What is the answer to the age old question “What is the meaning of life?” This is of particular interest to me because I have developed a fascination with the book of Ecclesiastes, which begins by saying “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless!” (NIV) It is fascinating that a book of the Bible would ever utter such a depressing statement. After all, isn’t the Bible all about finding meaning in life, or finding the answers? Isn’t the Bible here for us to navigate our way in the world and develop a sense of personal purpose and significance?
Well, in this day and age if we want to answer the question “What is the meaning of life?” we need not consult the musty old books nor spend our time locked away in an ivory tower pouring through the writings of the academics and the existentialists. Nay! We need only to Ask Yahoo! And this is precisely what Juan from Tegucigalpa, Honduras has done:
We get this one a lot and while we don't purport to have an "inside line" on the subject, we have given it some serious thought.
Life, in general, as in "all creatures great and small" (you know -- the bugs, birds, mountain lions, you, me, etc., as a group) has no one specific "meaning." Most of the world's religions postulate different origins, purposes, and destinies for humanity, nature, and the universe as a whole, but only one thing is sure: there isn't a global consensus on anything when it comes to religion.
Of course, you're free to investigate the various tenets and teachings of different religions and align yourself with a specific set of beliefs. This is a very popular practice throughout the world. For ideas on the subject, you might peruse Yahoo!'s Faiths and Practices category, where you'll find everything from Agnosticism to Zoroastrianism.
Now, if you're looking for the meaning of your life in particular, then we're afraid we have to fall back on the somewhat predictable response: "It's up to you." Many people try to give lasting meaning to their lives by making the world a better place than when they entered it, either through scientific, philosophical, or artistic contributions. Others try by raising children that can themselves make contributions and preserve important societal and religious values for future generations.
That's our take on the subject. If you're interested in other opinions, check out Yahoo!'s Meaning of Life category. Good luck, Juan.
The interesting thing about the above response by Yahoo is that it actually echoes a few points from Ecclesiastes. First of all, notice that Yahoo responds by saying that many people search for meaning by “making the world a better place than when they entered it, either through scientific, philosophical, or artistic contributions.” The author of Ecclesiastes talks about this kind of achievement is chapter 2:11. He had done great things. Greater than most, and yet he still says:
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
And what I had toiled to achieve,
Everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
Nothing was gained under the sun. (NIV)
But what about the other point made by Yahoo: “Others try [to find meaning] by raising children that can themselves make contributions and preserve important societal and religious values for future generations.”
The author of Ecclesiastes also has something to say about this, as well:
So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun as grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. (NIV)
Ouch! That’s a downer!
Various Christians have tried to soften the blow of Ecclesiastes by saying that this is a non-believer’s perspective. In other words, life is meaningless, unless you’ve got God. If you get God then you get meaning. I’m quite opposed to this for several reasons, not the least of which is that I think it misses the point of Ecclesiastes.
The point of Ecclesiastes is not to bring everything down and depress everyone. If so, then why not just end it all??? The point of Ecclesiastes, as I see it, is to undercut all attempts at absolute security. In other words, there is nothing in this world that can’t be messed up or frustrated.
Ecclesiastes never denies that there are not some good things to do in this world, and it never denies that we cannot life satisfied and happy lives. Even non-believers can live the good life. You don’t need God to be happy. (See 2:26 - To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. 7:15 - In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: a righteous man perishing in his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his wickedness. And 8:14 - There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: righteous men who get what the wicked deserve, and wicked men who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless.)
The point is that there is nothing that we can absolutely rely on in this world (“under the sun”). And, when we sit back and reflect this seems to prove itself true in many instances. Money can be lost, relationships can be ruined, children can disappoint us, and we can even encounter a lot of trouble despite the fact that we may have lived a good moral life and been an outstanding citizen.
Now, this doesn’t mean we can’t find deep meaning. In fact, many of us can and do live very satisfying lives. We can have successful and gratifying careers, love in our families, and retire in Florida! But there is no formula for success. There are guidelines to help us, that’s for sure. After all, life isn’t just a free-for-all with no rules! (“wisdom is better than folly.” 2:13) And yet even if we follow the rules there is no guarantee.
