Category: The Meaning of Life


Suffering is a universal problem: sooner or later, it grips the lives of all of us in one way or another.

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Welcome to an updated and improved series I first published six years ago…

Why do we suffer? Surely, if there’s a loving God, there should be no suffering, or it should be short-lived and quickly fixed…

The problem of suffering is used by atheists, agnostics and unbelievers as a reason (or excuse) to ignore God or to preach against his existence. If there really were a God, particularly a loving God, they reason, either there would be no suffering, or he would show up at the first sign of any trouble and put things right. We would all be free to live our lives just as we want, without hindrance, trouble or problems of any kind.

Some people, having no answers to the questions we all ask in the middle of trouble, suffer to the point of losing any faith in God that they may have had. Others maintain their faith and even emerge stronger than they were to begin with. It seems that while most churches have some degree of ministry to those who are suffering, not many prepare the flock in advance, even though we all know it’s a universal problem. And we as individuals choose not to consider the prospect of trouble in our own future.

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All religions and philosophies either have an explanation for suffering, or attempt to sidestep it in one way or another (we don’t really exist and any suffering is caused by our own minds: that kind of thing). I intend to tackle the subject from a Biblical viewpoint. It’s my conviction that the Bible contains most (not all) of the answers to why we suffer, and that they are solid, logical, reasonable answers. While I freely confess that I’m no formally-trained expert, and that I’ve not suffered anywhere near as much as some people do-yet-I think I’ve grasped the main causes of suffering in our world-intellectually. I intend to go into some detail on each cause in following installments of my series, but here I will list them.

Some causes of suffering are of far more consequence than others: this list is not in any particular order:

  • The Curse. The choices and actions of man have brought a curse on a world which was once perfect. The curse affects our bodies, our minds, and all of nature. Nature is running down.
  • God’s judgment. God is patient with us, but eventually sends judgment and trouble upon a rebellious nation, city or individual.
  • Testing. We’re all tested to assess and reveal the condition of our hearts.
  • The consequences of rejecting God. By consistently rejecting Him, we’re not protected by His providence. This also applies to nations, cities and individuals. By going our own way, we are inviting trouble.
  • We reject God’s guidelines for a healthy, successful life.
  • Satan and the spirit beings who have sided with him are against us. We all have an enemy who hates God, his children, humanity in general, and His creation.
  • Free will. God chose to give humans the capacity to choose between right and wrong, rather than create a race of robots who were incapable of true love. Free will necessitates wrong choices and consequential suffering.
  • Discipline. God ‘disciplines those he loves’ in order to make us more like Him.
  • Humbling. Sometimes only suffering breaks our pride.
  • A wake up call. Sometimes only suffering gets our attention. Our refinement is more important than our comfort and ease.
  • Suffering may be allowed to teach dependence on God
  • We harm ourselves with bad choices. For example, we’re too eager to get romantically involved with a person we don’t really know, or we throw our money into a dishonest or suspect business deal;
  •  We harm others with our actions. We may be violent, selfish or greedy.  If we drive while intoxicated we’re risking lives. When we steal, we’re taking what belongs to other people and what they may have worked hard for.
  • We harm ourselves with bad attitudes. For example, we may wallow in destructive self pity rather than looking to God and being thankful.
  • We harm others with our words. The old ‘sticks and stones’ rhyme is not valid: words can be very destructive.
  • We harm others when we fail to love them. Children in particular are in great need of expressed love and kindness.
  • We harm others when we keep them from the truth, and when we teach them the inventions of man, such as evolution.
  • Suffering may be allowed to bring glory to God, in the long or short term. We are His servants-not the other way around.
  • Murphy’s Law/ Sod’s Law/ Fate/ Determinism/ Bad luck. (See my post on Murphy’s Law).

Who are you? What are you made of? Have you been in touch with yourself lately? I don’t want to contribute to the “me” mentality raging all around us and in us, but staying in touch seems like an important thing to do…

I’ve been realizing how relevant staying in touch with my roots is to living a meaningful life. For many years I failed to pay attention to the benefits or even the concepts of roots and beginnings. The results of my attitude can be seen in the multitude of broken relationships and hurt people strewn along the path of my life; the missed opportunities, the blunders, and the consequential festering pool of regrets swilling around in my brain.

