The Search for Meaning

01 Nov 2006
The Search for Meaning

Homer Simpson has a conversation with God. In The Simpsons episode entitled “Homer the heretic,” the conversation goes like this:

Homer: God, what's the meaning of life?
God: Homer, I can't tell you that, you'll find out when you die.
Homer: Oh, I can't wait that long.
God: You can't wait six months?
Homer: No, tell me now.
God: Oh, OK. The meaning of life is ... [Theme music, credits and the show ends].

Wait a moment! This is the important bit. That's at least a little more thought-provoking than the answer found in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. In the film, Michael Palin is handed an envelope, which he opens and says rather nonchalantly, “Well, it's nothing very special. Uh, try to be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try to live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.”

OK, that's not deep, but it is better than that given by the giant computer Deep Thought in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It was asked to find the answer to life, the universe and everything. After seven-and-a-half million years it came up with an answer—42. But by then no-one could remember the question.

Rick Warren begins his book The Purpose Driven Life with a four-word paragraph about the meaning of life, “It isn't about you.” While some might like to think the world revolves around them, it has to be far bigger than any individual.
If you want to know why you were placed on this planet,” adds Warren, “you must begin with God.”1

The atheist philosopher of the early 20th century, Bertrand Russell, agrees—at least in this sense: “Unless you assume the existence of God, the question of life's meaning and purpose is irrelevant.

Begin with God? The Bible begins with God: “In the beginning, God created... .” God creates humans in His own image. Read this as being about God being interested in having a relationship with us. This is more than giving life—an amoeba has that. This is about life and love, and about love that gives freedom—especially the freedom to choose, to choose even to rebel.

The Bible begins with God bringing order out of chaos. By the third chapter human rebellion reintroduces chaos. The relationship with God is fractured and the picture changes. The first humans are no longer safe and secure in a garden; they begin to scratch out a living in the wastelands.

So we wonder about God. We wonder why He doesn't fix the problems. War. Violence. Murder. Cancer. Abuse. And the problems become questions—questions about God; questions about the meaning of life.

We forget too easily that we are the rebels, not God. Choices have consequences. The Bible begins with God and is consistent in showing Him working behind the scenes to draw us back to Himself. You find it in the stories: Noah; Abraham; Moses; David; Solomon. You find it in the writings: Exodus; Jeremiah; Isaiah; Ezekiel; Hosea.

The picture is of God attempting to restore a relationship. You soon discover it's about love. Arms-stretched-out-wide love. Arms-stretched-out-and-nailed-to-a-cross love. Here is the ultimate act of love. The Son of God dying the death we, the rebels, deserve.

Even better, the Son of God rises from the tomb. His victory over death makes real the promise of life eternal for His followers. We are not forgotten.

The Bible begins in Genesis 1 with God creating and ends in Revelation 22 with a triple promise from the Son of God: “I am coming soon!” “I am coming soon!” “I am coming soon!” That's when the restoration will be complete.

We may say that “soon” is not soon enough, but God works to His schedule, not ours. He understands the situation better than we do. Our hope and our comfort is bound in the fact that He is there, He is at work and He is coming.

A world without God would be a world in which gravity pulled us down and there would be no counterforce to lift us up,” says Rabbi Harold Kushner, “to cleanse us if we had sullied ourselves when we stumbled and fell, and assure us we are worthy of a second chance.

Then he adds, “In a world without God, we would be all alone... .”2
Thank God, we aren't alone.
There's no question that, in the search for life's meaning and purpose, God helps provide a more satisfying answer than 42.

1 Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2002, page 17.
2  Harold Kushner, Who Needs God, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2002, page 209.