The Irrationality of Existence or, How to Find the Meaning of Life, much to Nietzsche’s Chagrin


DSC01524We’re too busy to ask the big questions anymore, but they linger over our heads like an ominous shadow lurking in our rooms while we sleep. We keep ourselves occupied with jobs, television, movies, video games, the internet, and a host of other things. Companies make billions of dollars a year off the fact that we will buy anything, any amount of money, and do anything we can in order to keep ourselves busy and thoughtless. The more thoughtless the entertainment, the less it demands of us, the more likely we are to consume it. Why is it that reality television shows have become so popular? Is it because we are that dumb, or are we that desperate to silence the big questions of life? At least the alcoholic is honest with himself and admits to drinking in order to avoid and suppress life’s difficulties; the TV junkie or video game addict hardly realizes he has a problem.

Yet, we must all face the big questions. At a funeral, they sneak up on us without our permission and infect our minds. What if I’m next? What has the purpose of my life been? What if this is all it’s worth? We hate funerals because it reminds us of our own inevitability; certainly we will miss the person who has died, but even for strange acquaintances whose funerals we attend out of social obligation we still feel our stomachs turn.  We realize that one day we will be the person in the casket and it is in that moment that life’s big questions engulf us, it is then we all become Jonahs in the belly of a great fish, trapped in a darkness we’ve fought so hard to avoid.

We quickly push such thoughts away by looking at our phones for the latest news, looking at what Jane is wearing, thinking about what the kids have to do tomorrow, putting together a grocery list, and the line of distractions grow. We distance ourselves from the big questions, yet they remain. When forced to confront our own mortality, we are faced with the meaninglessness of our existence. To the ancient Greeks, life wasn’t meaningless because one was supposed to pursue the good. Of course, they then spent countless hours defining and attempting to understand exactly what “the good” was. For Plato, the good was some abstract form, something to which we could only achieve within the form world. To Aristotle, the good was found mostly in this life, through living a virtuous life. Yet, both seem meaningless; if the good is abstracted and unobtainable in this life, then what is the purpose in trying to pursue it? If the good is found in a virtuous life, how much virtue and how long do I have to live before I obtain it? For the Romans, specifically Cicero, the good was best manifested in being a good citizen. But oh that Cicero could have seen his Republic fail (he did see its twilight), for then he would realize that being a good citizen cannot be our ultimate end since the State is mutable. Turn East and one could seek the Tao, but the Tao is immutable and therefore one cannot know if it is obtained or not. Or one could seek Nirvana, which is ultimately nothingness; if the purpose of life is to obtain nothingness, then there is no purpose.

Before we ridicule the ancients in the East and the West, we should better understand that us moderns are infantile in our quest compared to the ancients. At least they dared to stand their ground against the big questions of life. Rather than fleeing as we do, they turned and like a brave soldier fought against these questions. They did battle with the struggles of life and even if they did not emerge victoriously, at least they fought. We moderns are far too quick to run away. We tend to take the meaning of life for granted, hiding behind beautifully written platitudes that when exposed to scrutiny, dissolve like paper in acid. Think of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which while a great film, provides a cleverly written, but stupidly simple meaning of life: “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.” Like modern music, such a saying might sound great to the masses, but there’s really nothing behind it. If the meaning of life is to see the world, then already those who are poor are now excluded from enjoying the meaning of life. Only those who can afford trips need apply to having meaning in life. To see dangerous things to come, to see behind walls (that is, to see the truth of the world), to draw closer and find each other, and to feel; none of these, however, indicate positive things. By all accounts, both Gandhi and Hitler obtained the meaning of life, both Mother Theresa and Josef Stalin stood on equal footing when it came to finding meaning in this life. All involved saw the world, they saw the dangerous things, they saw behind the lies of the world, they drew closer to some and even found love, and they did feel. Such a meaning of life is amoral, which means there is no meaning at all.  Continue reading

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The Oppression of Life or, Jesus Didn’t Just Die for Your Sins


IMG_0684The atheistic philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre famously stated, “Existence precedes essence.” Boiling down the meaning of this, we come to the idea that there is no purpose in life beyond the purpose we give to life. You’re not born with a destiny, things do not happen for a reason, and you cannot escape the fact that meaning does not exist within this life.

