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Looking for meaning in life

How can we find meaning in life today in the midst of rapid social changes that leave us restless and confused?

We see paradoxes around us. The machine, especially the computer, has emerged as supreme. Its rapid invasion of every area of life has unsettled us more than we want to admit. Is man the master of the machine as he imagines himself to be, or its servant?

Peace is on the agenda of world bodies but continual distrust frustrates efforts to attain it. Food production climbs to new records while many countries face starvation. Pollution on sea, land and air follow industrialisation, while social scientists and welfare workers fight the pollution that is within - drug abuse, violence in the city and general moral decay.

Where To Begin

The Christian believes that life is worth living only when lived for God.

Descartes, the French philosopher and mathematician, described God as a rather impersonal being who is "infinite, eternal, immutable, independent, all-knowing, all-powerful and by which I myself and everything else… have been created."

However the God of the Bible, who gave us the Bible, is a personal Being. He is our Creator who calls us to a Person-to-person relationship with Him. He is good and just, at the same time loving and merciful. He is revealed best in human terms as a Father, for so the Bible calls Him. And He is worthy of our worship. Jesus Christ revealed Him uniquely. Jesus alone shows us what God is like by demonstrating something of God’s power over Nature through His miracles. In everyday life He showed His care for the individual through His acceptance and forgiving love.

This is the God who has promised, "You will seek Me, and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29:13)

How To Know God

You will meet people who say that such a God cannot be known. It is a brave man who asserts that he cannot know and that nobody else will know! True, one does not prove the existence of God in the same way that one proves a theorem. How could one do that? God is not a mathematical concept. The Bible says that man can know God and invites him to do so. At this point we appear to run into philosophical difficulties. "How does one know God?" Indeed we should ask: "How does one know anything at all?" This more profound question has no answer. But does it stop people from thinking and, therefore, knowing? Of course not. It is one of those "givens" in life for which there is no adequate explanation. In order to know about knowing one must first know what it is to know!

The Bible’s understanding of "knowing God" has little to do with defining God or knowledge but a lot to do with willingness to believe Him. One thing is clear. It cannot be "proved" that God does not exist. In fact, many people think it is quite reasonable to believe in God. They see the evidence around them. The beauty of Nature, for instance, persuades their minds to accept the strong probability of there being a Designer.

However just thinking about the strong probability that God exists is not the same as knowing Him. Something else is needed. Faith must now take the step of grasping this reasonable belief and making it a personal commitment. There is nothing unusual about this. This is the way we function in a lot of situations in life. Faith and reason lead to action. Do we not, in faith, put ourselves in the care of reasonably competent doctors, bus drivers, and so on? Do we not, in faith, sign up for annual subscriptions for magazines, pay our deposits on houses or flats when all we see are drawings, or commit ourselves to a life-long relationship when we marry? Why should faith in God be different?

Therefore belief in the God of the Bible has not meant intellectual suicide for those who have this belief. On the contrary, meaning and purpose in life begin with this first step.

Science, Scientific Theories And You

Let us look at some other obstacles to knowing God. Has modern science made belief in God unacceptable? There are scientists who prefer to be atheists and there are equally good scientists who are convinced Christians. Obviously we cannot make up our minds about God by simply adding up the number of scientists who say they don’t believe in God compared with the number of those who say they do. Strictly speaking, science treats only the physical part of our world. Man has a spiritual part and about this science has little to say. The data from this part of human experience does not lend itself to methods of scientific analysis. Think of friendship, parental love or patriotism. These cannot be analysed in a test-tube. Nonetheless they are part of the real world and they have value.

The Christian scientist is happy with the established findings of science as much as his non-Christian colleagues. Established findings, please, not theories. This has to be said rather forcefully because no established scientific finding goes against the belief in God. Rather the more he learns of the workings of Nature the more his eyes are opened to how wise God is and how He continually cares for His creation. He sees harmony between such findings and the powerful creative God revealed in the pages of the Bible.

He realises the drive to discover and unify knowledge can come from atheists as much as from those who believe in God. He only asks that his atheist colleagues be fair in presenting their view for a life without God. This is especially so with the theories of evolution and the origin of life. These theories are not proven and, particularly with the origin of life, are supported by hypotheses of a type which scientists would reject in any other connection.

Take the current thinking about life’s origins as an example. Non-Christian scientists of eminence have spoken against the fantasy that life on Earth came through simple chemicals reacting by chance over long periods of time.

Sir Fred Hoyle wrote:

"…The entire structure of orthodox biology still holds that life arose at random. Yet as biochemists discover more and more about the awesome complexity of life, it is apparent that the chances of it originating by accident are so minute that they can be completely ruled out. Life cannot have arisen by chance."

God’s Love And The Presence Of Evil In The World

This matter troubles sincere people both Christians as well as non-Christians. It concerns the painful presence of suffering and injustice in all societies. How does one explain the Christian’s claim that God is Love?

First, let us understand that the problem of suffering will never be completely answered here and now. It remains a fact of life whether we wish to believe in God or not. At least the Bible is being realistic when it tells us that the cause of much moral evil lies within man himself. The endless debates at conferences on arms limitation, tariff barriers, foreign aid and the elusive new world economic order point to that strange perversity and selfishness in every man and nation, however enlightened. Countries that have come out rejoicing from communist control have found to their dismay that the problem with society is man himself.

Secondly, Christians have always thought of moral evil in its relation in human freedom and responsibility. Man has not been created by God to be a robot programmed to do only right or wrong. Man is free to choose moral good or moral evil. For this he is held accountable to his Creator for his choices.