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As they say though (whoever “they” are) better late than never. I’ve been in touch with a few good friends I once had and lost, and attempted to right a few wrongs. Except for one, they all give the honorable reply that there were no wrongs: it was all good. I’ve given time to thinking about people who were important to me when I didn’t realize it, and places, and events I never appreciated or reflected upon until now. And I’ve been taking another look at some of the things I enjoyed about the culture I once lived in, in another country and another time. Yes, there is some of my old, “B.C.” life which needs to and will remain buried in that baptism I experienced as a new believer, but others are of great worth.

For example, I’ve always had a very progressive taste in music. I could never tolerate sameness or cliches: I wanted to hear something new and experimental. But in the last couple of years I’ve been listening to some of the music I enjoyed in my teens, and hey- some of it was pretty amazing. I don’t think I’ll ever get into an “older guy” habit of saying that nothing new is worth listening to-that’s just silly. And after all, even nostalgia isn’t what it use to be (joke). Similarly in the world of art I’ve been rediscovering some tremendous works and styles I once found stimulating.

The value I’ve discovered lately in those things and others is that they’re what I’m made of. They all contributed to my character, my view of life and the world, and my part in it. They’re inextricably related to some of the events of my past-my childhood, my teens, my life. They remind me of friends, family, loves, dreams, laughs, styles and a thousand other things which make up my personality and my experience on this earth.

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The Bible speaks of the importance of being in touch with our roots, particularly as they relate to family, traditions, commitments, values, society, and most importantly our faith. A failure to stay in touch with those things will lead to catastrophe just as surely as pulling out the foundation of a house will collapse the whole building:

If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? (Psalm 11:3 KJV).

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But I’m speaking here more about an understanding of ourselves. We can’t have a clear view of our future and our direction in life without being aware of the people and the things which made us. Knowledge of our self, and of what makes for a good and meaningful world, produces what was once called “wisdom”. Wisdom guides us into a better life-one without regrets.

In short, I’m saying that by being in touch with all points of my past, including the ugly, painful ones, I am in fact staying in touch with…me. Not in any narcissistic, obsessive, selfish way-I hope, but in a way which will lead to a better life, a fuller appreciation of life, a better testimony, and fewer regrets.

Here’s the long-awaited third part of my series, “Why I Believe in God”, outlining some of the supporting reasoning behind my faith. There are some believers who think you should “just believe”. Looking for evidence, they say, is “not of faith”, therefore it’s sin. With respect, I disagree…

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Didn’t Jesus reason with his disciples on the road to Emmaus, when he “interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27 ESV)? God created an orderly universe in which facts can be established. Truth is verifiable, and since God is Truth, truth cannot be sinful. Faith and reason go hand in hand.

So here’s my third acronym, designed while I’m in good shape, as a hedge against the days when I will not be. The third acronym, like the second, specifically concerns the God of the Bible.

66 JELL WAST-MUSH! Is it an insect repellant, a conducting lubricant, or hippy face paint? Is it a video game based on Darth Sidious’ ascent to power? No!

66!

The opening part of my acronym is borrowed from the introduction to Chuck Missler’s radio show (“66/40”), since it succinctly and eloquently captures a profound truth missed by those who ignore the possibility of divine authorship of the Bible:

The Bible contains sixty-six books written by forty different authors over thousands of years, and yet it’s an “integrated message system” from beyond our own time domain.

The Bible wasn’t contrived by one man sitting down on a boring Sunday afternoon, wondering how he could start a new religion and fool everyone. It was experienced, contributed to and recorded by many generations of people from different backgrounds, yet it tells one incredible story: the story of the Messiah and the nation he entered the world in. The Bible claims in many places to be inspired by God himself, and authenticates that claim in ways such as those I’ve outlined in all parts of this series.

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J!

J IS FOR JUSTICE. Biblical justice works beautifully, when it’s applied.

Yes, astute reader, the word “justice” was in my first acronym, but there it referred to the fact that we can only have an innate sense of justice if we are more than animals, and if we’ve been designed and created to love truth and fairness. Here the word “justice” refers more specifically to the Biblical model. God is given a bad rap these days by those who want us all to forget about Him. They say he’s vengeful, hateful, misogynous, and a whole host of other derogatory terms which really do not stand up to honest scrutiny. They ignore the fact that since God is the creator and sustainer of all things, he has every right to do as he pleases: we have no rights but only his mercy and kindness, and we are entirely at his mercy. I’ll outline a few examples.

