(BNC) By Ron Thomas —The thesis of this essay: the meaning of life is from God, one’s meaning in life is moving directly back to God.

“The religious impulse, the quest for meaning that transcends the restricted space of empirical existence in this world, has been a perennial feature of humanity.”[1]

Since man’s life is from one of two sources (God, not-God), meaning in life must be determined in relation to these two sources. If for one the source is not-God, then meaning is strictly the perspective of the individual; submissions to the question “what is the meaning of life?” found in such books like Will Durant’s On the meaning of life and periodicals like New Philosopher: What is the meaning of life? holds sway, which is to say that no one knows what meaning there is to and in life!

If life did not come from God, then answers that people construct to give meaning are viable and “right” as any answer given by another. The answers constructed, presumably, help one get-a-long in a meaningless world; it helps to make one’s meaningless life worth living! You are, in ultimate and practical terms, nothing more than a cockroach to be squashed.

You can hardly accept this, I am sure. You value your life far more than mechanical philosophers do, more than an atheistic materialist does, but if you accept the source of not-God, then to the material (“matter-in-motion”) realm of philosophy you (must) reside. The non-material substance of man (conscience) floats out-there-in-material-space. How rewarding!

Recently I came across the periodical New Philosopher (Issue 19 Feb-April 2018); within its pages are contributors who wrote anecdotal remarks on life’s meaning. Those answers ranged from being compassionate, act better, “something like truth,” little things, flourishing, connection and compassion, one needs to make his/her own meaning, meaning does not exist, have no regrets at end of day, make the world a better place, live in the moment, live honestly, thoughtfully and with compassion, to love, feel wonder and laugh.

I don’t recall a single reply that had substance (ultimate substance) for why one should live in these sorts of ways as suggested by the anecdotal remarks.

I thought I would compare the above replies in New Philosopher to the replies given in Will Durant’s book (mentioned above). In Durant’s book, the answers ranged from finding meaning in poetry, life has no meaning, life might very-well be absurd, one does not know, meaning is in the individual, meaning is uncertain, music or in some other construct of one’s own, life has value but does not need religion to make it that way; ethics and morality is a matter of social convenience and one medical doctor called humanity “human insects.”

With such a broad range of answers, can one know the answer to the question “what is the meaning of life?” No!

Thoughtfulness, as exhibited in the many answers given to the question, is in relation to one’s own search and thinking; some have looked at the writings of others, some paid attention to how other people live, most seemed to have concluded that life has no meaning except what one makes of it. These same thoughtful people arrive at this depressing philosophy of life, concluding that life is nothing more than happen-chance. Thoughtful people (in the periodical and book mentioned) seek an answer to this age-old question. Answers come from varied backgrounds such as a medical doctor, attorney, teacher, philosophy professor, and many other walks of life.

In the recent issue of the periodical New Philosopher, I especially looked for a rationale, the foundation in which the answers given by the contributors sprung (or were based), an answer that was more than anything others in this world have offered before; I saw nothing different; one might say, there was nothing new under the sun in the answers given. I saw much “one should do this,” but I saw little to under-gird why “one should do this” and nothing in the way of attention given to any consequences experienced if “one did not so this.” What is the consequence of these exhortations being done or not done? To what end and why should I engage in life as you proffer?

As best I could tell, each contributor answered the question of life’s meaning from the vantage point of “under the sun” or atheistic naturalism, the meaningless philosophy that says life came from non-life (a violation of the law of biogenesis[2]). With this philosophy in place, cryonics persuades some, suicide is encouraged by others, moral behavior is strictly situational and hedonistic. If one argues against each or any one of the failings of these approaches, on what basis will they argue?

“We feel that the man who brings widespread happiness at the expense of misery to himself is a better man than the who brings unhappiness to others and happiness to himself. I do not know of any rational ground for this view, or, perhaps, for the somewhat more rational view that whatever the majority desires is preferable to what the minority desires.”[3]

MY DRIVE

Answering the question “what the meaning of life is?” drove me to seek an answer for years. At the start, in 1983, I hardly recognized the question, much less any substantive answer, but as I look back on it all, though not realizing it, I was seeking an answer to the question. I looked for meaning when I had desire for acceptance, I looked for meaning when I had desire to be loved, I looked for meaning when I had desire to gain wisdom, I looked for meaning when I had desire to achieve economic independence, I looked for meaning in pursuing work to provide for me and my family. In all this, the lessons learned, and the values gained, accomplishment in these areas do not (did not) give ultimate meaning to life.

In Idaho I enrolled at Boise State University, taking classes in philosophy looking for depth of study and meaning in life, but it was there I learned philosophers like to generate questions with no real desire for answers. It seemed the only desire philosophers sought was to parse sentences and words, and to debate the viability of someone else’s answer!

