Man’s Search for Meaning
“What’s the meaning of life? 42.” – Douglas Adams, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
"Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing." - Shakespeare, Macbeth
“I’ve come to see that the search for meaning is a waste of life. all human life is just a cosmic accident, an arbitrary conglomeration of molecules evolved by chance into an organism with a brain stem, condemning it to ponder, futilely, the reason behind it all.” – Frasier, Cheers’ Final Episode
Discovered and Created Meanings
What is “meaning”?
Similar to identity, the purpose of life was discovered and inherent. Your job was to then correspond to the inherent meaning in the universe, the community, or your religion. And this meaning persisted beyond your own life. What you did in your life mattered.
“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” – Anthony Kennedy, Casey vs. Planned Parenthood, 1992
Problems with Created Meaning:
Death Destroys Meaning
- Tolstoy’s fable of the dragon in the well from A Confession
- “Had a fairy come and offered to fulfil my desires I should not have know what to ask…I could not even wish to know the truth, for I guessed of what it consisted. The truth was that life is meaningless. I had as it were lived, lived, and walked, walked, till I had come to a precipice and saw clearly that there was nothing ahead of me but destruction. It was impossible to stop, impossible to go back, and impossible to close my eyes or avoid seeing that there was nothing ahead but suffering and real death--complete annihilation.” (Tolstoy, A Confession)
- “That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.” (Bertrand Russell, Mysticism and Logic)
- “Even if you produce a great work of literature, which continues to be read thousands of years from now, eventually the solar system will cool, or the universe will wind down and collapse, and all trace of your effort will vanish…The problem is that although there are justifications for most things, big and small that we do within life, none of these explanations explain the point of your life as a whole it wouldn’t matter if you had never existed, and after you have gone out of existence, it won’t matter that you did exist.” (Thomas Nagel, What Does it All Mean?)
- “Today or tomorrow sickness and death will come (they had come already) to those I love or to me; nothing will remain but stench and worms. Sooner or later my affairs, whatever they may be, will be forgotten, and I shall not exist. Then why go on making any effort?” (Tolstoy, A Confession)
The “Don’t Be So Gloomy!” Problem
- “The great Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. once wrote to a friend and said that if one “thinks coldly,” a modern person has to admit that there is “no reason for attributing to man a significance different in kind from that which belongs to a baboon or a grain of sand”…But then he added that when he begins thinking like this it is time to “go down stairs and play solitaire.” (cited in Tim Keller, Making Sense of God)
Don't be so gloomy! Don't think about it too much! Or, if you do, just remember that it is probably an easy problem to figure out, and you can solve it at any point.
- “At first it seemed to me that these were aimless and irrelevant questions. I thought that it was all well known, and that if I should ever wish to deal with the solution, it would not cost me much effort; just at present I had no time for it, but when I wanted to I should be able to find the answer.” (Tolstoy, A Confession)
I want to suggest to you that any worldview that is predicated on "not thinking too much" is an sufficient worldview.
Reality Isn’t Relative
Life is not what you make it. That is only true in the smallest degree. Life is full of givens and even with incredible force and coercion, it still is.
If I believe that my meaning in life is to be the next superstar, but cannot sing or perform, it doesn’t matter.
Nor do we intuitively believe that any chosen lifestyle is permissible. No one is consistently a moral relativist. But if the meaning of life is something created not discovered, then you don’t have many resources available to you tell the criminal and swindler and miscreant that they are wrong.
A Lack of Hope
"Western societies are perhaps the worst societies in the history of the world at preparing people for suffering and death, because created meaning is not only less rational and communal, but also less durable," (Tim Keller, Making Sense of God, p. 74).
“…there is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many skeptical men have accepted as true on its own merits.” (Tolkien, On Fairy Stories)
A Vision for Our Purpose and Meaning
-We are made in God's image and so are to reflect God's character to the world as we fulfill our mission of being fruitful and multiplying, of subduing the earth and exercising dominion over it (Gen 1:28).
An Explanation of the Bad News
- The reason we don't do that is because sin has marred the image. We are dislocated from our Maker, and so set adrift in the cosmos.
Immeasurable Good News
- Our God has not left us alone. The Logos has taken on flesh and now come to restore us to Himself--and not only that, but redeem all of Creation. Now, those who trust in Jesus will live forever, and this world will be remade and restored, forever.