The beauty of the book of Ecclesiastes is found in how realistic it is. There is an acknowledgment of good things in life and an acknowledgment of the bad. Ecclesiastes takes a realistic view of life, and I think it is right on. Ecclesiastes leaves us feeling a bit uncertain because, after all, that’s a bit more like what life is, anyway.
But what about God? Isn’t this the Bible? Shouldn’t God fit somewhere in here?
Interestingly, the view of God here is very lofty and high. We are told not to say too much to God out of a sense of reverence. And it is this reverence for God that reminds us of our position as those who are often tainted by sin. (5:1-7) In the end we are told to “fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (12:13)
In the end, Ecclesiastes is a very honest book. It is not a “Christian” book in the way that most of us have been trained to think of “Christian.” It does not pretend to offer us happy feelings and good times. There is not even any reason given that we should think that the ideas of Ecclesiastes should be taken to heart. Unlike the introduction to Proverbs there is no grand calling for us to follow. It remains the simple observations of a profound life and a probing mind.
Ecclesiastes is a bare-faced and honest book about life and the way we experience life. It was not written to sell us a bill of goods or to indoctrinate. It was written to question and to probe.
So, “What is the meaning of life?”
A LOVE SUPREME
If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.
Thursday, August 31, 2006
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Middle knowledge is God’s knowledge of the free choices that we individuals would make if we were put into a given situation. For example, imagine that I decide to go out for ice cream tonight and I am given the choice of chocolate or vanilla ice cream. Given God’s knowledge of me and these exact circumstance God knows that in this situation I will would pick chocolate over vanilla. My choice might very well be vanilla in a different situation, but God knows what my choices will be in these situations as well.
God possesses a seemingly infinite array of knowledge of an infinite number of different scenarios. Since each choice we make might be different in a different situation there are a wide variety of different scenarios that God knows. Together all these choices come within a seemingly infinite number of possible worlds. There are possible worlds where I freely choose to go out for ice cream tonight and other possible worlds where circumstances are different and perhaps I choose not to go out for ice cream.
According to the theology known as Molinism God freely chose one of these possible worlds out of a seemingly infinite possible number of choices. God knew just what would happen and what we would freely choose in this world. So, God freely chose to create this world out of all of his possibilities. God thus predestined and foreknew all that would happen in the sense that God created a world in which all possible choices were known by him in advance. In this way, the Molinist would claim to have the best of all worlds (pardon the pun!) by combining several very important theological themes that often seem to contradict one another:
1 – That human beings have the freedom of choice.
2 – That God foreknows these choices.
3 – That God freely chose exactly what world this would be.
The most common objection to this theological system seems to be the so-called “grounding objection.” In a nutshell, this objection calls into question whether a choice can truly be free if it is known ahead of time. In other words, no one (God included) can know my choice of vanilla or chocolate until I make the choice. If a choice is determined ahead of time, then it is not free.
Matthew 11:23 seems to be one biblical example of Middle Knowledge. Here we have Jesus saying that if certain miracles had been performed in Sodom then they would have repented. This seems to indicate that Jesus knew what the free choice of individuals would have been if circumstances were different.
My reaction to Molinism and Middle Knowledge is somewhat favorable. As mentioned above it seems to make sense of key theological themes that are often held in tension. The Matt. 11 passage also seems to lend some support to this view. Furthermore, I do not believe a choice is any less free if it is known ahead of time, so I do not buy into the Grounding Objection. (Although I do recognize that it is a good objection if you are an Indeterminist, however I have always had stronger inclinations toward Determinism, myself.)
The one problem with this neat and tidy system for me is simply the fact that it is so neat and tidy. The Scriptures seem to consistently defy systems by presenting counter examples of a God who just plain meddles with things! God, at times seems to override the free will of humanity in order to accomplish his purposes:
Deuteronomy 2:30 tells of how King Shihon refused to let Israel pass through, but God “made his heart stubborn.”
In 2 Samuel 24:1 God “incites” David to take a census.
The Exodus account tells us that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.
The above are just a few examples off of the top of my head, but there seems to be a biblical motif (theme) that God acts on the wills of people in order to get done what he needs to do. Essentially, then I would want to reserve the right for God to sovereignly act in a unilateral way and override the will of human beings. As Creator God this is his prerogative and his right. We might not like it, but this seems to be the nasty truth.
