Then Agrippa said to Paul, "Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?" Acts 26:28
Any college student who has read Albert Camus for a philosophy class understands that Camus was an existentialist, and his brand of existentialism left no room for God. Flat outright, he was an atheist.
Long ago someone pointed out that there are two kinds of atheists—philosophical atheists and practical atheists. The philosophical atheist says he doesn’t believe in God because he thinks that God doesn’t exist, but the practical atheist really believes in God but won’t admit it because he doesn’t like the implication of admitting that there one to whom he will become accountable sooner or later.
And what kept Camus from accepting the existence of God? Primarily suffering in the world. Call it the problem of pain. With him it was the philosophical implication. “The silence of the universe,” wrote Camus in 1951, “has led me to conclude that the world is without meaning.”
Camus, though, faced the same dilemma, as did Jean Paul Sarte and everyone else who held to an existential position: How do you find meaning to existence without God? And the answer is, you don’t. So the existentialist tries to find meaning through individual encounters with what surrounds him, but apart from God there is no fabric to life, no rhyme or reason, and thus suicide is the only escape from a lack of meaning.
But eventually Camus began to doubt his own premise. “I am searching for something I do not have, something I’m not sure I can define,” he told a friend late in life. One of his own countrymen, René Pascal, would have understood what he was saying because a century before he said that there is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person which can be filled only by God Himself.
But on his way to nowhere, Camus met a Methodist minister at the American Church in Paris, and the two, unlikely soul mates as they were, began to dialogue. Though he had never read the Bible, Camus—according to the testimony of the Reverend Howard Mumma, who was sworn to secrecy at the time—began to read this age-old book that tells of God’s encounter with humankind, and furthermore it made sense to him.
When Pastor Mumma told Camus what the Bible says about man’s nature, he replied that he had never heard “this reasoning before,” and said that he would have to think on it further. He did, and it made more sense than his world which had denied God’s existence.
He also wanted to know what it means to be born again, and eventually asked to be baptized. But as a child Camus had been baptized in the Catholic Church, and Pastor Mumma was hesitant to rebaptize him. When Pastor Mumma went to the airport expecting to return the following summer, Camus said, “My friend, mon chérie, thank you…. I am going to keep striving for the Faith!” A few months later, Camus was dead—the victim of an automobile crash.
In his early 90s, Howard Mumma told the story in a book entitled Albert Camus and the Minister. Does he expect to find Albert Camus in heaven? Absolutely, and who can deny that possibility. But how marvelous would it have been if Camus could have gone public, acknowledging his confession of faith in Jesus Christ?
Somehow, when we get on the other side of the tough questions, and death begins to stare us in the face, the reality of God who made us looms far greater than the questions which have separated us from His presence. Should you find yourself in the company of the doubting Camus, do what he did. Read the book, and discover what the Gospel is about. You, like Camus, may well discover that what you do understand is far more compelling than what you don’t understand, and with that understanding comes commitment.
Resource reading: Acts 9:1-31