?” Yet, while these and other questions are important, they are secondary questions. The biggest question of all, the question that needs to be – even begs to be – answered before we can move on to anything else is, “why does anything exist at all?”


Why does something, rather than nothing, exist?

In “He Is There and He is Not Silent,” Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) sets out to provide the answer to this fundamental question. Astoundingly, he somehow manages to do just that in less than 100 pages. I warn you now: this book is brief, but it is in no way a simple, casual, and straightforward read. There are very few places for your mind to rest in this book. In order to tackle the colossal question of why anything, rather than nothing, exists, Schaeffer brilliantly (and dizzyingly) explores and unpacks three main areas of philosophy: metaphysics, morals, and epistemology. As he does this, he deftly harmonizes philosophy with both natural and divine revelation to reach the conclusion that the only answer – and not just the best answer, but the only true answer – to the question of why anything exists at all is, “because the Triune God lives, and He has spoken.”

"... evangelicals have made a horrible mistake by often equating the fact that man is lost and under God's judgment with the idea that man is nothing--a zero. This is not what the Bible says. There is something great about man, and we have lost perhaps our greatest opportunity of evangelism in our generation by not insisting that it is the Bible that explains why man is great."

— Francis Schaeffer

Sizing Up Schaeffer

Now, unless you are a philosophy major or spend your leisure time reading books on logic, philosophy, and reason, you might find the language and turns of phrases that Schaeffer employs both somewhat archaic and challenging. I will not sugarcoat the fact that it is a book that will stretch your vocabulary. Others have criticized Schaeffer in the past for being too “heady” or not preaching “the straightforward / easy” gospel, a criticism that he himself acknowledges in this book. I can understand where they are coming from, but I firmly believe that Christendom should be thankful for the gift of men like Schaeffer (whom many have compared to C.S. Lewis and the like); men that take the scriptures seriously, believe in a “big God,” and are convinced that Christianity holds the answers to life’s biggest questions.

With that said, I must emphatically state that it is likely that this book will indeed challenge you.

I am by no means a highly educated individual, but the first time I read through chapter one, I put down the book and wondered, “what did any of that mean?” It wasn’t until a subsequent reading that Schaeffer’s arguments, logic, and ideas began to click for me and start making sense. It wasn’t until my third reading that I found myself truly understanding the meat and potatoes of what Schaeffer was arguing and delineating. Here is my advice: read this book slowly, and read it more than once. If you are speed-reading Schaeffer, I am forced to believe that you are either missing half of his arguments or you’re extremely advanced in the areas that I’ve outlined above and none of the language in his writings – specifically in this book – are new to you.

Being that it was my first read from Schaeffer, it took some time for me to adjust to his style; nonetheless, I am glad that I didn’t give in to the temptation to put the book down for good after struggling with the first chapter. As I progressed through the pages, my vocabulary was stretched, but more than that, my confidence in defending the faith was strengthened. This book might not be for everyone, but I think that the majority of those that engage with it will benefit from it in one way or another.

Reader, I urge you to remember that Schaeffer is not teaching an introduction to philosophy course but arguing for the existence of God using the tools of philosophy, logic, and reason. Approach this book with that in mind. Be willing to look up terms and definitions. Be teachable and don’t become frustrated when you come across words and ideas you don’t know. Do these things, and you and Schaeffer will get along just fine.

"No finite reference point has meaning without an infinite reference point."

— Jean-Paul Sartre

The Necessity of the Triune God

As he unpacks life’s most fundamental question, Schaeffer makes one thing very clear: we need God, but He does not need us. God, at least the God of the Bible, is self-sufficient, underived, without parts, and unchanging. Yet, God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) has always existed in a state of love and communication/communion and thus needs nothing. This is the key to understanding this whole book. God doesn’t need anything outside of Himself. He exists in communal love, as the Trinity. He has what Schaeffer calls “diversity within unity” in His own being. He is both personal yet infinite (or infinite yet personal). Schaeffer goes so far so as to say that without the Trinity, he would still be an agnostic because “there would be no answers. Without the high order of the personal unity and diversity as given in the Trinity, there are no answers.” If God was not Trinity, Schaeffer argues, creation would have been a necessity in order for him to love and communicate. God would need the universe as much as the universe needs God. Yet this is not so. God is Trinity and He is not silent. He has told us who He is. Because God has spoken, we can know things truly even if we may never know them fully.

While everything else that we see, touch, and know exists because it has derived its being from something that came before it, nothing in and of itself “needs” to exist. Nothing at all. Except for God.

"The answer to the problem of existence is that the infinite personal, triune God is there, and that the infinite personal, triune God is not silent."

— Francis Schaeffer

It's Not That Simple

But why not preach the simple gospel? Well, Schaeffer argues, because it’s actually not that simple. Schaeffer (convincingly) makes the argument that before one can talk about the gospel, substitutionary atonement, and other gospel facts, they must adequately argue for the existence of the personal God who is there. You cannot point to a Savior until you point to the problem facing every man. Why do people behave morally? Why are people shocked when one alleged clump of stardust and meaningless existence attacks another clump of meaningless existence? Why, in other words, do atheists behave as though Christianity (and by extension, the existence of the Triune God) is true? Schaeffer makes the case that we must ask and sufficiently answer these questions before we can properly share the gospel, the good news that God saves rebellious sinners in Jesus Christ.

As a final note, I want to take a moment to appreciate Schaeffer’s pastoral warmth and care, which is almost unheard of in this genre. It is clear that Schaeffer’s desire was not to win arguments but to win souls to Christ. Without a doubt, these are the writings of a man who had entered into many frequent and deep conversations with skeptics, agnostics, doubting believers, and atheists alike, and was motivated by the possibility of seeing them come to know the truth that God is there, and He is not silent. He is the reason why even those who say they are atheists or “nothing more than space dust” behave morally. He is the reason why man can truly know anything at all with any semblance of certainty. He is there. He is not silent.