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Living with Emptiness

This is a follow-up to last week’s blog “Answering Life’s Great Questions.”


I was reminded of an event I had attended back in February of 1993. I was in Washington for the National Prayer Breakfast. President Clinton had just been inaugurated and was there with the First Lady and many members of the Senate and Congress.

The speaker at the event was Billy Graham. In his presentation he said that just prior to coming to Washington, he had stopped in Cambridge, Massachusetts to visit with the president of Harvard, Derek Bok. After a long visit, Graham was getting up to leave, and asked Bok one final question. “What is the number one struggle that the students of Harvard have to contend with?” Bok did not have to give it much thought for he quickly shot back: “Living with emptiness.” The students’ struggle was they felt their lives were meaningless and without purpose. I am sure Graham wondered how this great institution, Harvard University, had become a place of such emptiness.

Over the years, I have given a great deal of thought to the issue of purpose and living this life with a sense of purpose. In fact, I have spoken on it quite a bit.

If you stop and give this serious thought, you recognize that purpose implies design. It is not accidental. Take for example a smartphone. As you hold it in your hand you recognize that it is not a blob of plastic and steel that plopped into existence. Someone clearly designed it to accomplish certain objectives. Your smartphone serves a purpose in your life.

Again, purpose implies design, and to have design, you must have a designer. When you look at a smartphone, its purpose for existence is clearly evident. When you consider a human being it is not quite as clear. For this reason we must look to the designer of life to answer the question:

What was I designed to do?

This is such a crucial question because we truly function best as human beings when we do what we were designed to do. When we fail to do so, we malfunction.

The God of the Bible gives us two clues to our design, and taken together we get an answer to the question. First, we are told that we are designed in the image of God. Therefore, we possess a number of God’s own characteristics. He designed us with emotions and personalities. He gave us the ability to think, reason, and be creative—characteristics that none of His other creatures possess. Moreover, we are relational beings and have the ability to love. We are the only creatures God designed that He could love, and we could return that love in a meaningful way. The Bible also tells us that He made us for Himself. We exist for Him, not for ourselves. God created us to live in a love relationship with Him. This is why the words of Augustine ring so true: “You have made us for Yourself and our hearts will not find rest until we rest in Thee.”

I once saw a youth director demonstrate this in a very effective way. In front of a group of teenagers, he put a goldfish bowl on a small table. The bowl was full of water with a single goldfish in it. He proceeded to stick his hand down into the bowl, picked up the goldfish, and then dropped it on the table. The fish jumped two feet into the air, then off the table and onto the floor. Then it jumped all over the floor until it finally lay still, as its gills strained for oxygen. As you can imagine, the girls begged him to put the fish back in the bowl, which he finally did. Then he explained to them that a fish can soar in life and truly be a fish only in water. In addition, just as a fish is made for water, we were made for God. We are designed to live in a relationship with Him.

Unfortunately, modern people do not give much thought to purpose and meaning, and the question of design rarely if ever enters their thoughts. Victor Frankl in his highly influential book; Man’s Search for Meaning says that in our county, seeking a meaningful, purposeful life is at odds with a culture that is much more interested in the pursuit of happiness. He says what people do not seem to understand is that happiness is a by-product of leading a meaningful life.

Sadly, so many of us today, like the students at Harvard, are finding nothing but emptiness in our life pursuits. We may find life to be pleasurable at times, but not meaningful. And we will never find purpose or meaning until we connect with God in a very real way, because, this is what we were designed to do.


A portion of today’s blog was taken from Richard’s book Sex at First Sight: Understanding the Modern Hookup Culture. To read more by Richard E. Simmons, go to our website or Amazon.com.

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