100 Answers in 100 Days

More questions answered on this blog:

Sharing answers to the various questions of faith I have faced, and which others have been challenged with also.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

#100: What is the meaning of life?

This question of the meaning of life is of great importance to all people. We are all born into this world without a say in the matter; we simply find ourselves in this thing called “life”. We discover that life consists of going to school, getting along with others, being taught the religion of our parents. You must leave home at a certain age and get a job, and then maybe get married and have kids. You didn’t make these things up; this is just what life is and always has been, and it’s what everybody does. But at some point in our lives we question it all. Are these things I really must do, or even want to do? Which of these things will give my life purpose and fulfilment? What will keep me content?

Actually, I don’t think we really begin to ask this question while we are content, but it’s when we find discontent that we begin to wonder what it’s all for. Speaking with a friend of mine the other day, he told me that he’s sick of his job and he can’t stand the company any more. Of course, years ago this friend of mine invested time to study his profession, and was sure that he would be happy in this line of work for the rest of his life. But work for him now is not the least bit fulfilling. Another friend is recently divorced and very bitter towards marriage and romance. But of course, there was a time when she gladly walked down the aisle, sure that she would never want to be apart from her husband for the rest of her life. Well, these people have other things going on which they are content with, but as for work... “What’s the point?” And as for marriage... “I’ve wasted years of my life!” The question is, what is there that won’t grow tiresome? What is there that is worth pursuing in this short life-span we have? When we die we won’t care what happens to our possessions, and so the only reason to have possessions is to keep us content in the present. And if we are altruistic, caring for the needs of others, this may give us some satisfaction; but of course those people we’ve cared for will eventually die, and who’ll care about the kindness we’ve shown then? And if we spend our lives working on something that will benefit all of mankind; it’s only in the present while we’re alive that we are pleased to receive praise and know that our name will be in the history books. In fact, if there is no life after death, then there really is nothing more than our satisfaction in the present. And since we only have one short life, we ought to ensure our satisfaction in the present at any cost; for even if the whole human race should die out, what is that to me when I am dead?

People have said to me that “Heaven sounds boring.” And when I tell them that God’s plan involves a new haven and new earth, and that we’ll live forever in this physical world in relationship with one another and with God, they still say “Who wants to live forever? Eventually you’ll have done everything that there is to do.” Well, these people understand exactly what I’m talking about; that there is nothing in this life that, if we were able to explore it fully, would not ultimately dissatisfy. But we are a fallen people and our hearts are corrupt. Through the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, we begin to understand that God is the source of all satisfaction. The author of Psalm 43 writes “Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy.” God is my “exceeding joy”. It is only through a relationship with God that we can find satisfaction.

This friend of mine who is dissatisfied with his job; what is his plan to remedy that? It’s to get a new job. And the woman who’s divorced? She, too, wants to start anew; to play out what might have been if she had not been married. And so she’s going off to university. But apart from God, all things will eventually dissatisfy. God, however, makes all things new. (That’s what regeneration is.) I consider my career before I submitted my life to Christ. I write software for a living. I had what seemed to be the perfect job; the stuff I was doing should have been challenging enough. But my heart wasn’t right. In my heart I was too good for this work; I was too talented and the work was beneath me. So I would reluctantly bang out some sufficient lines of code and spend the rest of the day surfing the Internet. Then I would resent the fact that nobody appreciated my talent. Well, eventually that company went out of business and I lost my job. I had given my life to Christ only a year earlier, and since that time I had been struggling with my attitude at work. I saw this event as a sovereign act of God. I was out of work and totally dependent on God. But God gave me a new job after just one month. And when I started this new job, it was with a renewed mind and a humble heart. I gladly accepted the tasks I was given no matter how trivial, simply thankful that I had a job at all. I began to pray at the start of each work day, trusting not in my own ability but in God who gives us the power to get wealth at all. After several months there I happened to run into my old boss. He asked me what I was doing, and when I described the work he said, “That sounds mind numbingly boring!” Well, that was when the realisation hit me... what I was doing at work probably should have been boring and uninteresting, yet I was happier than I’d ever been! Instead of trying to please myself at work, I was trying only to please God; to work for my new boss “as unto Christ” (Ephesians 6:5, KJV). God had taught me in a very real way that He is my exceeding joy.

The Bible says that creation was subjected to futility (Romans 8:20). Death and decay cause all things to be futile. We build up wealth only for it to be destroyed by “moth and rust”. Whatever we achieve will be left to others who may not share our passion for those achievements. The cemetery is full of people who have all been replaced. Popular culture acknowledges the truth of this in that saying “Life is a bitch and then you die.” King Solomon wrote at length on this theme in the Book of Ecclesiastes, but perhaps now we can understand the conclusion he came to...

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

To keep God’s commandments and to serve God will give life meaning. It is that future hope of going to be with God that makes life in the present meaningful; knowing how, at that time, God will rightly judge the things that we do in this life. Paul says to those who deny this future hope that “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19). He says in another place “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24). Living for ourselves will ultimately dissatisfy because eventually we will die and have to give everything up for others. But when all that we do is for God, we trust that God has a purpose and that our labour is not in vain.

Well, this is the 100th day! I hope that something I’ve said over these 100 days has been of benefit to someone. As I typically do, I will leave you with a Bible verse to meditate on...

All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:6-8)

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