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What is nihilism?

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Nihilism is a non-Christian belief that, in the end, “nothingness” prevails in a world that is totally meaningless. Nihilism teaches that God does not exist or that He is dead. Nihilism says there is no higher purpose in life, that life is simply futile. The word nihilism comes from nihil, a Latin root meaning “nothing” or “that which does not exist.” Interestingly enough, this same root is found in the word annihilate, which means “to destroy something completely, especially so that it ceases to exist.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher, is usually credited with being the founder of nihilism. In his “Will to Power” he wrote, “Every belief, every consideration of something true, is necessarily false because there is simply no true world.” Thus, nihilism is the belief that all values are utterly worthless, that nothing can be known or communicated. The philosophy of nihilism is also associated with extreme pessimism and deep-seated skepticism about life. It has no allegiance to anyone or anything.

Nihilism takes numerous forms. Ethical or moral nihilism rejects the existence of ethical or moral values. That which designates such values as “good” and “evil” is seen as indistinct, and values are simply a result of social and emotional pressures. Existential nihilism declares that life has no inherent meaning or purpose. Political nihilism promotes the obliteration of all existing political, social, and religious institutions as a precondition for any and all future advancements in society.

Epistemological nihilism denies any possibility that truth and knowledge even exist. This view is often associated with those who suffer from extreme skepticism. For example, the classic question “If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it make a sound?” is carried one step further by the nihilist who asks, “Did the tree even exist?” The nihilist will contend that truth not only cannot be perceived but in fact does not exist and is not real.

By direct contrast, Christians know assuredly that nihilism is a false philosophy and that truth, knowledge, faith, and values most certainly do exist and the source of all of them is God who is the source of all truth and knowledge, who gives faith as a gift to His people, and from whom all values emanate. There is the One who is greater than unbelief, One who has touched mankind: “We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20; see also John 17:3).

As Christians, we have the supreme confidence and conviction that God is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do. “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 'For in him we live and move and have our being . . . We are his offspring’” (Acts 17:24–28).

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022