by S. Michael Houdmann
What on earth is the meaning of life? Have you ever wondered? Why are we here and what is our purpose? We work and play and strive towards our goals, in the search for fulfillment and satisfaction. But it seems like satisfaction never comes. Why is this? Does anything in life hold real significance? What is it about humanity that we desire significance? What is it, exactly, that we are looking for?
Have you ever stopped to consider these important questions? When relationships are failing, careers start feeling empty, or tragedy strikes, questions like these begin to bubble up in our minds. Sometimes we work towards a goal for years only to find that the end result – the money, power or recognition we've achieved – doesn't give us that sense of purpose and peace we were seeking to begin with. Those who have not yet reached their goals may look up to heroes who have made it to the top. But when asked what he wished he had known starting out, one successful athlete said, "I wish that someone would have told me that when you reach the top, there's nothing there."
The peoples and cultures of the world pursue many things, trying to discover the meaning of life. Some pursuits are humanistic – people look for meaning by doing good for others or trying to make the world a better place. Some are existential – people look for meaning in pleasure, fun or relaxation. Other people pursue business success, wealth, power or politics. Others search for meaning in family or romantic relationships. But ultimately, a deep emptiness remains.
The Book of Ecclesiastes was written by the great ancient king, Solomon, a man who had literally everything. He chronicles his journey through all the delights and pursuits of life that his money and influence could attain. He amassed wealth, was blessed with wisdom beyond any other mortal man, had hundreds of wives and concubines, his gardens and palaces were the envy of the other kingdoms, and he was able to enjoy the best life had to offer. And at the end of his journey, this is what he said: "Meaningless! Meaningless! ...Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless" (Ecclesiastes 1:2 NIV). His conclusion was that "life under the sun" i.e., existential life, human life, this world, the senses and the experience—is meaningless. Why? Because God created us for something beyond what we can experience in this life, something that goes beyond the pleasures and frustrations of the flesh. Solomon said of God, "Also, he has put eternity into man's heart" (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Deep down, we know that the "here-and-now" is not all there is.
Does the Bible shed any light on this? Did God purpose our lives to mean something? If so, what is that purpose, and how do we find it?
The first life that God created for man was a blissfully meaningful life in the Garden of Eden. God created man in His image (Genesis 1:26). Before mankind fell into sin and the curse of sin came upon the earth, man's relationships were perfect and fulfilling (Genesis 2:18-25); man enjoyed his work (Genesis 2:15); fellowship between God and man was unbroken and peaceful (Genesis 3:8); and man basically ruled the planet without resistance from evil or decay or trouble or disaster (Genesis 1:26). God's intention was for each of these things to fulfill and bless us, but as a result of the fall of mankind into sin because of disobedience, all of them (especially man's fellowship with God) were cursed and became futile (Romans 8:20).
In Revelation, the last book of the Bible which reveals the end of all things, God will destroy this present fallen creation and make a new heaven and a new earth, restoring both man and the rest of creation to perfect, fulfilling life and fellowship with Himself. The unredeemed (those who have not trusted Christ) will be judged and cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15). For those who belong to Christ, there will be no more sin, sorrow, sickness, death, or pain (Revelation 21:4). God will dwell with man and have a close relationship with Him (Revelation 21:7). Here we see the meaning of life in God's plan. God created us to have fellowship with Him, but when man sinned, that fellowship was broken. However, God restores through Christ that fellowship, first in our hearts through faith in Christ, and then finally and fully when He makes all things new. The missionary Jim Elliott said "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." To go through this life focused on achieving everything the world has to offer, only to die separated from God for eternity, is the worst imaginable thing! Thankfully, God has provided a way for us to have eternal security and happiness (Luke 23:43) and also a meaningful life here on earth.
There is only one way to restore and repair the brokenness and emptiness that man's fall into sin has caused in man's heart and in man's life. That way is Jesus Christ (John 14:6). A restored relationship with God is only possible through His Son (Acts 4:12; John 1:12; 14:6). We can have eternal life when we no longer desire to continue in sin (repentance) and believe in Christ's atoning work on the cross (Hebrews 10:10).
Jesus never promises that our lives on earth will be easy (John 16:33), but He promises that He will be with us throughout our earthly life, giving us meaning as we begin to understand Him through His Word, as we talk to Him in prayer, and as we walk with Him in obedience to His commands. Many churches and religions promise people meaning, saying "if you just do this and that, or follow this or that set of rules or discipines, you will find meaning." But that is not the message of Christ. Becoming religious or pious can be just another way to find meaning in this life by finding it in ourselves and in what we can do to please God. But this too is futile. God is perfect and infinite, and can only be pleased by the sacrifice of a perfect, infinite Being. That is why Christ came, to save us from our desperate situation.
Are you disillusioned? Weary? Disappointed? This world and its pursuits can never satisfy for they are meaningless, and people were made to live meaningful lives. The knowledge of God provides wonderful respite and relief. And Jesus Christ has opened the door to that relief by His blood. Will you walk through?