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The Search For Meaning – Part 3

Now, as I mentioned, we have in the last two meetings been exploring this issue on man’s search for meaning, and where I want to start before we really launch into the third part of this series, I want to read to you a couple of quotes and make a comment or two, and then I’m going to launch into my presentation.

But what I want to do is start with a quote from Albert Camus. Now, I don’t know how familiar you are with Camus. He was a French novelist; he won the Nobel prize for literature back in the sixties. He was really popular. He was kind of considered a left wing. I remember reading him in college and he was a real skeptic when it came to religious faith.

But listen to what he has to say about the question of meaning. He says, “The fundamental question about life is the question of meaning. Anything else is secondary. Until the question of meaning is dealt with, I cannot give answers to the other questions of life.” Here, I think Camus is telling us that this is the most pivotal question in life.

What’s interesting was last year USA Today did a poll and they asked their readers this one question, “If you could ask God one question and get an answer, what would that question be?” And interestingly, the overwhelming number one question that the readers answered was ‘What on earth am I here for?’ Why am I alive? Why do I exist?

Again, the issue of meaning, but I think the person who says it best is George Gilder. He’s kind of a futurist. He used to work for Reagan. He says it best as he describes men today in this modern world that we live in. He says, “Men lust, they desire, but they know not what for. They fight and compete, but they forget the prize. They spread seed but spurn the seasons of growth. They chase power and glory, but they miss the meaning of life.”  

You know, there seems to be down deep inside each of us, this relentless desire to find it meaning, because I think we desire so much to make sense out of the world that we live in. And yet, the older we get, we find more and more that there don’t seem to be a lot of good answers.

Now, in the last two sessions, we’ve looked to Solomon kind of as our guide, we looked at his words in the book of Ecclesiastes. Most scholars, not all, believe that Solomon, even though he doesn’t identify himself as Solomon in Ecclesiastes, as the author. And in this book, he continually steps back and asked the question, can man find purpose and meaning in life without God, he calls it ‘under the sun’.

And in November, we explored pleasure as a source of meaning. In January, we looked at our work and our accomplishments, as I said, and the fruit of our labor for a possible answer. But Solomon admits that when all is said and done, pleasure, work, and all the other worldly alternatives that are out there fail to lead us to any coherent answers. What he calls it, it’s like ‘chasing after the wind’. And maybe you’ve gotten a feeling of that if you’ve ever tried, if you had a piece of paper that has gotten loose in the wind and it’s blowing off and you’re trying to chase it. And I think Solomon’s right. I think man’s search for meaning in a totally secular environment where there’s a spiritual vacuum leads to no coherent answers and ultimately emptiness.

Back last year, I did not see this, but I heard someone speak on Oprah Winfrey, had a special show that was billed as, “We’re going to answer life’s great questions on purpose and meaning in life”. And of course, she had this panel of experts. I’m not sure what kind of experts they were, but they were all going to talk and answer this great question. And the first segment, they went through it, and they didn’t come up with an answer. And so, as they’re breaking for a commercial, Oprah says, when we return, we’re going to give you the answer to the meaning of life. And they went to the next segment. Again, no answer, but every time they took a break, she would say, stay tuned because we’re going to give you the answer. And then they get to the very end, and they don’t have an answer. And they’re starting to, the show is over, and for one last moment, the camera shines on Oprah Winfrey and this is what she says, “well, you’ll just have to look within yourself to find the answer.”

Now I will say this. On the one hand, with all due respect to Oprah Winfrey, that is a very lame and shallow answer. But on the other hand, what do you expect them to say? I mean, here she is. She has this huge following. She, to some people, is like their guru. Now, what do you expect them to say? Well, we don’t have an answer. Life is meaningless. And so, she came up with this very clever, just look within yourself.

Now we have a lot of business people, professional people here. Now, when you’re at work and someone comes to you with a problem and you don’t have the answer, now, in the future, you can say, well, you just need to look within yourself.

