I’m having a great time this week speaking to the Gideon’s at their International Conference in Charlotte. They have placed more that 1.7 Billion copies of Scripture into hotels, hands, hospitals, and hovels since they began their ministry of Bible distribution. Gideon Bibles and Testaments are being handed out two per second. In my message here in Charlotte last night, I told the story of a boy who should have received a Bible from his older brother, but instead he got another book.
Bertrand Russell was born in Wales in 1872. His childhood was sad, as both his parents and his sister died by the time he was five years old. His grandparents took him in. But it was his older brother Frank who had the greatest impact on Russell’s life.
Frank introduced Bertrand to the subject of mathematics. He introduced him to Euclid’s Elements, the great set of books written by the famous Greek scientist Euclid on the subjects of mathematics and geometry; and at age eleven Bertrand Russell began to study Euclid’s Elements the way we could have wished he would have discovered and studied the Bible. He was completely absorbed with Euclid’s Elements. He said, “I had not imagined there was anything so delicious in the world.”[i]
But then Bertrand began to question the basis of Euclid’s reasoning. Euclid had based his mathematical systems on certain axioms, but how do we know these axioms were true? How do we know anything is true? He grew confused and as a student he would go for long walks and watch the sun set over the River Thames and contemplate suicide. He later said that he was searching for…
“Something beyond what the world contains, something transfigured and infinite… I have always desired to find some justification for the emotions inspired by certain things that seemed to stand outside human life and to deserve feelings of awe.”
Yet from his youth, Bertrand Russell deliberately dismissed any notion of a personal God. He entered Cambridge and studied mathematics, but he became disillusioned with what he learned. That’s when he turned to philosophy. He became a widely respected and influential thinking.
Along the way, he fell in love with a young woman from America and as soon as he was old enough he married her. But one day some years later he went out bicycling and suddenly, riding along a country road, he decided that he no longer loved her. So he divorced her and spent years in all kinds of affairs with a long succession of women. Since he rejected any kind of divinely based moral code, he began to advocate and practice what was called “free love,” which is just another name for open promiscuity.
When the Bolshevik Revolution seized the reins of government in Russia, he thought at last a just society might be established somewhere on earth, and he departed for Russia with high hopes and met privately with Vladimir Lenin. But that, too, ended up in disappointment and despair.
Bertrand Russell lived to be 98 years old, and he never found a way a philosophy of life that, if followed consistently, made rational sense and produced happiness. In his autobiography, he wrote these haunting words:
We stand on the shore of an ocean, crying to the night and the emptiness; sometimes a voice answers out of the darkness. But it is the voice of one drowning; and in a moment the silence returns. The world seems to me quite dreadful…[ii]
When I sat down that book I thought to myself: If only his brother Frank had given him the Word of God in childhood instead of the Elements of Euclid. If only Bertrand Russell had discovered that there is a rational philosophy, which, if followed consistently, is true and leads to genuine fulfillment and happiness. If only he had known Christ.
Let’s give out Scriptures. Let’s support the Gideons. Let’s hold out the Word of Life.
PS – From my sermons from Ecclesiastes, at www.donelson.org, in the sermon folder.
[i] Paul Strathern, Bertrand Russell in 90 Minutes (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2001), 15.
[ii] Bertrand Russell, Autobiography, (London: Routledge, 1998), 194.