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What is the meaning of life?

1 September 2012 | by Jamie Carter

What is the meaning of life?

The question ‘What is the meaning of life?’ is often written off as a rather ridiculous, impossible-to-answer conversation stopper. But it is actually a very important question to answer, because meaning and life are things we instinctively know are weighty and significant.

We want to know what things mean. What did Shakespeare mean in this part of this play? What does it mean when a cold front is approaching? Meaning is important to us. If we watch a film which has no meaning whatsoever it is frustrating for us. We feel cheated. And we want to do things which are meaningful. We desire meaningful relationships and most of us want to contribute to society and our families in a meaningful way. We have a need to do things that have a point or a purpose.

Life is important to us

Life is not worthless, cheap or irrelevant, but deep, precious and sacred, something to be valued, protected and defended. Surely life in all its preciousness and vibrancy must mean something. But is it even possible to find out if life has any meaning or purpose at all? I want to put it to you that without God, life has no meaning. This is the case for two reasons:

  1. We are far too limited to find out life’s meaning on our own

Imagine a gym ball. Imagine the space inside it represents all of the knowledge in the entire universe. How much of that knowledge do you know? A cubic centimetre? A cubic millimetre? Surely none of us would dare claim to have even that much knowledge. We don’t know what the contents of the books in the smallest public library in Wales are, let alone know what the meaning of life is.

By contrast God knows everything. He knows the co-ordinates of every star in the sky, the contents of every book in every library in every country of the world, what there is in the basements of Area 51 and whether Budweiser beer really does condition the hair. Shouldn’t we therefore look to Him to find the meaning to life? Saying that we know what the meaning of life is, is a bit like me saying I can work out how Google works. There’s no way I could find this out on my own; I’d have to ask someone, and probably the best person to ask would be the creators of Google. Isn’t the best way to find out what life means to ask the one who created life?

  1. Without God, we are creatures who are the product of chance

I’m assuming that if you don’t believe in God, you believe the world happened by chance, that  the big bang was the product of an accident. It just happened as randomly as a leaf falling from a tree and landing on a particular car windscreen. If life started in a meaningless way, surely life has no meaning; a drawing pin has more purpose than life does.

God brings meaning to life

God brings meaning to life because God made us and made life. The best person to explain to us what the film Inception means is Christopher Nolan, because he wrote and directed it. The  One who made us has the right to tell us what life means, because he designed it and created it.

Jesus came into our world and explained how life works to us. He’s God in human form telling us what the meaning of life is in a way we can understand. After all, He made us, and gave life to us. And finding out the meaning of life from the maker of life is deeply satisfying.

So what is the meaning of life?

The Bible contains the meaning of life. And the essence of the Bible and therefore of the meaning of life, is for us to know God and be fulfilled in Him. Jesus told us that life is about knowing God when He said ‘…this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ…’ (John 17:3). But as well as knowing him, God wants us to enjoy Him. We see this in the Psalms, the hymns of the Bible. Psalm 34 says, ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good!’ God wants us to experience Him and see how good He is.

He designed us to be capable of enjoying His world and experiencing pleasure. Think about food. Our mouths and taste buds are receptive to tastes and textures which can give us great pleasure. It’s the same with sex. God could have made reproduction like filling up a car with petrol. But he didn’t. He designed it to be an intensely pleasurable experience for recreation as well as reproduction. And when we find pleasure in Him and in what He’s given us, when we enjoy Him and His gifts, then we are most fulfilled.

Christianity injects meaning into the veins of life and gives us deep, lasting satisfaction and fulfilment as a result. A belief that life started accidentally, sucks meaning out of life. How can life have real meaning,g if it began in a meaningless way? Then life is at best frustrating, and at worst terrible. It is built, as Bertrand Russell put it, ‘on the firm foundation of unyielding despair.’ It’s distressing isn’t it, to look up to the stars and to think, what’s the point of it all? Why am I here? What does it all mean?

A meaning to death

Atheism not only sucks real meaning out of life, it makes death appalling. Death is the eraser which comes along and rubs us out of life forever. All we’ve striven for, worked towards, attained and enjoyed is severed from us forever. Without God, doesn’t death make life meaningless? Doesn’t it mock life’s efforts? One philosopher from the bible wrote ‘Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless. What does man gain from all his labour at which he toils under the sun?’  (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3) Without God, the answer is, ‘Nothing’. But with God, death is the portal which admits us to life forever.

And that life is a life where the things done on earth still matter are honoured and remembered forever. That life is a continuation of knowing and discovering and enjoying more of God. It is a life of fulfilling our potential unhampered by the restraints we encounter on earth. It is a life of peace, satisfaction, joy and meaning. It is life without racism, injustice, spin or spite. It is eternal life, with God and with Jesus. And Jesus offers that life to us.

That’s why He came from heaven to earth: to explain life’s meaning to us and to offer true meaningful life to us. He says ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full’ (John 10:10). He says to you, in effect, ‘Come to me and find real meaning and fulfilment. Come to me and find life in all its fullness.’ Following Jesus means discovering the meaning of life.

What will you do? Where will you look for meaning? Will you look to yourself, or will you look to God, and find meaning and fulfilment in knowing and enjoying Him, through His son Jesus Christ?

Jamie Cater is an evangelist on the staff team at Carey Baptist Church, Reading.