First, those who claim that God must be vengeful and hateful to have told the Israelites to wipe out the Canaanites aren’t looking at the whole picture. God reluctantly commanded the eradication of the Canaanites only after hundreds of years of mercy and patience towards them (Genesis 15:16) because they had descended to such degrading practices as burning their own children as sacrifices to their idols. The time had come for their evil to be stopped, and God has every right to judge.

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Biblical justice is said to be hard in the Old Testament-the time of the Law, and soft in the New: this is seen as a contradiction. The truth is that the “Old Testament God” while setting hard and fast guide lines, showed his mercy in many ways. For example, the establishing of “cities of refuge” (Numbers 35:6-34), where people who had either accidentally killed someone in a fight or an accident, or who were accused of murder falsely, could go to be immune from vengeance. God sent a prophet to a decadent and violent Nineveh because he did not want to judge the city (Jonah 4:10-11), and when Cain killed Abel and feared retribution from his brothers, God put his seal of protection on Cain as an act of love and mercy (Genesis 4:15).

The “New Testament God” actually warns of the same ultimate judgment upon his enemies as the OT God did, but extends his mercy to its greatest extent by making a way for anyone willing to respond to escape that ultimate judgment, through the sacrificial death of his own Son. Jesus forgave the adulteress, the thief on the cross, and Paul who had persecuted Christians to the death.

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Through the gospel of Jesus Christ God’s love and mercy are clearly seen to be available to all of us-until the final Judgment. The same love is supposed to be seen in his followers, by way of forgiveness, mercy, kindness, compassion and so on, without negating the fact that wrong is still wrong and must be corrected, disciplined or even judged if not repented of. Love and mercy come first-consequences only follow if there is no change in our hearts. This is real love and fairness. I would say it’s fairer that any human system of judgment. If the police catch you breaking into a bank once, you’re going to prison, and the judge isn’t going to forget your crime even if you say you’re sorry and that you won’t do it again.

However, our judicial system is based on the Biblical notion that some things are wrong and that other people are to be protected from criminals: you pay for your crime. How many other “animals” have such a system?

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E-L

The Bible adequately Explains the meaning of Life, and the origin and reason for evil, suffering and death. Without claiming to have all the answers (I do not), I wrote about these extensively in a recent post, “The Meaning of Death” and in an eight part series I wrote called “Why Do We Suffer?”

L

L is for Literature. The Bible has been seen by millions over many centuries as the apex of all literature, and more copies of it have been printed and sold than any other book despite the endless attempts to eradicate it. Again, it claims to be the inspired Word of God: his message to humanity. So many examples could be picked, but here’s a well-known one:

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:

He leadeth me beside still waters.

He restoreth my soul:

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me…” (Psalm 23: 1-4).

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WA

The Bible tells the stories of “warts-and-all” characters. If the Bible were written by men to draw converts to a club or religion its central characters would all be faultless, unfailing supermen. There is no attempt to whitewash the sins of its heroes and heroines: we hear about their weaknesses as well as their triumphs and their righteous acts.

As examples, read about God’s mercy towards Cain who killed his brother Abel. Read how Abram lied about his wife being his sister in order to save his own skin. Jacob deceived his father and essentially robbed his brother of his inheritance. Moses fell into a bad temper a few times. Elijah, the powerful and bold prophet, was afraid of a female ruler and fell into a depression. David had an innocent man killed and committed adultery. His family was “dysfunctional” because of his many relationships and, his bad example, and his inability to control his step-children.

In the New Testament Peter, the most enthusiastic disciple of Jesus, denied him in his hour of need, and Paul and Barnabas fell out during their missionary journey together.

ST

ST IS FOR STORIES.  Though the Bible was written by many different authors over a long period of time, it has several central themes running all the way through it, including both testaments. The most significant is the story of the Fall of man and God’s plan of redemption-his commitment to providing salvation for humans who would otherwise be beyond his perfection and holiness. The first mention of the gospel, known as the “proto-evangelion” appears immediately after the Fall (Genesis 3:15), and the gospel message continues all the way to the end of Revelation.