Molinist links of interest:
Some links of William Lane Craig on Divine Omniscience. (Craig is the leading proponent of Molinism):
The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Middle Knowledge:
Molinism dot com:
“The Heresy of Middle Knowledge”:
Friday, August 18, 2006
What are the most important questions to you? Take a second. (Yes, please assume the pose of The Thinker in the above picture!)
What questions press your mind and trouble you? What questions keep you up late at night?
Or maybe they are not questions that demand an immediate answer. Maybe they are questions that have been nagging for months or years or even for most of your life. Maybe these questions are relegated to the back of your mind for long periods of time only to make their appearance and vex your mind with their persistence.
So, what are the questions that you ask?
We are often told that it is our beliefs that matter most. And what are our beliefs? These are typically the answers to the questions that we ask. For example, we wonder whether there is a heaven or hell or if there is a God and a Devil out there somewhere. And so we give it some thought and when we have our answer then we also have our beliefs.
Questions + Answers = Beliefs.
We are often told that it is our beliefs that matter most. The answers to the questions, these are what matter most.
Now, I don’t want to undermine how important our beliefs are. Nor do I want to claim that the answers we have are less than meaningful. But I wonder if the questions we ask are not equally as important as the answers we wind up with.
First of all, the questions we ask determine what kind of answers we have. Earlier we asked about heaven and hell and about God and the Devil. But what if someone is simply not interested in asking these questions? Well, if they have no interest in the questions, then they have no interest in the answers. Such a person will likely remain agnostic about whether or not there is a heaven or hell.
But what if there is a heaven and a hell? And what if we simply don’t care to ask the questions? Well, this could be a problem. But even the reverse is true. What if there is no heaven and hell? What happens to people like me who care very deeply about these types of things? The point is that the questions that we care about are just as important as the answers we manufacture.
But there is something even more here regarding our topic. The questions that we ask are even more important than the answers because the questions we care about come from the deepest parts of our mind and soul. Let’s ask the question again: What questions keep you up at night? What questions make you toss and turn? These are the deepest things of our heart.
Think about this another way. There are many who simply go through the motions of religion. They have a few beliefs that they believe strongly. They may even attend a church. Or they may even be members in good standing. But I want to know what makes them lose sleep! Does their religion keep them up at night? Or is it a convenient set of beliefs tucked away in some far closet of their mind?
From my reading of Scripture God strikes me as the kind who takes a person who is deeply committed and likes to shake them. And so he goes to Abraham and tells him (doesn’t even have the decency to ask!) to offer his only son as a sacrifice. And he takes Moses, a guy perfectly content to live out his days with his family and his sheep, and puts his life on a crash course with a group of people who will make his life miserable. Or take Job. Talk about being shaken up! Job is now the measuring rod for all human suffering!
Have we digressed from our topic of the importance of questions? Well, the point here is that when God has someone who is committed God rattles their cage and rocks their boat. And if we really are committed then all this rattling and shaking makes us question. And if we are really committed and if we are really honest we will often find that the questions have a hard time finding answers. Big questions call for big answers.
Questioning is a part of calling forth the deepest things or our souls. Questioning does call forth the deepest things of our souls. What we care about the most finds its way into our minds in the form of questions. This is why our questions tell us more about ourselves than our answers.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
You know anybody who needs an "anti-stupid" pill?
BERLIN (Reuters) - A German scientist has been testing an "anti-stupidity" pill with encouraging results on mice and fruit flies, Bild newspaper reported Saturday.
Yes! This is perfect for politicians. If we can develop an “anti-stupidity” pill it should be mandatory for everyone running for higher office!
A short story written by yours truly.
You can find the .pdf here:
Monday, August 07, 2006
U r sckd: worker fired by text message
LONDON (AFP) - A company has defended its decision to sack one of its staff by text message, claiming it was keeping in touch with youth culture.
Katy Tanner, a 21-year-old sales assistant, received the message while she was off work with a migraine, the South Wales Echo newspaper said Friday.
That's Not Hot: Paris Hilton Preaches Abstinence
In an interview for the September issue of British GQ, the star whose oeuvre includes The Simple Life and One Night in Paris set out to dispel rumors that she's a sure thing when it comes to taking relationships to that next level.
“People think I sleep with everyone, but I'm not like that," Hilton told the magazine. "Kissing is all I do.
Ok, for some reason I don’t believe this one about Paris….