Albert Camus (pronounced Camu) was a prominent existentialist thinker. His writings revealed a struggle with religious issues like the meaning of life, the foundation for morality, the problem of suffering and evil, and the desire for eternal life. His major novels – The Stranger (1942), The Plague (1947), and The Fall (1956) – all exhibited his conviction that God does not exist and that the world is without meaning.
Camus’s main frustrations came from the issues of suffering and evil. Seeing pain and suffering all around him, he could not believe that a God who was good and all-powerful would watch such events and do nothing to alleviate them. Such a God, he felt, was not worth believing. Like many today and throughout history, he tried to create meaning in a meaningless world by showing compassion to the suffering and encouraging others to do so as well.
Howard Mumma, a Methodist pastor, was a guest minister at the American Church in Paris for several summers in the late 1950s. During these summers he was approached by Camus. Mumma was sworn to secrecy at the time. He later revealed he saw a man who had questions and doubts about his convictions. Camus told him, “I am searching for something I do not have, something I’m not sure I can define.” Rather than point out the flaws of Camus’ philosophy, Mumma commiserated with him and expressed his own inability to understand the world, man’s existence, and purpose.
As their conversations continued, Camus began to read the Bible that Mumma gave him. Something began to click in his thought process. In a later meeting he asked, “Howard, do you perform baptisms?” He also inquired what it meant to be born again. Mumma explained that “baptism is a symbolic commitment to God” and that being born again means “to enter anew into the process of spiritual growth…to receive forgiveness because you have asked God to forgive you of all your sins.” Camus replied, “Howard, I am ready. I want this.”
He wanted a private baptism, but Mumma would not agree to that. He suggested that Camus continue to study the Bible and postpone his baptism until the two could agree on how to go about it. They parted for the season with Camus saying, “My friend, mon cher, thank you…I am going to keep striving for the Faith!”1
A few months later, on January 4, 1960, Camus was killed in a car accident.
“I will destroy human wisdom and discard their most brilliant ideas.” So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s most brilliant debaters? God has made them all look foolish and has shown their wisdom to be useless nonsense. Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never find him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save all who believe. (1 Corinthians 1:19-21)
1 Where is Camus? in The One Year Book of Christian History, by E. Michael and Sharon Rusten, Zondervan Publishing, 2003, pp. 8-9.