This post contains intense references to self-harm. If you have thoughts of harming yourself, please don’t. Please know that you are not alone. Please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255.
A quote often attributed to Camus reads, “Should I kill myself or have a cup of coffee?” While there is no evidence to suggest that Camus ever asked this question (for an assertion that it is a false attribution, refer to this article, page 45), it does appear to fit Camus’ frame of mind.
To the nihilist, neither of the apparent answers—‘yes’ to killing oneself or ‘yes’ to having a cup of coffee—really matters. They are equally worthless events to the nihilist (i.e., the one who denies that there is meaning in the universe). It is more difficult to be a nihilist and ‘accept’ there is no meaning in the universe than to think there is meaning in masochism (i.e., inflicting pain on oneself, as in pulling the trigger on a gun to one’s head) or hedonism (i.e., pursuing pleasure for pleasure sake, as in having a cup of coffee for sheer pleasure).
Camus did say “But in the end one needs more courage to live than to kill himself.” Maybe. But so what, if you are a nihilist. There is no meaning in courage either.
Even the question “Do you believe in God or not?” is (often?) a meaningless question. Take it or leave it, it’s just an opinion. We go on living as if nothing has really happened based on the answer we give. We debate doctrine and concern ourselves in many Christian circles with doctrinal statements, which are certainly import depending on the context. However, many people around us are indifferent to doctrinal questions, but are gnawing at the question attributed to Camus.
To the question, “Can you sign on the dotted line that you’re a believer?” I respond, “Can you die on a cross?” To me, the latter question is far more significant. One can sign a doctrinal statement, which might not cost you anything personally. But to hang on a cross costs you your life.
It’s interesting that Jesus was accused of not being able to sign the doctrinal statement that God was One. He was considered a blasphemer for claims of self-importance—as if he were God (yes, he was God! I can sign the statement of faith!). The charge that he was God ultimately cost him his life. The ironic thing, though, is that Jesus came to earth to die on a cross because he was God!
Only Almighty God is powerful enough to die on a cross and cry the ultimate cry of dereliction—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is Bonhoeffer’s God from Letters and Papers from Prison: the only God who is with us is the God-forsaken God on the cross. Only Almighty God is powerful enough to conquer the question of meaningless by living the question of God-forsakenness unto death out of love for us so that we can find meaning from the blood, sweat, tears and ashes of his despair.
This was no martyr’s complex, since the Christian hope entails that Jesus’ story does not end with his death but continues forever through his resurrection from the dead. This is the Christian hope in a universe of seeming meaninglessness. In this light, Jesus offers another phrase to be added to the question often attributed to Camus: “drink from Jesus’ cup of lifeblood shed for you and me.” “Should I kill myself, have a cup of coffee, or drink from Jesus’ cup of lifeblood shed for you and me?” While the original question leaves others out of the equation, the question now brings others into it. Whether or not you find it meaningless, Jesus views your life as so meaningful that he died to bring you life in a culture filled with death and indifference.
Whether or not you wish to consider this reflection wishful thinking, I will see your bet of masochism or hedonism and raise the stakes by offering you the Christian God who embraces the nihilist charge of meaningless on the cross. In almost Nietzschean fashion, Jesus brings an end to all our deities of self-self-loathing and self-importance. Jesus gives us himself in his death grip of sacrificial surrender to bring you and me life through his selfless love. I’ll drink to that.
 This post and its reflections were inspired by a terrific presentation on “Pastoral Responses to Evil” given by Sharad Yadav this morning for Multnomah University and Biblical Seminary’s Christian Life Conference, co-hosted by the Institute for Theological Engagement: New Wine, New Wineskins, and Multnomah Student Life. In addition, I am grateful to my colleague Derrick Peterson for his conversation and insight on matters related to this post.