Sunday, May 22, 2016

Life (Under the Sun) Is Meaningless: Now What?

Hofburg Imperial Palace

I am increasingly aware that life is meaningless. That may seem like a really dour or depressing thing to say. But it really doesn't have to be. And importantly it is true. Not every true statement is the most exciting thing to hear - such as "death is inevitable" or "you must pay your taxes." But thinking about the meaninglessness of life doesn't have to be bad! It can actually lead to finding true meaning!

The Great Disappointment

We all have expectations of what joys and fulfillments we will experience in our lives. But are those expectations reasonable? Are they being fulfilled? The greater and more grandiose your expectations, the more likely you are to experience disappointment. The sudden realization that things in our lives do not provide fulfillment and never will can be very devastating. People refer to this phenomenon in various ways. I am calling this "the great disappointment."  Wouldn't it be great if people could avoid this?

This happens in very dramatic ways in some people's lives. 

The easiest way to illustrate it is to consider Olympic athletes. Olympic athletes are amazing individuals who reach the very heights of discipline, success, and self fulfillment in their various disciplines. The interesting thing about successful athletes is that many of them are the undisputed "best" measured by an objective standard.

When they win or set a world record - there is no denying that they are without peer and have become the best in the world and often of all time. This is an incredible achievement. One would think that these should be the most fulfilled people of all! Their success in sport often allows them to be successful in their finances and relationships.

But Olympic athletes realize after they win gold that they still have inner desires for fulfillment that are not complete. Nothing against the Olympics! But what do you do after you focus every atom of your body for years on a goal and then achieve it? It leaves this quizzical vacuity in one's life. It is the pinnacle of "the great disappointment".

Ancient Wisdom

In the book of Ecclesiastes the author, Qoheleth, speaks of life "under the sun." This term, broadly speaking, refers to the day-to-day life of humans on earth. All that life has to offer on earth was tested and tried by the author. Women, wine, food, laughter, commerce, gardening, work, and many other things are discussed in their various facets but all are found wanting.

Hokkaido Japan
The problem seems to be that nothing on earth, nothing in this life under the sun, brings ultimate meaning and fulfillment. 

There must be something else. / ?

The Solution - Meaning Outside of Ourselves

Now you may not agree with my perspective exactly. You may perhaps take a different view of what "meaning" and "fulfillment" really mean. I am defining them very loosely. For instance, I certainly find great meaning in the family and work. But my understanding of those things is that in and of themselves they fail to provide us the ultimate and lasting meaning we desire.

I hope that you are not clinging to a belief that there is ultimate meaning in these earthly things. If so, you are headed for the great disappointment. The great disappointment can lead to very dramatic reactions. Some people will recognize the disappointment but continue to push farther and farther into those empty things hoping that eventually they will find fulfillment there. Or they will go into a downward spiral by seeking escape in some life destroying practices; drugs, alcohol, or other addictions.

Some will simply enter a lasting and burdensome depression, taking no joy in things that previously provided great enjoyment. This can result in questioning what one should even be doing. In the past seeking the greatest pleasure had guided all decisions. But now those things that once provided pleasure no longer do and there is a question of what should be done. What once was a powerful drive to one's goal is now an aimless drifting towards: what?

After we lose our personal sense of what the summon bonum (greatest good) is finding meaning in life becomes impossible. 

But, when we realize that life (under the sun) is meaningless, we can find true meaning in the Son of God. Our duty is to fear God and keep His commandments. We can find immense and lasting fulfillment if and when we do so. It is not intuitive that fearing God and keeping His commandments would bring the fulfillment we desire. That doesn't sound fun! But fearing God and keeping His commandments are in fact the only way to experience fulfillment. 

This is where the ancient wisdom of Ecclesiastes provides help. When the inevitable disappointments come and things in life lose their savour, we must look outside ourselves to find meaning. This is especially helpful when one encounters "the great disappointment" in a very dramatic or shocking way. But is also true for those who encounter it bit by bit over time. Indeed one of the marks of maturity is to have personally experienced "the great disappointment." But what is the solution?

"The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man."

Why not make a commitment to focus on fearing God and keeping His commandments and just see how much better your life will be? We can only do it in the power of the Holy Spirit. But do it we must. It won't be easy but it will be lasting and it will be meaningful!

No comments:

Post a Comment