M

M IS FOR MORALITY. The Bible’s brand of morality is hated by the secularist, the atheist, the polytheist, the pluralist, the evolutionist, the Universalist, the existentialist, and just about every other “ist”, yet it’s loved by those who’ve accepted God’s mercy. God’s standards of right and wrong were loosely followed by Western culture until the last few decades. They are the “glue” which will hold everyone together, and they worked as far as they were followed. God’s plan for human relationships reflect true love and commitment. It included love and commitment within families; faithfulness within marriage; the recognition that each life-including the unborn-is to be protected and valued; honor and dedication towards community; religion and country, and the rejection of all that threatens the moral fiber of society and all that God said he hated. How dramatically things have moved in the opposite direction.

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U

U IS FOR UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. The message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is one of unconditional love from God to us-available for anyone who will accept it. This is not a human idea or quality: it’s entirely divine.

S

S IS FOR SIN. The Bible exposes man’s true nature. Yes, this one was in the first acronym also. But more specifically, the Bible describes the origin of sin, its effects and consequences, and its remedy. The answers the Bible gives are, for me, adequate, believable, true to life and beautiful in the light they shine on the human condition.

H

H IS FOR HOPE. The Bible not only describes man’s condition but provides the answer for it. It offers hope for everyone, not just for this life, but for eternity. Please see my post on the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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I stumbled upon a video of Richard Dawkins telling a man that he had “no right” to ask why we are here. Challenged with the claim that science cannot answer that question, his only recourse was to play Big Brother and trash the question*

Many people deny the existence of God-perhaps we’ve all been there at some time. But to attempt to deny others the freedom to seek for that God is something altogether more serious:

“And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea” (Mark 9:42 KJV)

Rabid God haters, militant atheists with an axe to grind, are working hard to convince as many people as possible that it’s foolish to even consider the existence of God.

Surely, to “know” that there is no God a man has to know everything about the universe. And the man who knows all things is making himself equal with the God he has said cannot exist. He not only ignores anything he can’t see but also the clear testimony of what he can see, so that in his mind nothing plus time (and where did time come from?) produced DNA.

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The atheist proselytizer is acting like a god: a man who knows all things; a man who can save the world from all its problems if only we will first forget about “religion”; a man who wants to dictate to others what to think and what to believe; a man who wants to steal and shrink the minds of children like some mean spirited pied-piper.

Considering the fact that eternity is so mind-bogglingly long, and a human life so painfully short, it seems to me that taking some time to wonder why and how we are here is one of the wisest things we can do: what do we have to lose? I know I’ve lost nothing, but only gained by considering the question. Asking the God-hater why we are here is pretty silly, but letting some know-it-all keep us from that consideration is the real foolishness:

“The fool has said in his heart, there is no God” (Psalm 14:1)

* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AUVh_oYCwg&feature=player_embedded#t=342

What is the meaning of life? This question has been asked for as long as humans have been around…

I’m told that in this post-modern age the question of the meaning of life is no longer an issue, since nothing is regarded to be objectively “true”, and evolutionism has sucked any spiritual meaning out of life.

I think the meaning of life is probably a non-issue for those people who are determined not to notice God at all, and for those who claim to be atheists, but I’m sure it’s still being asked a billion times over, all around the world, every day. Perhaps the question is only asked inside minds, because it’s true that looking for meaning has become unfashionable. I offer here three views of the meaning of life.

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DEEP THOUGHT

In Douglas Adams’ wonderful, witty, imaginative “Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” trilogy*, which no spoof writer has yet equaled, an alien race of philosophers build themselves a super-computer designed solely to find the answer to the meaning of life, and name it “Deep Thought”. After performing the necessary calculations for seven and a half million years, it finally announces that the answer to the meaning of life is “forty two”. The philosophers are shocked and bewildered that they’ve waited so long only to find that the answer to the meaning of life seems so meaningless. Deep Thought then offers to design a computer which can calculate what the question is.

You don’t have to wait seven and half million years for the answer to the meaning of life. The Bible gives us an explanation, and gives it in a very succinct, clear to understand way. We don’t need to go through life without an answer, we don’t need to go to some guru in the Himalayas, and we don’t need to ask Stephen Hawking or Richard Dawkins (they don’t know it anyway).

