Does Life have a Meaning?2
In the most recent edition of The Economist (Autumn, 2014), there is an intriguing and ultimately disappointing article entitled, “What’s the point?” The article first appeared in The Economist’s sister magazine, Intelligent Life. The question asked and answered in the article is: Does life have a meaning? Continue reading . . .
In the most recent edition of The Economist (Autumn, 2014), there is an intriguing and ultimately disappointing article entitled, “What’s the point?” The article first appeared in The Economist’s sister magazine, Intelligent Life. The question asked and answered in the article is: Does life have a meaning? Six individuals provide their opinion: Philip Pullman (a novelist), Mary Midgley (a philosopher), John Burnside (a poet), Elizabeth Kolbert (a reporter), Stephen Grosz (a psychoanalyst), and Ann Wroe (a biographer and obituarist; her answer is the shortest: “The point is love”).
What makes the article interesting (and disappointing) is that in not one of the answers given by the six is the name “God” ever mentioned (not even to deny his existence!). The answers they do provide are all self-defeating, as each individual tries to find some meaning to life in a world they believe has no Creator. Words such as “beauty” and “truth” and “love” and “success” and “prosperity” do appear, but each of these is devoid of substantive meaning if the people who use them are themselves of no more eternal significance than the rustling of leaves in the wind. If everything that is (including the contributors to this article) exists by chance, devoid of conscious and intentional design, what possible reason is there to pay the slightest attention to anything they say? Their thoughts and utterances would have about as much value as the slime left in the wake of a slug on my sidewalk. Maybe less.
So what is the meaning of life? Why do we exist? What is the purpose for being? In the first formal sermon he ever preached, Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) put it this way:
“The pleasures of loving and obeying, loving and adoring, blessing and praising the Infinite Being, the Best of Beings, the Eternal Jehovah; the pleasures of trusting in Jesus Christ, in contemplating his beauties, excellencies, and glories; in contemplating his love to mankind and to us, in contemplating his infinite goodness and astonishing loving-kindness; the pleasures of [the] communion of the Holy Ghost in conversing with God, the maker and governor of the world; the pleasure that results from the doing of our duty, in acting worthily and excellently; . . . these are the pleasures that are worthy of so noble a creature as a man is” (“Christian Happiness” in Sermons and Discourses 1720-1723, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 10. Edited by Wilson H. Kimnach [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992], pp. 305-06).
Unlike the authors of this article, Christians have a different explanation for why there is something rather than nothing. God made us. But why did God choose to create? Certainly not from the anguish born of need, as if creation might supply God what he lacked. God didn’t take inventory and suddenly realize there was a shortage that only you and I could fill up. So what prompted God to act?
The source of God’s creative energy was the joy of infinite and eternal abundance! God chose to create from the endless and self-replenishing overflow of delight in himself.
We begin with the recognition that our Triune God delights infinitely in his own eternal beauty. When God the Father beholds himself in the Son he is immeasurably happy. He gazes at the Son and sees a perfect reflection of his own holiness. The Father rejoices in the beauty of the Son and Spirit, and the Son revels in the beauty of the Spirit and Father, and the Spirit delights in that of the Father and Son. God is his own fan club! This benevolent fullness of divine delight overflows in creation so that we might joyfully share, to God’s eternal glory, in God’s admiration of himself.
Simply put, God created us so that the joy he has in himself might be ours. God doesn’t simply think about himself or talk to himself. He enjoys himself! He celebrates with infinite and eternal intensity the beauty of who he is as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And we’ve been created to join the party!
To relish and rejoice in the beauty of God alone accounts for why we exist. It’s also the solution to our struggle with sin. Enjoying God is the catalyst for substantive and lasting change. And enjoying God is the soul’s sole satisfaction, with which no rival pleasure can hope to compete. Glorifying God by enjoying him forever. It’s the meaning of life!