By this time, I already decided to be a Christian (1983). Philosophy gave me no answer, my knowledge in Christianity at the time brought no answer; somewhere along this line I started formulating the question in my mind “what is the meaning of life?” Surely, I thought, there was an answer and the answer available, I hoped, did not have to be profound. Frustrated as I was I knew only to stay the course I was already on because in the two areas of study that I enjoyed most, philosophy and Christian doctrine, I found satisfaction – albeit limited.

As I journeyed, I came upon one of my great enjoyments, reading the written (transcribed) oral debates between atheists and theists. Such debates as the Thomas Warren-Anthony Flew Debate (1976)[4], the Thomas Warren-Wallace Matson Debate (1978)[5], the Thomas Warren-Joe Barnhart Debate (1980)[6]. Thomas Warren did more to influence me away from the meaninglessness and hopelessness of materialistic atheism, sometimes called naturalism, than any man in print. He set forth his arguments in strict syllogistic form, knowing that if each premise is proven, the conclusion is demanded. Powerful! Two other debates from which I gained much was the Craig – Simon/Armstrong Debate[7] and the J. P. Moreland-Kai Nelson Debate.[8] Each of these debates are books are re-read occasionally.

A great find in 1999 was an old copy of Will Durant’s book On the Meaning of Life.[9] I devoured the contents of the book, only to learn he said nothing except that which the greatest minds in the world have said before him.

Durant’s book addressed the “bitterest possibilities” of painting a life without God. He said, “I would not have this letter taken as expressing very accurately my own conclusions on the meaning of our existence; I cannot find it in my nature to be so despondent. But I wished to confront at the outset the bitterest possibilities…” the meaning of life without God (6). The picture he painted in the letter he sent out to people of academic attainment or attainments in other areas of life paints the issue this way: “The greatest question of our time is not communism vs. individualism, not Europe vs. America, not even East vs. the West; it is whether men can bear to live without God” (23).

What did he conclude? “Is it possible to catch the meaning of life without getting outside of it to judge it, or with seeing it as part of a larger whole? – and which of us can do that? This is a merry termination of our quest [answering the question ”on the meaning of life”], a disturbing illustration of the old definition of metaphysics as ‘a search in a dark hole for a rat that is not there’” (107).

THE MEANING TO LIFE AND MY DRIVE

Imagine my pleasure in April 2018 when I came upon the magazine New Philosopher:“What is the meaning of life?”[10] Perhaps something in the answers to the inquiry in this issue would be different than the ones given almost 90 years earlier. But I learned the answers given in 1932 are not much different than the ones given in 2018. The words written in Durant’s book are much the same as those contributors in the Feb-April 2018 issue of the New Philosopher. Truthfully, I did not expect the answers to be different, though I wondered if they might.

From the vantage point of “under the sun,” much is the same as that which Solomon thought during his time on this earth. The difference between the meaninglessness of man’s wisdom and that which Solomon proposed is in the source of life. I mentioned earlier that to answer the question, one’s answer comes from one of two foundation starting points, God or not-God. One foundation point will be with the perspective that life comes from God; the other foundation point is with the perspective that life comes from non-life. From the vantage point of under the sun, or the vantage of man’s wisdom without God, life has no meaning (as is evidenced in New Philosopher and Will Durant’s book). On the other hand, from the vantage point of under the sun and the source of life being God, the answer is different and far more meaningful.

The words of Solomon materialist philosophers reject, but the same materialists who reject are unable to offer anything better. If they offer similar answers (and they might), it’s not possible for them to know this is the best course of action to take, they can only guess or hope that it is. Moreover, as far as they are concerned, there is no consequence if one chooses a different course or path. Additionally, it does no good for one to say in reply to the Christian, “My answer is the same as yours and, therefore, just as substantive,” for while this may be the case as far as practical substance is concerned, the difference is the source and where meaning is found.

What did Solomon say on meaning in life in his treatise? His journey is in the Book of Ecclesiastes, and it is here that he saw how life produces much vanity. The vanity, however, in is in relation to one’s failure to explain the perplexities life presents. The wind travels in a circuit, why? The accumulation of wisdom generates more questions than answers, why? Laughter is not really any better than much sorrow, why? Work brings satisfaction, but not satisfaction that is greater than the moment, why? Why does not wealth answer the problems of life? The impoverished person is more at ease with himself than the wealthy, why? What advantage does wisdom give to the longevity of life over the fool? Is there any value to the fool living as long as the wise? These are matters to which Solomon gave attention.

Solomon had direction in his life, but he wandered off the path of a meaningful life to engage in hedonism (self-indulgence); he saw in life much uselessness, that is why he called life vain. However, is life really vain? As he journeyed, he saw life for how it is, but then for how it needs to be seen and experienced. He saw that meaninglessness (vanity) is directly related to man’s corrupted philosophy (7:29). Solomon begins by setting out to identify that which is “good” for man to pursue. He looks at what can be called “good” from a vantage point much different than meaningless-mechanical-materialistic philosophy, or under the sun atheism presents. He looked at what can be called “good” in direct relation to God, the source from which life comes.

