I was inspired to write these thoughts after reading Sam Freeze’s post, The Meaning of Life: Life” at https://furtherapproximation.wordpress.com/2018/08/10/the-meaning-of-life-1-life/
To discuss the meaning of life is laudable. It means you’re thinking, and that’s important because not too many folks seem to be doing much thinking these days. But coming to a consensus on the meaning of life can be an elusive thing among numbers of people. This is because meaning is personal, or better said, individually significant. A good meal is by definition, good. But that will have different meanings to different individuals, depending on variables such as their desired cuisine, or if they are a dieter, a glutton, a parent or a child.
Meaning goes beyond mere definition and becomes so individualized that without our even realizing it, our very identity meshes with how each of us views the meaning of life. And as we mature, we weave this sense of meaning and identity together until it wraps us up and holds our understanding together in the framework of a world view.
At some point we apply logic to explain meaning as we see it, but logic itself does not produce meaning. Logic is merely a means to an end — the journey to a destination. And our journeys toward meaning have very specific starting points. Those are the basic assumptions we begin with, from which we chart our course to discover meaning.
In one sense, it can be said that basic assumptions are arbitrary. They cannot be proven or disproven logically. They are simply a working hypothesis to begin with. But, common sense and good subjective judgment can still be helpful. We must try to be wise in our basic assumptions.
At this point, if someone has already philosophically concluded that life is essentially devoid of meaning, such as in Nihilism, then of course they are thinking it is meaningless to try to make wise basic assumptions. But for purposes of this discussion, I have already made the presumption that life does have meaning. That is my position. And once that presumption has been made, then we are ready to anticipate a basic assumption from which we can logically proceed toward the meaning of life.
Bill Teague was an acquaintance of mine in college. All I remember about Bill was that he was a trombone player and had a quiet, gentle disposition. I remember one thing he said to me. I had just told him I would probably be happy living the rest of my life as a hermit, and he said, “The only valid life is a shared life.” And ever since then, I’ve spent much time thinking about that basic assumption.
Even in the most abstract of ways, it is unrealistic to think of ourselves outside the context of relationships. I have always tended to be a loner, yet I accepted the fact that other people made the clothes I wear; other people grew and packed and shipped the food I eat; someone else made the building I live in, the streets I drive on, etc. Yet even if I lived entirely by myself, I would still have to relate to the environment around me. I would be dependent upon plants and animals if there were no other humans. If there were no one else to talk to, would I even have a language? Without language, what form would ideas take? What is a thought if not a way to relate the self to the world around it?
Observing the process of childhood development in humans allows us to see the significance that relationships have in shedding light on the meaning of life. The scope of a tiny baby’s awareness is primarily on its own needs. Everything is about them. But as babies grow, they become less dependent and more autonomous. As we develop we become more able to relate to others, until eventually we are able to see ourselves in the context of our relationships.
It is hard to deny that the meaning of life itself is tied into how we relate to one another. Even my own strong individualism is meaningless outside the context of how I relate to others.
As children mature, they progress from relationships with Mother and Father, to siblings and other relatives, to neighbors and friends, to communities and nations, and hopefully even to the whole of humanity. This is the observed natural progression of human relationships. Yet over all these relationships is one key relationship standing as a model for the rest, and laying out for us the meaning of life. That is our relationship to God.
But a relationship with God can only give meaning to life if you know God is real. So perhaps the greatest question of all is how does the existence of God impact the meaning of life? Is the existence of God just an arbitrary assumption? Is God merely an invention of the human mind? What are the implications and consequences of either the existence or non-existence of God? What difference does that make when examining the meaning of life?
People have found different ways of giving meaning to life. Esthetic people may look to beauty. Practical people may look to function. Intellectual people may look to structure. Victims to power; self-satisfying to pleasure; altruistic to service; ambitious to achievement. Whatever the specific way, they all establish their own hierarchy of values. And for most of human history, across different cultures, the gods of countless religions have been pointed to as the ultimate authorities over those hierarchies.
That is because human beings have an innate sense that there is something supernatural beyond them. Today’s politically correct notion is that God is just a human construct and as such is an unnecessary consideration when discussing the meaning of life. However, I am a person who, in the process of seeking the meaning of life, made the basic assumption that God is real. So, for me, the meaning of life specifically comes from God, not from the pathways of my own theoretical reasoning.
Sadly, I realize that someone reading up to this point is no longer interested in what I have to say, because to them, God is no more meaningful than a fairy tale. I have encountered many so-called atheists (as well as agnostics and skeptics) who argue like Bertrand Russell that claiming God to be real is an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence. The weakness of this argument is that there is nothing at all extraordinary in saying God is real.
In fact, the exact opposite is true. Saying God doesn’t exist is an extraordinary claim that in no way can be demonstrated. It is foolish to even try. Romans 1:19-20 (ESV) says, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world.” In other words, God’s existence is self-evident. Further, Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Those who deny his existence are without excuse.
I didn’t become a Christian and accept the Bible as the authoritative word of God until I was 31 years old. It was then that I discovered it is God who designs us for relationships. He creates us first to love him, then to love one another. In fact, it was because he loved us that he sent Jesus Christ to die for our sins, so that by receiving him as Lord and Savior sin would no longer separate us from fellowship with God, and we would enter into his kingdom as children of God.
The essence of the meaning of life is eternal life in Christ. And that is not the conclusion of a simpleton. There is no shortage of great Christian literature on the meaning of life. For those who consider themselves thinkers, read Nancy Pearcey’s book, Total Truth. It is an excellent example of scholarly thought on the meaning of life. In addition to her theological training, she was once an atheist and has studied philosophy in-depth.