Why do we yearn for a meaningful, purposeful life. It’s kind of interesting, the great French skeptic Voltaire, this is the way he described life. You want to talk about somebody that had an optimistic view of life? Listen to the way he describes it. “Human beings are tormented particles in a bed of mud devoured by death. A mockery of faith.” Are you talking about a guy with an optimistic view of humanity?

But you know, what’s interesting? He then, that’s his perception of human beings, but then he asked the question, “But why is it this bothers me so?” “Why is it this bothers me? He says, “My cat doesn’t seem to worry about it, but this really bothers me.” And if you really think about what he’s saying is, his atheistic view of the world did not match up with the innate desires of his heart.

Pascal said something very similar. He says, you know, human beings are the grandest; they’re the most paradoxical of all God’s creation. We’re the grandest of God’s creation. But we also experience the greatest amount of misery. He says, and one of the reasons this is, is because we can, we’re the only creatures that can reflect upon our existence, which he says, on the one hand, makes us so grand, but on the other, it’s the basis of our misery, because we can reflect upon our lives and the meaning or meaninglessness of it.

But my favorite of all the quotes as it relates to this is by Alister McGrath and McGrath is quite an interesting man. I didn’t know much about him until I read one of his books. He’s an Oxford scholar. He lives in England. He’s a scientist and a theologian. He’s written over 40 books and listen to what he says about why do we have, what is the origin of these desires, this yearning for meaning, this yearning for purpose?

He says this. “We seem to have been created to ask questions, to try to make sense of what we see around us and how we fit into the greater scheme of things. It is almost as if the human mind was designed to discern the pattern of the universe and reflect on its meaning. There seems to be some inbuilt longing for purpose, which drives us to look for clues to the meaning of the universe. We appreciate the beauty of a glorious sunset. While wondering if the sense of beauty at awakens within us is somehow a pointer to another and more wonderful world that we have yet to discover.”

I quote Tim Keller all the time, because I think he’s one of the great teachers in America. And he asked, I think, a really good question. He says, “If we are finite beings like animals that have no intrinsic value as our world would tell us today, why do we yearn for meaning and eternal significance? As you examine life, all of our innate desires have something that will satisfy them. There’s no such thing as an innate natural desire that does not have something that will fulfill it. When you’re hungry, there’s such a thing as food. We desire, love, there’s such a thing as friendship, romance, and marriage.”

And then he made an interesting point, and I had read this, you know, if you take a baby who is born, and you feed them, but you don’t have, they have no contact with their mother or any other human, but you just feed them, and make sure they stay up, they will eventually die. Babies need love. They need to be held. They need affection. Well, that’s not surprising that there’s such a thing as love.

C.S. Lewis said the same thing when he said, “Creatures are not born with innate desires, unless satisfaction for these desires exists. So, if this is true, then as we yearn and desire for a life that is full of meaning, there must be something out there which will fulfill it.” But the problem is, as Oprah Winfrey discovered, human beings have a hard time finding it.

I want to share with you two illustrations that I think really sheds light on this. The first is an illustration from a book called Game Plan: Winning Strategies for the Second Half of Your Life, by Bob Buford. And I took, it was a little illustration that he had gotten from somebody else, and I took it and I enhanced it a little bit. It was not my idea, but I just added a little to it. But it’s profound. I want you to listen to it.

“Have you ever noticed the thrill and joy from hearing a stirring piece of music, having a wonderful dinner with good friends, watching a close athletic event, or falling in love? I experienced it last night, my seven-year-old plays soccer. He scored two of the team’s three goals. It really didn’t matter that the other team scored 10. But for me, watching my son score a goal, my seven-year-old, I mean, it does, it is a thrill that’s hard to describe, and I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar. But this stirring or arousal s a gift of God. However, the stirring events are only a reflection of something greater. It’s like the moon. We all are so enamored and taken by the beauty of a full moon, but we fail to consider that the source of its beauty is the sun. The light that we see of the moon, it’s just a reflection of the sun. The moon doesn’t produce its own light. The moon is a cold dark mass that shines magnificently because of a star that is far greater than itself. Secular philosophers tell us that life is cold, dark and bleak. Just like the moon. It’s only when God’s marvelous light shines upon us, that our lives find beauty and coherence and meaning.” And in Buford’s book, he says, “Our problem is we tend to worship the moon, living for wealth, success, recognition, and pleasure, only to find that this devotion leads to emptiness for we neglect the source.”