HAMLET AND PAUL

In giving the answer, I want to share with you a striking contrast I’ve noticed between the apostle Paul’s view of life and that of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”. You may well ask what Hamlet has to do with this. Of course, he is a fictional character, but in his famous and eloquent soliloquy we find one view of life and death which is very prevalent in these days, and which we may have found ourselves sharing at some time. You can skip the following quote and go to my summary if you wish, but in order to catch the drift of Hamlet’s philosophy, let’s look at a part of his speech, found in Act 3, Scene 1:

“To be, or not to be: that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them?

To die: to sleep; No more; and by a sleep to say we end

The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks

That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;

To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

Must give us pause: there’s the respect

That makes calamity of so long life;

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,

The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,

The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,

The insolence of office and the spurns

That patient merit of the unworthy takes,

When he himself might his quietus make

With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,

To grunt and sweat under a weary life,

But that the dread of something after death,

The undiscover’d country from whose bourn

No traveler returns, puzzles the will

And makes us rather bear those ills we have

Than fly to others that we know not of?”

To summarize Hamlet’s thoughts in my own very amateur way, Hamlet is extremely disillusioned with his world, and with life in general. He’s been wronged significantly, and hurt by those closest to him. He finds nothing of merit within human nature. He sees life as a weary battle to fend off the evil which comes from all directions. He can’t make up his mind which is worse: to live through the troubles of life, or to die by suicide and face whatever may be on “the other side”, in the after-life. There he may wish he’d stayed in the land of the living.

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Who can empathize with Hamlet? I know I can. There have been times in my life when I have had very similar thoughts, and if you have not, you are very fortunate. Perhaps Hamlet speaks eloquently for many of us. It’s no wonder that Shakespeare is considered by many to be almost comparable to the Bible in his literary power, and his insights into the mind of man and human character.

However, it’s clear to all of us that this is extremely negative thinking. It’s perhaps an expression of paranoia. It’s a dark view in which there is no hope or salvation, but suffering and fear only.

PAUL

Consider now the words of the apostle Paul. When he wrote the following, Paul was chained up in a Roman jail. He lived in the knowledge that his life could be taken from him at any moment, such was the opposition he faced daily for many years, including the threat of execution. For full effect I should quote this in “King James English”, but I want it to be clear to everyone, so it’s in late 20th C NIV English instead. Notice the similarity of subject matter, but the contrast in Paul’s view of life and death:

“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body” (Philippians1: 10-24).

In summary, Paul, chained and one step away from execution, sees his priorities as being the exaltation of Christ, and the shepherding of those he has led to faith in Christ. Though he is always near to death, he has no fear of it. In fact, he expresses a desire to leave his earthly body so that he can be with his Lord. Paul’s wish is that he will glorify Christ: whether it is by his life, or his death, he does not mind.

Here we see the incredible faith of a man who had once been a persecutor of Christians, but who now lived for Christ and his followers.

The contrasts between Hamlet’s outlook, and that of Paul are almost breath-taking. Hamlet lives in defeat and fear: fear of life and of death. His primary, and only concern is himself and his own feelings and pride, whereas Paul can say triumphantly, “to live is Christ and to die is gain”.

To Hamlet life is just a struggle with evil and human nature, only to arrive at a fearful ending where the afterlife may even be worse. To Paul, life is about glorifying Christ and taking care of others’ spiritual and physical well-being, until ultimately, the believer has inexpressible joy of union with Christ. There is no loss, only gain.

In another place Paul said of Christ, “All things were created by him and for him” (Colossians 1:16). That’s the key: we were created for Him, and not for ourselves. This is the meaning of life.

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We tend to think that we’re here to get what we can out of life in the form of pleasure and stuff. We think that those who have lots of stuff must be far happier than we are. The truth is that people can be happy with very little, when they are aware of what brings true happiness. I can clearly remember my ninety-two year old grandmother, totally blind, spending most of each day alone in a room with very few possessions and nothing in the bank. She would sit and sing praise to God, with a contented smile on her face. She was waiting to be ushered into His kingdom. She was full of peace and joy, and she was a loving, kind woman without an ounce (or gram) of bitterness or fear in her. She had achieved what many or most millionaires do not.

How do you wish to feel about your life, and about death? It’s not dependent on your income, or your vocation, or who you’re dating, or what kind of experiences you’ve had. It’s dependant on your willingness to live primarily for your Creator, and also for the benefit of others, and not for yourself.

*Don’t bother reading any more than the first three books-the rest are no good…

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