Whether you help an old lady across the street or rob a liquor store, it doesn’t matter; 4.6 billion years from now our sun will expand and consume the earth. Any memories of what you did will be lost forever, all of this long after you have turned into dust. What you do today has no real ramifications for tomorrow, no ramifications beyond what is immediately important to you. Of course, what is important to you is dictated by you and you alone.

It is into this world that Christians must speak, not as a voice of opposition to such meaninglessness, but as a voice of approval. The entire Christian narrative rests upon the idea that sin has entered the world. In Genesis 1-2 humans were created to follow God and be with Him, to grow in Him and rely on Him. In Genesis 3 humans rebelled against their purpose in life. Adam and Eve turned away from their created purpose and tried to make their own purpose. In doing so, they cursed the world and their descendants to a life without purpose. If God is our purpose and our wills are turned away from God, then we cannot know our purpose. Hence the reason we live in a world that has no meaning. God gave meaning to creation (“It is good”), but we robbed the world of that meaning.

Into this meaninglessness, well-intentioned Christians speak a highly incomplete message of, “Jesus died for your sins.” They go door to door and make “Jesus died for your sins” the rallying call and central message of the Gospel. Deeper down, this view comes from placing Substitutionary Atonement as the centerpiece of the Gospel message, which is a faulty thing to do. We make sin and Christ’s absolution of that sin to be the biggest possible thing that Christ accomplished both on the cross and in His resurrection. However, this is no different than being at a carnival and bragging about someone paying for your ticket through the gate; you’re in the park, go play rather than dwell on being in the park.

In many ways, the absolution of our sins is the most significant thing for us and the most insignificant thing for us. It is significant because without the forgiveness of sins we have no way to restore communion with God. However, the forgiveness of sins is merely the gate of this communion. Being born is the most significant thing in your life because it brings you into this world. Yet, it is the most insignificant thing in this life because if all you accomplish is that you exist, then you’ve done nothing with your life. The same is true for having one’s sins forgiven; it’s great because it opens the pathway to communion, but it’s incredibly insignificant if one’s salvation is solely defined by, “I’m forgiven.”

Rather, Christ came into the world to restore the meaning back to the world. He took on human flesh to give meaning back to being human. When Christ forgives us of our sins, this is merely a stepping stone into the greater plan of salvation, which is the redemption of all things that exist. Redemption means that meaning is put back into their existence (or is finally sin). Whereas sin blocks us from seeing the meaning of life, the absolution of sin allows us to see the meaning of life, but we must in turn act on this meaning.

What, then, is the meaning of life once free from our sins? Christ stated that the two greatest commandments is to Love God with our entire being and to love our neighbor with our entire being. In other words, the meaning of life is love, but a love far deeper than just doing nice things for people. Marriage is the perfect icon of this love. In marriage, two people [ideally] become one flesh, sharing everything and sacrificing for each other. In many ways, they become one person because they are unified. We too are called to be unified to God in love, to draw so close that His will becomes our will. In addition, this love should unify us as a human race. Thus, the purpose of our existence is to love; the removal of our sins is but a mere stepping stone to this overall goal, though it is a part of the path one must take.

Thus, as Christians we would serve the world better by telling them that Christ came to give them a whole life and not just end the message at, “He died for your sins so you wouldn’t go to Hell.” More consistent with teaching this message is living this message. It’s in feeding those who are starving, clothing those who are cold, visiting those who are in prison, giving water to those who are thirsty, and freedom to those who are oppressed. The Gospel is more than an intellectual thing to be heard because the Gospel is a call to find meaning in this life, meaning in love. Love is not something that can solely be taught, but must also be experienced. The same is true for the Gospel; before one can truly accept the Gospel, one must also experience the Gospel, and that is done primarily through its adherents. You can knock on a door and tell people that Jesus died for their sins, or you can offer to help the person and then tell them about a Christ who has restored meaning to life.