Now a second illustration that I think is powerful comes from McGrath’s book, but he quotes the great English romantic poet, Percy Shelley. And this is a great illustration. Shelly wrote a poem called, The Desire of the Moth for the Star. And he was talking about how the moths would always, back, this is 200 years ago, would fly to the stars, were attracted to that light. And he saw the “moth’s desire for the star as a powerful symbol of the heart’s desire for something which was both distant yet compelling, a means of sustaining hope for the future and distracting us from our present sphere of sorrow. It’s a poignant image which can help us reflect on the theme of meaning. You see, the moth is meant to be attracted to the light. For some reason, that scientists just don’t fully understand, the moth has an inbuilt tendency to be drawn to a light source. And yet, the simple fact remains that moths are drawn to the light. It’s as if they have an innate tendency to be attracted to a source of illumination. With the arrival of artificial light, the moth found itself in something of a difficulty. The candle lit at night attracts moths who end up being consumed in this flame. The floodlight buildings in the center of our cities attract moths to the powerful lights that illumine them, which vaporize the moths on contact. The inbuilt,”  listen to this, “the inbuilt attraction of the moth for the wrong light source, thus leads to its destruction. Is there not a parallel here with our own situation? Suppose that the deep sense of yearning for something that really satisfies us is actually a longing for God. A longing that we are meant to experience and a longing that is meant to lead us to its true source and goal in God. Might not this longing accidentally become attached to lesser goals within this world. Might our quest for beauty become an end in itself yet break our hearts because it fails to deliver what we had anticipated. Might our quest for significance end up being completely frustrated and that everything we hoped would bring meaning to our lives seems to disappoint us. The objects of our desire, have a marked tendency to let us down, but suppose that these objects are like the candle to the moth; something which is only an image of our true desire. Might there be something which is what we really are meant to desire that will not destroy us but bring us fulfillment and joy.”

This is the essence of the Christian hope. The apostle Paul said the very same thing in the first chapter of the book of Romans when he said that mankind’s great mistake and the source of so much of his pain and his problem and his trouble is that we exchange the truth of God for a lie and worship everything creation instead of the Creator.

Now, what I want to do is share with you, this is my opinion. This comes from all that I’ve studied over the years, and I’m going to share it with you. My opinion, as far as finding meaning in life, it’s found in two parts, and these two parts are closely linked together. The first is finding purpose in life. And the second is living in such a way that you feel like your life really counts for something. Significance. We talked about that last, back in January. Remember we said, significance is a sense of satisfaction you get when your life makes a difference that lasts over time. And so, what I want to do is talk about for a few minutes, the issue of purpose.

You know, if you think about it, purpose implies design. I mean take my cell phone. This cell phone, when it works, clearly has a purpose. To communicate with somebody that’s not here with me in this room, to communicate with people that are at a distance. I think everybody sitting here would agree. This is not just a piece of plastic. This cell phone did not just leap into existence. There was clearly a design. It’s small, it fits in my pocket. It’s got the little ear where I can hear. It’s got the little antenna; it’s got the number pad to dial numbers. And I share this because the point I want to make is that purpose implies design. And in order to have design, you have to have a designer. And when you look at a cell phone, its purpose for existence is self-evident. The problem is when you look at a human life, it’s not as clear. And therefore, in order to determine this, I think what we have to do is we have to look at the One who designed us. We have to look to God to discover the answer to that question. What am I designed for? What is the purpose for my existence? And when you go to the Bible, you see that God gives us two very important clues; clues about our design. He gives more than two, but the two that I want to focus on, answer this question of why am I here?

And the first clue is found in Genesis chapter one, verse 26 (Genesis 1:26), where it says we’re designed in the image of God, which, by the way, that, for that very reason, we are significant, but we’re designed in His image. Now you may wonder what does that mean? When you look at a human being and you look at their innermost being, you see certain qualities that differentiate us from all the rest of creation. For instance, we have a personality, we have emotions, just as God has a personality and emotions. If you don’t think He does, look at the life of Jesus. He gave us the ability to think, to reason, to be creative, just as he thinks and reasons, and is creative.

