The Meaning of Life

23 09 2008

The question, “What is the meaning of life?” or more specifically, “What is the meaning of my life?” crops up in the minds of most people at some time in their lives. It happens at a point of life-threatening crisis, or even in middle age (the focus of the so-called ‘mid-life crisis), and it happens the older you get, as you wonder about the opposite of life – death.

Many of us just shrug the question off as being an irritant which, if ignored, will go away. Yet thinking people still ask it of themselves. Philosophers have attempted answers throughout history, and yet an examination of the history of philosophy is a depressing exercise, as one philosopher is just followed by another and the second usually contradicts or points out the faults in thinking of the first.

I want to suggest that, paradoxically, the answer to the question is determined by your starting point. The people who mull over these things talk about ‘presuppositions’ – our starting point, the thing we take for granted. Christian philosopher, Francis Schaeffer once wrote, “Most people catch their presuppositions from their family and surrounding society the way a child catches measles. But people with more understanding realise that their presuppositions should be chosen after careful consideration of what world view is true.”

You see our presuppositions, or starting points, are what we almost subconsciously think about the world. Some of us, without thinking, think there is a God; others think there isn’t. Sadly what those who don’t think there is a God also don’t do, is think through the logical outcomes of that starting place. If there is no God then there is no personal beginning to this world; it WAS purely an accident, pure chance however billion years ago it was, and if it was pure chance, then everything that follows cannot be put in a framework that speaks about meaning or significance for there can be no ‘meaning’ or ‘purpose’ to a life that has come from pure chance.

If, on the other hand however, there is a personal Supreme Being then we would need to find out what sort of Supreme Being because, in the meaningful language we use today, He (it) is either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and if He is ‘bad’ then we are really in trouble. But there is a problem with that. If he was ‘bad’, spiteful, malicious etc., as some modern atheists assert, then He would not give us anything good. The whole of life, however, tells us that there are many good things about our existence. But does the opposite apply as well? If God is ‘good’ then shouldn’t there be NO evil of any kind?

The answer to that lies in just ‘what is evil?’ A simple observation of the world tells us that evil is what people DO to one another. Couldn’t this good God have made us so it was not possible to do wrong? Where would we like Him to cut it off? Murder, rape and similar things, most certainly. Theft? Yes. Violence of any form? Yes. Violence of thought? Pardon? Bad thoughts that lead to bad words that lead to bad actions. Ah! We have a problem? If God made us with the capability to think, how could He make us not to have certain thoughts? The necessity of what it means to be human, means we must have the ability to choose to do what we will – even when that is bad, wrong, evil. But that doesn’t make God evil. He can still be good. If we find His goodness is expressed in Him constantly reaching out to us to draw us into goodness and out of evil, He still remains good, even if we refuse Him and we do evil.

So, what have we said? A world that purely evolved without any supreme hand behind it, is a world of pure chance and therefore we have no grounds to speak of right or wrong, good or evil. They are simply what we personally want them to be, but that becomes a problem when someone else’s views mean they impinge violently on my life. Survival of the fittest, they say. Such is a world with no personal beginning, a world with no purpose, no meaning, no absolutes, no fixed standards by a Final Arbiter. But yet there is another problem with that! It is that none of us live like that; few of us want it like that – but that IS the logical outcome of having NO God.

Suppose the God described in the Bible is true, the God of Christianity, a God of love and utter goodness. Common sense would suggest we find out about Him, because He must surely know better how to run my life than I do. Some serious points to ponder with those who are concerned about intellectual integrity.

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