We can illustrate accountability this way. Suppose a drug firm suppresses the truth that a new drug is not safe for mothers and babies. It markets the drug with tragic results. Innocent people suffer for the greed of the firm. Will not a court of law hold certain individuals as free agents responsible for this atrocity? It will be those who knowingly and willfully act against the truth. That is accountability on a human level which we readily accept as a fact of life. Why not accountability to God?

Thirdly, the Bible assures us that God in Jesus Christ has dealt with moral evil and suffering in a decisive way. Jesus, who Himself was without moral evil, was nailed to a wooden cross in Palestine about 2,000 years ago. The Bible says He did it on behalf of sinners. He died, then rose triumphantly from the grave. In so doing He proved that He is able to save anyone who trusts in Him from sin and the power of death.

Other Ways Of Looking At Moral Evil

Whichever way we look at it the prevalent problem of moral evil is not helped by calling evil an illusion of the human mind or labeling it "the result of ignorance".

C.E.M. Joad sums it up rather well when he wrote:

"It is because we rejected the doctrine of original sin that we on the (political) Left were always being disappointed: disappointed by the refusal of people to be reasonable, by the subservience of intellect to emotion, by the failure of true Socialism to arrive, by the behaviour of nations and politicians, by the masses’ preference for Hollywood to Shakespeare and for Mr. Sinatra to Beethoven; above all, by the recurrent fact of war".

There is in man an irrationality that makes him say one thing and do the opposite. There is, more frightening, an impulse of destructiveness.

Nor is this perversity, which the Bible calls sin, the characteristic of any one race. John S. Mbiti writing on sins typical in African religion makes an interesting summary:

"By nature, Africans are neither angels nor demons. They can be as kind as the Germans, but they can be as murderous as the Germans; Africans can be as generous as the Americans, but they can be as greedy as the Americans; they can be as friendly as the Russians, but they can be as cruel as the Russians; they can be as honest as the English, but they can be equally hypocritical. In their human nature Africans are Germans, Swiss, Chinese, Indians or English - They are men".

The cause of much moral evil resulting in human suffering lies in man himself.

What About "Meaningless" Suffering?

It is easy to find examples of the apparent meaninglessness of suffering and to call these "proofs" of the non-existence of God. Or that, if He exists, He can’t do anything about it or He couldn’t care less. Are we being fair when we draw conclusions like these? Do we possess all the facts relating to a given case of suffering? Are we aware of the implications (past, present and future) such that we can say whether it has meaning or not? This is plainly not possible. Christians do not pretend to give a full answer to such cases as volcanoes and typhoons causing death and havoc.

The Bible tells us that at first the world was made very good as a home for man. There is no hint in the Bible that the world then contained the kind of disruptive forces we experience today. People overlook this point too easily. It was only when man rebelled against his Creator that the effects of his sin entered the physical world and changed it. Certain things then follow from the nature of the changed physical world in which we now live. We have fire as a useful means of heating. We also have situations where it destroys when it gets out of control. Bacteria attack dead matter as well as the living body. Nature became "red in tooth and claw".

God And Suffering

People who feel that a loving God should not allow suffering usually have their own ideas about what the love of God should be. God knows what He is doing even if we do not. It seems to them that God’s love should rule out pain or suffering in any form. This is untrue to life. A father may love his child deeply and yet finds it necessary to discipline him. Suffering is a subject not foreign to the Bible, which gives it a meaning here and points to an explanation of its mystery in the after-life.

We have already seen in Christ the example of One who loves sinners and suffered for them. It is only fair that if we think the Biblical teaching that God is love is unreasonable we should listen to what the Bible says about Jesus Christ and suffering. The Bible tells us about a Saviour who of his own free choice suffered on behalf of sinners but who himself did not deserve that suffering. It includes the teaching of a day of judgement when God, the best Judge of men’s motives, brings everything to light. He will deal finally with evil and death. That is the day of true justice. On that day God creates a new heaven and new earth where, the Bible says, all that is true and good will be found. All who love Him will be with Him. Those who do not want Him now will have their free choice realised to their eternal loss.

What Are You Going To Do About It?

These are some of the problems which a seeker after God may encounter. They may be your problems as you think about trusting in Jesus Christ as your Saviour and Lord. You will find that trust calls for more than a nod of intellectual assent. It calls for a total commitment of your life to and a daily dependence upon Him. To begin with, trust Him to forgive your sins remembering that it is because of them that Christ died on the cross for you. Then go on trusting Him for all your needs. Through the years He will prove Himself faithful and sufficient as you live the life of faith.

A man’s deepest needs are not intellectual but moral and spiritual. They have to do with relating to God and to other people. Jesus Christ satisfies these needs because He is the Saviour risen from the dead. He has reconciled sinful man to a holy Creator. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He gives meaning to our existence now and hereafter.

Dear friend, Jesus Christ is the only Saviour and Lord. The Bible says it is true. The Christian affirms that it is true from experience. If it is true you cannot be indifferent to Him. You must come to a decision to reject Him or ask Him by faith to come into your life, unworthy as you are.

Will you not consider this an urgent personal matter and decide in faith to trust Him?

The quotation from Sir Fred is taken from "The Intelligent Universe" {Michael Joseph London, 1983, pp. 11, 12) and that of John S. Mbiti from his "African Religions and Philosophy" (London, Feiseern, 1969, p. 210). C. E. M. Joad is quoted from his book, "The Recovery of Belief" (Faber, London, 1952, p. 82).

You will find the following passages from the Bible helpful. The first eighteen verses of the gospel of John (John 1:1-18); the first ten verses of Ephesians (Ephesians 1:1-10) and the last twelve verses of Revelation (Revelation 22:10-21).


Next chapter: Thinking over reincarnation