I think a very significant clue, as part of being created in the image of God, is that we are made relational just as God is relational. You see, I don’t think we realize sometimes the significance of the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, have been in fellowship, in relationship, throughout eternity. If you read the New Testament closely, you see that Jesus is in continual touch with his Heavenly Father and we’re made to be, we’re designed to be relational. And you know how we know that? If we weren’t, there’d be no such thing as loneliness. And loneliness is one of the most painful things that people experience in life. Why would people experience loneliness? The only answer is because we’re made to be relational, to be in relationship. And finally, God designed us in His image so that we could love. It says we love because He first loved us. So, think about it. Where are they only creatures that can have a love relationship with God. We’re the only creatures that he can pour out his love on and we can return that love if we want. So that’s the first clue.

The second clue is most significant. And yet, I don’t hear too many people speak about it. And I don’t think we get this. In Colossians 1:16, it says “all things have been created by Him and for Him.” Isaiah 43:21 says, “the people who I formed for myself.”  I Corinthians 8:6 is a long verse, but in the middle of it, there’s this little phrase that says, “we exist for Him.” And then, one of my favorites is first Corinthians 1:9, where it says, “We have been called into fellowship with Jesus Christ.” If you look at that word ‘fellowship’, it literally means companionship.

So, we’ve been designed to live our lives in a love relationship with our God. This is our purpose for existence. This is why Augustine said, “God, you have made us for Yourself and our hearts will not find rest until it rests in Thee.” And if you think about it, this is critical to understand because you and I function best when we do what we’re designed to do. We as people function best not only individually, but in relationships.

I heard Tim Keller make an interesting comment about the early Greek philosophers. He said, they believed in this concept of, they called it “logos”. I’m not sure I’m pronouncing it right, but it’s a Greek word where we get the word logic. And interestingly, it’s the same word that you find in the first chapter of the book of John. In the beginning was the logos. And if you see what that word literally means, it means the reason for life, the reason for life and, and Keller says the early Greek philosophers believed when you found the logos, the purpose, for any objects, it could then reach its potential. And furthermore, they believed if human beings could find their logos, their reason for life, then they could become whole and complete. They could reach their potential. The problem he says, though, the Greek philosophers had the same problem that Oprah Winfrey and her panel had. They never could come up with an answer.

And he says, that’s why when the apostle John wrote the Gospel of John, he dropped a bombshell. When he began the first chapter of that book and says ‘in the beginning was the logos’, the reason for life. And it was with God. And the reason for life became a human being and dwelled among us. And we beheld His glory. See, you see what he’s saying? Why this was such a bombshell. The reason for life was not a philosophical principle. It was a person, it was a person, it was the person of Christ. And he says, when we know Him, when we serve Him, when we love Him and we get our lives in sync with His will, that’s when you find meaning in life. So that’s the first part: purpose.

The second part has to do with significance, which we talked about a little bit, the last time we met, but when you think about leading a life that counts, it’s significant, that lasts over time. I want to go back to this idea of design because there’s an additional clue in the Bible regarding our design that helps us to learn and understand a life of significance. And that is this: God designed each of us to live eternally. We are eternal beings.

And this is why, what I read back in January makes so much sense. I read a quote from this book, The Question of God, by Dr. Armand Nicholi, for you who weren’t here, he is a psychiatrist that teaches at Harvard Medical School, but he also teaches an undergraduate course at Harvard comparing the life of Freud, who he’s an expert on and C.S. Lewis, who he also has a certain degree of expertise. And if you remember, Nicholi says this, “When we realize the world is not our home and that we are eternal beings,” it says, “the process of becoming aware of this is extraordinarily painful. The unbelievable brevity of our lives conflicts with our deep seated yearning for permanence and with our lifelong fear of being separated from those we love, a fear that haunts us from infancy to old age.” Remember we said that that Solomon says God has set eternity in our hearts.