No explanations to the many perplexities of life, Solomon noticed, but life lived with direction to God is far better than life lived wandering about in a meaningless world, or life without God. Wisdom taught him this much!

There is much value in that in which a person engages, in the work he produces to benefit self and others (2:10). The work done from the vantage point of under the sun (naturalism) is of no lasting value for the one who labors at it, for while there will be much limited “good” that comes from it, in and of itself, work is meaningless. Work in relation to something greater than self can be of great value even in a meaningless world, but so what? Toward what end does it serve?

On the other hand, life is a gift from God, not something of the non-sensical “life-from-non-life” philosophy that generates no real meaning or purpose that moves one toward an ultimate benefit at the end of life. But to make life meaningful, to have purpose in this dark world, something more than work will be helpful. Solomon spoke of one’s disposition while engaged in a vocation (2:24-26; 3:12-13). This is directly related to contentment. In practical terms, is there something better than producing for oneself and those around him?

Work plus productivity generates benefits for others; happiness or satisfaction can be and should be generated by the one engaged in productivity. There is something to be proud of (to borrow a line from a song) in this. Solomon speak of this as one’s heritage, or portion in life (5:18-20). In his contentment he chooses to live life understanding physical life is a gift from God (8:15), and not allow himself to be burdened with matters of little value in a world of much perplexity.

Solomon asked an important question: For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? (Ecclesiastes 6:12, ESV). If one listens to a materialistic philosopher, he/she will tell you what is “good” in life, or at least what they think is good – but how do they know? They don’t; they can only guess. Solomon was one who thought on a grandeur scale than naturalists, one who included God in the foundation of his thinking, knowing His existence and the judgment man will face from Him who is the Creator of life when his individual life is over. With this before him, he still did not know.

From the exclusive vantage point of “under the sun,” how could he?

Those who consider themselves philosophers or deep thinkers since the time of Solomon have arrived at the same answer, the answer “How the devil do I know?”[11] What Solomon did know, however, is that man is corrupt in his thinking, and a corrupted-thinking-man can’t know what the good is, except a “corrupted good,” if there is such a thing.

Life has meaning in family (9:9-10) and in the work in which one is engaged. To give thought to unnecessary things in the natural world (like Solomon did) is to encourage depression and defeatism. Since life is a gift from God, and God gave man the capacity to work, let him work to provide for himself and others, such as his family. Let him content himself in making a difference in his “little corner of the world.”

So, two philosophical approaches before us in answering the question “what is the meaning of life.” One approach is life came from non-life (not-God), and this approach gives empty answers, is meaninglessness and directionless. The other approach is life came from life (God), and this approach gives an answer, an answer that is not only meaningful in the immediate circumstances of life, but an answer that moves one in a direction toward God. We will all die one day, and the gift of life given is going to return to the Giver of life; this is called judgment. The wise man, in this case Solomon, learned the whole purpose of man is to fear God, for to Him he will give an account (12:13-14).

Thus, the meaning of life is life from God, and the meaning in life is man trying to get back to God; everything else is vanity.

Ron Thomas is one of the elders and an evangelist with the Sunrush congregation in Chillicothe OH. This essay was first published on his weblog and is republished here with permission.

NOTES

[1]  Peter Berger, p. 176, quoted by Dinesh D’Souza in his book What So Great About Christianity.

[2] “There are no exceptions to a law of science” (Dr. Jeff Miller, Science vs. Evolution, Apologetics Press, 2018, p. 9).

[3] Bertrand Russell in Katharine Tait’s My Father Bertrand Russell, (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York, 1975, p. 182.

[4] The Warren-Flew Debate, National Christian Press (1977); reprinted by the Warren Christian Apologetics Center, 40th Anniversary Edition (2016).

[5] The Warren-Matson Debate, National Christian Press; Jonesboro, AR (1978).

[6] The Warren-Barnhart Debate, National Christian Press; Jonesboro, AR (1981).

[7] God: A Debate Between a Christian and an Atheist, William Lane Craig and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong; Oxford University Press (2004)

[8] Does God Exist? The Great Debate, J. P. Moreland and Kai Nielsen, Thomas Nelson, Nashville (1990).

[9] On the Meaning of Life, Will Durant: Ray Long & Richard R. Smith, Inc. 1932, New York

[10] New Philosopher, Issue 19: Feb-April 2018, 130 Macquarie St., Hobart TAS 7000 Australia

[11] G. Bernard Shaw, On the Meaning of Life, p. 107

Randal and his wife Vicki have lived and worked in Brazil since Nov. 1984. They have three children, two daughters-in-law, and five grandchildren. He enjoys his new home office. http://randal.us

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