It is not likely that your favorite pet ever considered the meaning of life. In fact it is nearly certain that it did not. However, it is equally certain that every human on the planet probably has. Reflecting on the meaning of life is probably near the top of the list of activities that makes humans different from the rest of the animals. It may also be the fundamental question at the root of all spirituality.
“Why am I here?” As common it is to ask this same question, the answers are far from similar. In fact our own opinion, of our own purpose, may well change daily. However dissimilar our answers to the specifics, the question of “God” will undoubtedly require resolution. In fact, without a creator, the whole concept of purpose is lost. Without a creator one cannot resolve the existential dilemma because without a creator there is no dilemma, there is no purpose.
δί-λημμα – Greek literally meaning “double proposition” is a problem offering two possibilities. A dilemma. The two possibilities are that there is either a creator, and therefore a purpose, or there is no creator, which removes the possibility of purpose.
In mankind’s quest for resolution on this topic we have tried some pretty clever strategies to quiet that noisy aspect of our consciousness. For instance, ancestor worship. If we cannot fathom a creator we certainly can acknowledge our parent’s role in the process. However, once they cease to be with us we are forced to make the same leap into the mystical. How can “purpose” die and still offer relief to this nagging question? Therefore our parents must still be there, they must still be listening. Problem solved.
Unfortunately, once the mystical is invoked the question of “who else” is “still there” will follow. Who was the parent of the first parents? This line of thinking offers limited relief.
Now I’d like to consider a popular thought of today. We are, after all, the “most evolved” humans to have ever existed in all of history are we not? So what about secular humanism? Well, for the secular humanist, specifically the atheist, the one who claims to have concluded (and by doing resolved) their quest for meaning. For them, there is simply no purpose, or as they would say, they make their own purpose (half dozen of one, 6 of the other). I can only imagine that they have resolved the question, because for my mind, while “none of the above” is a possibility; “none at all” would offer no relief at all. No relief to that nagging suspicion that mankind could never have arrived at a place where we are asking “why am I here” without there being an answer. It would create a “chicken and egg” paradox, at least by my calculation. In fact, we would not even have to be able to ask the question for the answer to exist. In fact the answer must exist for anything at all to exist.
So now I invite you to participate in a dangerous experiment. Get in a quite place, close your eyes, and try as earnestly as possible to consider existence divorced from meaning. It is very difficult to imagine, even for atheists, but you’ll know you have experienced it by the sadness. A sadness that is intolerable. A sadness that seems capable of stopping your heart at just a glimpse. You will feel yourself dying, and that is not a biological death, but a spiritual one. Quick, snap out of it!
It’s a scary thing but everyone must go there some day. Many procrastinate this until their last moments, in the meantime focusing entirely on whatever happens to be in front of their eyes. Yes, it seems a sure thing, that some just ignore that nagging unresolved dilemma. However it seems as certain that none are immune to it. We are not “meant” to live our lives just following our every impulse and somehow we just “know” this.
Now, after all of that, for those that embrace the existence of God, how do we know that we have resolved the dilemma? Well, the word FAITH should come to mind. At the end of the new Star Trek movie when young Mr. Spock meets old Mr. Spock: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Ppo5YIYwTM.
[Spock notices a elder Vulcan walking in the docking bay]
[the elder Vulcan turns and is revealed as Spock Prime]
Spock Prime: I am not our father.
[Young Spock, now recognizing who he is, approaches]
Spock Prime: There are so few Vulcans left, we cannot afford to ignore each other.
Spock: Then why did you send Kirk aboard when you alone could have explained the truth?
Spock Prime: Because you needed each other. I could not deprive you of the revelation of all that you could accomplish together, of a friendship that will define you both in ways you cannot yet realize.
Spock: How did you persuade him to keep your secret?
Spock Prime: We inferred that universe-ending paradoxes would ensue should he break his promise.
Spock: You lied.
Spock Prime: Aww… I… I implied.
Spock: A gamble.
Spock Prime: An act of faith. One I hope that you will repeat in your future in Starfleet.
The beauty of this scene, and the whole concept of Vulcans (the race of Spock), is that those without faith must rely entirely on logic. For them to do otherwise becomes its own kind of evil. However, Christians make this mistake daily. We claim to have resolved the question of “purpose”, of God’s existence, and His promises. Then for some reason we live like Vulcans. Unwilling to take a chance. Unwilling to risk any of the consequences that our “logic” warns us “could” befall. If we are afraid to “do” what we believe God tells us to do then we really have not yet resolved our dilemma. We really are not sure of what we hope for. Maybe we are supposed to spend our lives “unsure”. One thing is sure, if a Christian is unsure, and the secular humanist is unsure, then they aren’t really that different are they? At least not so far as their quest for meaning.
New International Version (NIV)
1 Ship your grain across the sea;
after many days you may receive a return.
2 Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight;
you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.
3 If clouds are full of water,
they pour rain on the earth.
Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north,
in the place where it falls, there it will lie.
4 Whoever watches the wind will not plant;
whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.
5 As you do not know the path of the wind,
or how the body is formed[a] in a mother’s womb,
so you cannot understand the work of God,
the Maker of all things.
6 Sow your seed in the morning,
and at evening let your hands not be idle,
for you do not know which will succeed,
whether this or that,
or whether both will do equally well.
7 Light is sweet,
and it pleases the eyes to see the sun.
8 However many years anyone may live,
let them enjoy them all.
But let them remember the days of darkness,
for there will be many.
Everything to come is meaningless.
9 You who are young, be happy while you are young,
and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth.
Follow the ways of your heart
and whatever your eyes see,
but know that for all these things
God will bring you into judgment.
10 So then, banish anxiety from your heart
and cast off the troubles of your body,
for youth and vigor are meaningless.