And what’s interesting is, in this book, Nicholi talks about, he compares Lewis’ view of life as an atheist, and then when he converts to Christianity, how it changes, and he points out something really important. He says, “One of the gray areas where his worldview changed the most was in the way he regarded human beings.” Listen to this.

“Lewis’s new world view changed his valuation of people. Death no longer marked the end of life, but only the end of the first chapter in a book that went on without end. Every human being, he now believed, would live forever, outliving every organization, every state, every civilization on earth. There are no ordinary people, Lewis reminded his audience in an address given at Oxford. No one ever talks to a mere mortal. It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit, immortal horrors, or everlasting splendors. Your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. People in Lewis’ new view transcended time in significance everything else on earth. This forced him to set new priorities in his life. The first priority, given to his relationship with the Creator, the second priority, to his relationship with others. The importance of keeping our priorities in order is a recurrent theme in his writings.”

 Now, what I want to do is just for a second, share with you a couple of illustrations that will shed a little light, maybe a little insight into how can my life make a difference? How can I have a life that is significant? Because we talked about last time, how as you get on with your life and your career, you find that the desire for success begins to leave you empty and you have this greater desire for a life of significance. And so how does that come about? How does that happen?

I want to share with you a couple of kind of like pieces to a puzzle. And so, kind of bear with me. I don’t know how many of you saw the movie Schindler’s List? I saw it about eight or nine years ago. It won an Academy Award for best picture and there’s so much of it I don’t remember. I took some notes right at the end of it. I was watching it on my VCR and I don’t even remember Oscar Schindler’s nationality, but he spent a lot of his money to buy Jews so that they could come work for him but he really was trying to save them from the Holocaust. And he also spent a great deal of money on himself. He lived very lavishly, a very wealthy man. And he liked women. He was quite a philanderer, but at the end of the movie, Schindler, his great realization was that people are of infinite worth and that humans are we’re sacrificing everything for. Because at the end, the war is over, all the death camps are being liberated. And he, at the end of the movie, if you remember, is weeping and he’s talking to someone and this is what he says, you know, if I’d only sold this car that I had, if I’d only sold this car, I could have saved 10 more lives. If I’d only sold my gold fountain pen, I could have saved two more lives and he was weeping. And he wept as he realized he could have saved more lives if he hadn’t squandered so much money on himself. And in that moment, he realized what really mattered, and he was broken over it.

You know, I think sometimes we’re desensitized in an insidious way. We forget that human beings and their eternal destiny is so much more important than anything else in life. Some people would argue, well, Schindler saved all these, they were called Schindler’s Jews, I think that’s what they were called, he saved all these people, but you know, they eventually died again. And that’s true. In other words, some would say, well, that’s not eternally significant, and that’s true, but we all know if you’ve ever have a chance to save somebody’s life, or rescue somebody, there’s nothing more important because human beings have such great worth and value. So, that’s the first piece of the puzzle.

And the second piece that I want to add to you comes from what the Encyclopedia Britannica continues the most outstanding autobiography in Western literature. It’s called The Education of Henry Adams. Most of us aren’t familiar with it, but it was published back in the early 1900s, like 1906, I think. And it’s kind of a hard read, to be quite honest, but Adams was a history professor at Harvard, but there’s a quote, a single quote that is one my favorite quotes and that kind of has had such an impact on me. Listen to it. And it’s a piece of the puzzle, and a lot of you can relate to this. He says this, “A teacher,” or you could plug in ‘a mentor’, “affects eternity because he can never tell where his influence ends.”

That’s a good thought. When you impact someone’s life, they may turn around and impact someone else, and they’ll impact someone. You know, you never know where your impact ends when you’re impacting others, you’re mentoring, teaching others. So that’s the second piece.

I don’t know if any of you are familiar with this book, it’s called The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker. It won a Pulitzer Prize in 1973. The New York Times says it was the book of the decade in nonfiction. And I don’t have time to go into it, but Becker, who was an atheist, he was a sociologist, and he was an anthropologist, and in his study of man, he says, this is the one thing he concluded about us as human beings. He says, “We want to know that our lives count, but in order for anything to have meaning, the effects of our lives must remain alive in eternity in some way. We have this yearning for the imperishable.”

