Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Meaning in Life

Almost a month ago, now, in the comments section of this post, someone asked me what I think the meaning of life is. It was my real-life friend Anette, from Liquidoxology, and she meant the question seriously. Anette is a professor of theology at Augustana, so I gave the question some real thought before I emailed her my answer.


You asked what I would say the meaning of life is. I wonder if you mean life in general, or my life in particular?

I'll just start with the main thing that I meant in my post, when I referred to meaning in life. To me, meaning is the opposite of meaningless. Someone who believed life was meaningless would feel that everything that happens in life is random, lacking any purpose--all chance. I'm the opposite--I believe and trust that God does hold the box lid to the puzzle that is life. We just see puzzle pieces, but he sees how it all fits together. In fact, I believe he is able to morph puzzle pieces when needed, so that they'll fit into the picture he intends. ("Working all things together for good....what Satan meant for evil, God can turn to good.")

Sometimes I think about what would happen if tragedy struck--if [Papa Rooster] and all the kids were killed in an accident. Would I be able to trust God's purposes then? I think of [our friend's son's] girlfriend being killed in that Taylor University van accident--so far it's been hard to see any good coming from that. He is still really struggling. But I have to trust that God can bring good out of even an evil, senseless tragedy. If I lost my family, I would still have God, and I can't imagine turning my back on Him even if He allowed something to happen to them all. He'd be ALL I had at that point.

If I lost my family, much of the meaning or purpose of my life would have been snatched from me. I'd be looking to God to show me what my new purpose in life was. There's overlap here--between meaning and purpose. Suppose I found no meaningful relationships, had no community--I think then I'd have to conclude that my purpose in life, what God wanted me to do, would be similar to a nun in a cloister. I'd look for meaning in my relationship with him--in worshipping him and loving him like St. Teresa of Avila and other saints. I'd probably read a lot of them, so they could show me the way, as I'd need a lot of instruction!

Now whether that would give me a sense of fulfillment or not, I don't know. If it didn't, I'd probably look to activities that I enjoy. I'd read, write, garden, teach, and continue to look for meaning in human relationships: students, co-workers, neighbors, my church community, such as it was. How did God want to use me in their lives?

All this is hugely hypothetical, of course, but I'm extrapolating into a possible future based on what I believe and trust in the present. My faith would be greatly tested by tragedy.

Someone [Linds?]said on her blog recently, "Bad things always happen in life--it's how you respond that matters." Not a new concept--but I think it speaks to the whole purpose/meaning in life that is independent of circumstances. Maybe the meaning of life is to persevere in seeking God, in growing in holiness and worship and love of God, in being sanctified and transformed by the training grounds of life's circumstances. Maybe the meaning of life is to prepare for eternity.

I say maybe...because that's what I suspect, though I can't know it, except with the knowledge that faith brings. I think that faith may be like a muscle--the more you exercise it, the stronger it grows. That's been my experience anyway.

So--I don't know if I've begun to answer your question--but those are my thoughts on the topic!

Now, what do you think the meaning of life is? I'd love to hear your thoughts!



A Voice said...

Wow. Thank you for sharing this. It is what I needed to hear today... My brain is spinning with a lot of thoughts related to raising my DD and other issues today.

Anonymous said...

This was a very thought provoking post...one that would be fun to talk about on a retreat somewhere! I enjoyed your response but I must be honest here, I would have to think long and hard about this question and then I would still question my answer...there are too many variables that, when considered, would inevitable alter the response somehow.