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Must I Tithe 10% of My Net or Gross Income?

What Is the Meaning of Life?

Posted August 14, 2023

There once was a man who wanted to know the meaning of life. He heard that there was a wise old teacher who lived very far away on the tip-top of a high mountain. So, the man decided to seek him out, traveling across blistering deserts and vast monster-filled oceans. After many months, the man clambered to the top of the mountain and gazed into the face of the teacher. “Please, oh wise one,” he said, “What is the meaning of life?” At long last, the aged man replied with a noble and ancient solemnity, “Webster’s dictionary defines life as the period from birth to death.”

One of the challenges we face when coming to this question of the meaning of life is the sheer magnitude of answers that people have put forward. In one sense, it’s understandable that so many feel bewildered by it. And it’s understandable that so many have likewise, with a collective shrug, supposed that the meaning of life is probably just subjective: “If you’re doing what makes you happy (and aren’t hurting anyone), go for it.”

What Is True?

Should I free myself from all earthly attachments? Or should I try to get as much earthly gain as possible? Are we deluded to think that anything has a purpose? Are we just cosmic accidents circling the drain of an indifferent universe until everything dissolves once-and-for-all in a superheated fireball? Maybe life simply is, as Macbeth suggested, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,” but in the end “signifying nothing.”

We might frame the issue like this: people have been around for a long time. In that time, a lot of people have claimed to offer a rationale for the meaning of life. Yet, most disagree with each other. So, who’s to say who has the right answer?

What Do the Smart People Have to Say?

Of course, there’s no denying that there are some very knowledgeable people in the world. I have a friend who now works as an astrophysicist for NASA. The number of things he’s thought carefully and deeply about in terms of the known universe is dizzying. Yet, despite the fact that he could tell me the precise mathematical formula used to calculate the behavior of displaced dust particles from a rocket launched off of an asteroid traveling 59,000 mph through space, I would be a bit skeptical if he told me he had figured out my purpose in life.

The reality is, left to ourselves, we can have no hope of answering the question of ultimate purpose. We cannot fully grasp the transcendent. Why? Well, we are by nature not transcendent. We are imminent and finite. We are, in other words, here right now, not for very long, and without all that much knowledge in the grand scheme of history and the universe. Perhaps the question of why we exist eludes us because it’s not ours to determine; we cannot make up our own reasons for living.

God Is the Author of Meaning

Since we are created beings, we don’t get to dictate what we are made for. God alone has the right to dictate what our purpose is: “Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” (Rom. 9:20–21). As creatures made by God in God’s own image (Gen. 1:27), our happiness depends on God’s design and purpose, revealed to us in nature (general revelation) and, ultimately, his word (special revelation).

Yet, this is a feature, not a bug. As Creator, God has made humanity good. Our souls are good because they’re made by God. Our bodies are good. You have your particular ears, nose, eyes, legs, and thumbs because God thought it was a good idea to make them that way. God has made every part of who you are for his glory and your good. As Augustine wrote so long ago, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord. And our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

If we attempt to subvert God’s creational design in our bodies, our relationships, or the various ways we interact with the surrounding world, we shouldn’t be surprised when sin corrodes. Paul tells us in Romans 1:18–22 that this is why God’s wrath is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. By suppressing the truth about who God is, by suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, we become futile in our thinking, our foolish hearts are darkened, we become fools, and we exchange the glory of the immortal God for gods that are deaf, dumb, and blind. When we look to created things to give our lives purpose, we’ll be forced to declare with the Preacher of Ecclesiastes, “Everything is meaningless” (Eccl. 1:2 NIV). If we pour sand into our car’s gas tank, we shouldn’t be surprised if everything begins to break down.

In Luke 4:4, Jesus tells us, “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” We were made for fellowship with God. Every part of us is designed by God toward this end. Or, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it, “man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” It can only be through relationship with God, according to his Word, that our lives find meaning and our hearts rest.

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Isaac Fox

Originally from the East Coast, Isaac Fox now calls the San Diego area home. He has a Bachelor’s in Biblical Studies from Reformation Bible College and is currently enrolled in the Historical Theology program at Westminster Seminary California. When he isn’t panicking about deadlines, he enjoys hiking, reading Dante, and talking to strangers at coffee shops.