Well, how do we do that? How do we bring that about? How do we make that happen in our lives? Listen to the words of Max Anders. This is kind of tying it all together as far as significance, very powerful. He says, “Everything God does is eternally significant. When we are submissive to what he is seeking to accomplish, we find ourselves participating in the eternal. And this is what gives our lives a sense of meaning. Knowing we are participating in the eternal purposes of God.”

You know, we talk about this a great deal in our Bible studies, because this is a recurrent theme in the Bible. Now, you know, I’ve said a lot this morning, I’ve thrown a lot out on the table. And as you’re sitting in the audience, you may be feeling what so many men feel that share with me. I hear this a lot. You know, I believe in Jesus, I’m a member of a church, and I’m trying to be the best Christian I can be. But in actuality, my faith has no real impact on my life. And Jesus is not very real, He’s this distant being out there. There’s no, there’s nothing real about my relationship with Him. There’s something lacking in my life.

Let me just say this. If you feel this way, I promise you, you’re not alone.

“This pattern continued for a period of years. And then it finally dawned on this guy. Though she claimed to love him, he realized she really didn’t love him. It dawned on him that she wanted all the benefits he provided her. She just didn’t want him. And she didn’t want him because she had given her heart to her career and to other things.”

 And I think this is a picture so often of our Christian faith, you know, do we love God, or do we just want the benefits that He offers us? I think everybody wants good health prosperity. We want somebody we can go to when we have a problem. We want eternal life, but do we love God? Do we love Christ? Or have we given our heart to other things in this life?

We have this real tendency, guys, to compartmentalize our lives. That’s the way most men, and even women, live today. We have different compartments in our lives. We have our work life. We have our marriage; we have our lives with our kids. We have all of our hobbies, and we have our spiritual life over here, which often we go to on Sundays and there might be some overlap, but they’re all separate compartments. And God is saying that is not the way I intended for life to be lived. Life is to be more like a wheel. And I am the hub of that wheel. You center your life in Me and all the spokes of that wheel are the different areas of your life. And if you will center your life in Me, I will enhance, I will strengthen, and I will enrich all the other areas of your life.

The quote I want to read, comes again from Alister McGrath. He says this, “Hopefully we can see what must be done if the deepest longings of the human soul are to be quenched and satisfied. We are made to relate to God, to live in relationship with Him. God has entered into history in order to fill the void within us. It remains only for us to allow Him to enter in and fill that void. Perhaps it makes sense to think of the human soul as a great mansion with many rooms, a favorite image of the Spanish writer, Teresa of Avila. The doors to that mansion and its many rooms must be opened before God may enter in and transform that cold and dark building with his warmth and radiance. We must throw aside any barriers that remain within us to the indwelling of God within our hearts. In one sense, faith can be thought of as saying yes to God and throwing open the portals of our souls, to the refreshing renewing and transforming presence of the living God. The great theme of the New Testament is that Christ’s death upon the cross somehow holds the key to the perennial human struggle against meaninglessness and mortality. It’s here that a new way of living is made possible and made available. The question which then remains is whether we wish to accept and enter into this new way of life or just stay where we are.”

The question that I would leave you with, which really kind of cuts through to the heart of the matter is this, what are you living for? What are you living for? Because the way we answer that question will ultimately determine if we will ever find meaning in life. Let me pray as we close.

Father, we thank You that You entered into this world and that You are the reason for life and that we can know You, that we can align ourselves with Your purposes, Your eternal purposes, and find true meaning in life. Lord, help us to realize though, that it has to be entered into, and it happens as we surrender ourselves to You. We thank You, Lord, that You don’t leave us out in this world, in this life and its coldness and its bleakness and its emptiness, that You shine a light into our hearts, into our souls, and that life can be full of meaning, but it can be found only in You. And we thank You. Lord, I thank You for each man here, each family represented, all the friendships that exist in this room. We’re just grateful for this time we have together. It’s in Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

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