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The Meaning Of Life

Very few people can give a clear and confident answer to the question "What is the meaning of life?" The meaning of life is assumed to be one of those "too hard" questions which absolutely no-one knows the answer to. The most common responses are "There isn't any...", "I don't want to think about it... it's too hard", "Whatever is meaningful to you...", "Guess it has something to do with God.." and "Don't know...". Well there is an answer, its quite clear from Scripture and its easy to live by. The meaning of life is to live a life like that of Jesus Christ where we love God with all our heart, mind and strength and our neighbor as ourselves so that we are abundantly rewarded on the day of judgment. In order to arrive at this conclusion we will look at both the book of Ecclesiastes, written by King Solomon, and the New Testament.

It will be helpful if you keep your copy of the bible handy and open at Ecclesiastes - which is just after Proverbs.

(Ecclesiastes 1:1-3 NIV) The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: {2} "Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless." {3} What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?

Is there a meaning to life and if so what is it? Ecclesiastes provides us with the searching questions of Solomon , the wisest king who ever lived. He was wealthy, wise and lived in peace. He accomplished great things and by his own admission had all that anyone could desire. But in his old age his impending death made him question whether it had any point to it. He surveyed the whole range of human existence and concluded that if there is nothing after death then everything is meaningless and that the only "wise course" was that of personal satisfaction in the ordinary things of life.

(Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 NIV) Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him--for this is his lot. {19} Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work--this is a gift of God. {20} He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.

Specifically Solomon list seven pointless pursuits:

  1. Seeing It All - The satisfaction of the senses - which can never be satisfied. (Ecclesiastes 1:8 NIV) All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.

  2. Making Your Mark - Trying to innovate and gain a place in history because nothing is truly "new" it has all been done before or happened before. People may invent bigger and better guns but war has always been. There is nothing really new under the sun. Soon you and your achievement are forgotten. (Eccl 9-11)

  3. Reforming Others -. Trying to "straighten out the world" - which is futile and impossible . (Eccl 1:15) The world is too perverse to be "fixed" by our imperfect hands.

  4. Being A Know All - The accumulations of wisdom which only weighs the heart down with grief (1:16-18) and though the pursuit of wisdom is as light compared to darkness ultimately there is the same fate for the fool and the wise man - both die. (2:12-15). The grave thus mocks all the advantages of wisdom and makes it of no ultimate benefit.

  5. The Pursuit of Pleasure- Solomon pursued of pleasure, wine and enjoyment with his mind still guiding him. The first Epicurean concluded that it was meaningless and accomplished nothing. (Eccl 2:1-3)

  6. Grand Achievements - Are in the end a grand disappointment. (Eccl. 2:4-11) Ecclesiastes does not say it but this phase of Solomon's life involved forced labor and high taxes that eventually lead to a divided Kingdom due to his son Rehoboam's overbearing attitude to these issues. As well as the Temple Solomon build palaces and many grand works that made Israel the envy of her neighbors. (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 NIV) I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. {11} Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

  7. Building A Dynasty.-. It irked Solomon that because he had to die he would have to leave the fruit of his labors to someone who had not worked for them.(2:21) In fact he calls it a "great evil". Solomon may have suspected Rehoboam's delinquency when he said (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19 NIV) I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. {19} And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless.

This comprehensive list of what is meaningless sharpened Solomon's appreciation of the things that were good. While there has been very little reference to God up to this point Solomon puts his finger on the pulse of our lives when he points out that the difference between the good life and the futile and meaningless life is the blessing of God upon the head of the righteous.

(Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 NIV) A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, {25} for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? {26} To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Pleasures may exist in the world but the ability to enjoy them is "from the hand of God".

Solomon then concludes that the meaning of an event depends on its time and context. (Ecclesiastes 3). This well known passage about a "time to live and a time to die" etc. is not a schedule of events as much as a statement that everything has its place and that even war, death and loss can be "beautiful in their time". It is not the event or the action that contains the meaning. It is the event or action fitted into God's plans and purposes that is beautiful and meaningful. This applies even to religious activities such as prayer, bible study and worship which many Christians see as deeply meaningful.

Even "God stuff" is not inherently meaningful. For instance, Jesus excoriates the Pharisees and Sadducees for turning precisely these activities into pointless, vain and egotistical exercises. And who has not been hurt by a hypocritically quoted Scripture? Events out of their time can be ugly and harsh. Even the most intimate and pleasurable events do not "contain meaning" in and of themselves. Sexual satisfaction which is beautiful in marriage jars and hurts outside of it, especially in casual or forced sex. Thus the meaning of our lives depends on their harmony with God's plans and purposes. When we harmonize with the Creator even the most mundane events are beautiful in their time.

The rest of the book of Ecclesiastes deals with sayings that help us to determine God's will for our lives and to live wisely. Many of the apparent injustices and contradictions of life are addressed. Toward the end of the book Solomon starts reflecting on the need to start obeying God while one is still young and before old age and death take their toll. Unless one aligns oneself with God's blessing it will soon be too late to truly enjoy life. Finally the last few verses of the book reveal that there will be a judgment after death and that it is this judgment that will give meaning and value to all that we have done. "Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil." Thus the true, lasting and eternal meaning of life is to fear God and obey His commandments. Taking this into the New Testament we see that

(Mark 12:29-31 NIV) "The most important one (commandment)," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. {30} Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' {31} The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."

So the true, eternal meaning of life is found in obeying God's commandments to love him with all our heart, mind and strength and also to love our neighbor as ourselves for it is for this that we will be rewarded on the day of judgment.

As Christians we need to take seriously this perspective on life. We need to stop trying to find our meaning and purpose in any of the seven things mentioned above - sensory fulfillment , innovation/making your mark , reforming others, the accumulation of wisdom, the pursuit of pleasure, the building of grand designs and projects, and the accumulation of assets for posterity. Instead we need to take hold of the two great commandments to love God and neighbor and use them as the basis of our life script, our goals and our plans.

Take out your diary and look at your week. How much of it is focused on the love of God and neighbor and how much is focused on the seven pointless pursuits listed above. Go to God and ask Him to give you creative ideas about how to love Him, obey His commandments and truly love your neighbor. Then plan to implement them, write them into your week. Diligently pursue them. We plan everything that is truly important to us from weddings to barbeques and careers. If God is important to you then you will plan your way ahead according to His commandments. (Isaiah 32:8 NIV) But the noble man makes noble plans, and by noble deeds he stands.

The last step in forging a truly meaningful life is to have a regular review of your self, your goals and your achievements to ensure that you stay on track. Solomon was undone because of his love of unbelieving women which led him and Israel into idol worship. This was an avoidable catastrophe that marred his life and the future generations.. Unless we regularly stop and check where we are going and bring ourselves to God the course of our life will be dictated by our weaknesses and not our strengths. Strengths seldom multiply and get out of control. But weaknesses do.

The best way to stop your weaknesses getting out of control is to have a time of bible study and prayer each day where God's word can speak to you and challenge you. Accountability to other believers that know you well and a weekly time of review -perhaps on Sunday afternoon are also good practices.

To sum up - the only way to have a truly meaningful life is to have it focused on loving God and your neighbor in a disciplined, prayerful and thoughtful way. Now do it!

 

This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.