Meanings of Life

By Brian Knowles

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or human beings, created in the image of God, life has many meanings or purposes – all of them in some sense profound. Yet, for some, human life is pointless – a mere chemical existence driven by the blind, intelligence-free “forces” of evolution. This approach leads only to the emptiness of mere humanism – man beginning and ending with himself.

            For a humanist, meaning is decided on an individual basis and it is whatever one says it is. If a hundred humanists get together and reach a consensus on meaning, it’s still arbitrary. Scientific humanism decides all on the basis of science which is limited to the empirical.

            The Christian operates on the basis of several assumptions (all of which of course are challenged by anti-Christians). First, he or she believes that God exists (Hebrews 11:6) and that He actively responds to those who make a real effort to seek Him (same verse). God’s responses, whenever they happen, are proof enough of His existence for those who experience them.

            The Christian also openly acknowledges that he or she proceeds on the basis of faith, without which one cannot please God (Hebrews 11:6a). Faith is not blind: it is a leap in the direction of the evidence. Our sense of meaning comes from a synthesis of factors including common sense, sound science and Scripture. As we “do theology” (faith seeking understanding), meaning emerges. For Christians, meaning is not humanistically derived – it comes from above, from God.

Common Sense

Does it make any sense that an omniscient, omnipotent Creator created the universe out of whimsy – for no good reason? Psalm 8 offers us some thoughts that lead to a sense of purpose in creation: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower the heavenly beings [Elohim] and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet…” (Psalm 8:3-6 NIV).

            The universe, as we observe it, is God’s “work” – the product of his mind and his hands. Man, created in the divine image, stands at the pinnacle of creation. Despite man’s biological commonality with the animals, only man bears the stamp of the divine image. Man is placed a little below the divine, but far above all other material life. Man was created to rule or have dominion over the whole of creation.

Need for Redemption

From the outset in Eden, mankind – in the form of Adam and Eve – violated the divine trust through disobedience. The first couple set the precedent for the whole of humanity. The universality of sin necessitated a divine redemptive plan. God is willing to forgive upon repentance. Jesus paid the penalty for our sins in our stead. That’s good news! Those of us who have experienced repentance and redemption have been granted the privilege of spreading that news. It’s called preaching the Gospel – a collective purpose of the church (Matthew 28:19-20).

            The Gospel is about what God has done in the face of Mankind’s sinfulness – it is “the Gospel of God” (I Thessalonians 2:2, 8, 9). It involves His redemptive plan in which those who return to God are invited to participate. Both Israel and the Church have been called upon by God to be lights to the world (Isaiah 42:6; Matthew 5:14 etc.). Whether we are Jews or Christians – or both – we are called to live exemplary lives. This is one meaning of our lives.

Imitating God

The way to exemplary living is to imitate God (Matthew 5:48). If you’re a parent, you may recall turning around to see your small son imitating your walk, or you may have observed him standing on a chair in the bathroom “shaving,” little face all lathered up. This is what our Abba – Father or “Daddy” wants us to do. Jesus did it perfectly (John 14:9). We can learn to imitate God by thinking about what Jesus said about him, and by following Jesus’ own pattern.

            The apostle John addresses this issue: “Whoever claims to live in him must walk [behave] as Jesus did,” (I John 2:6). Paul wrote, “Be imitators of God, as dearly beloved children, and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God,” (Ephesians 5:1-2).

Spiritual Boot Camp

For most Christians, this life is no cake walk – it’s Boot Camp for eternity. A quick reading of II Corinthians 11 vividly depicts what Paul went through for the sake of the Gospel. Hebrews 11:32-38 adds to the larger picture. Paul likened his life to that of an Olympic-style athlete whipping his body into shape for competition (I Corinthians 9:24-27).

            The true Christian life is full of tests and obstacle courses. We are tempted by sin, tested by trials, challenged by illness and sometimes threatened by torture, imprisonment and martyrdom. We strive, through the power of God and Jesus’ own example, to overcome all obstacles. This too is part of our purpose.

World, Flesh & Devil

One of the purposes of this life for Christians is to follow Christ’s example in overcoming the world, our own flesh, and the devil – that is to engage in spiritual warfare. Ephesians 6:10-18 vividly describes the nature of that warfare. In this war, our enemy uses live ammo!

            The name Ha Satan (Hebrew) means “the Adversary.” He opposes everything that is of God: the Creation itself; mankind; Israel; Christ and the Church. When you see these things under attack, you can justifiably suspect the hand of the enemy. Only the power and authority of God keep him from utterly destroying the human race. Murder is in his heart (John 8:44). He is the ultimate anti-Semite and anti-Christ. Destruction and misery are in his ways and in the ways of those who follow him.

            Scripture is replete with examples of the behaviors of Satan, his demonic armies, and his human agents. It behooves all of us to study the tactics of our most deadly enemy, recognize them in the real world, and learn how to defeat them in Christ. Satan may actually find ways to kill us through war, genocide, sickness or other means; but if we die in Christ, that is not a defeat. Jesus taught, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell [Gehenna],” (Matthew 10:28).

            Study 1 Corinthians 15 for the big picture – just as Jesus defeated death through resurrection, so shall his people. Satan can kill but he cannot make alive. Jesus came that we might have life for “God is the God of the living” (cf. Matthew 22:32b), not of the dead. Just remember this one working principle: the things of Satan tend toward destruction (Revelation 9:11), sickness (Luke 13:11), deception (John 8:44; II Thessalonians 2:9-12) and death (John 8:44). Everything about God tends toward life, healing and redemption. God forgives all our sins and heals all our diseases (Psalm 103:1-5). It is God’s wish that no one perish, but that all should return to God in repentance and find redemption (II Peter 3:9b). Our God is not the author of “cultures of death” but rather of life.

Internal Struggles

Another purpose is to bring under subjection the drives of our own flesh. The drives themselves are not evil – they are built in by the Creator (Genesis 1:31). God ordained heterosexual marriage as the means of reproduction. No sex drive, no mankind after the first generation. Yet God commanded the first couple to have sex and reproduce. He did not ordain indiscriminate sex with everything that moved!

            All human drives were given by God – along with “rules of usage.” When we violate those rules, we “miss the mark” and sin. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6; 23). We must rule over the drives of our flesh through the power of the Spirit of God. Even the mighty apostle Paul daily wrestled with pulls of his flesh and mind (Romans 7:14-24). When he failed and fell, he rose up again and relied on the grace of God to get him through (verses 24:25).

            Overcoming the downward pull of our own nature and developing the mind and nature of God is a major purpose of life. Despite the battles with his own flesh, Paul felt that he was successfully developing the mind of Christ (I Corinthians 2:16 etc.). He was learning to think like God and act like Christ.

To do good in the world

The human offspring of the devil do all the harm in the world they can get away with. God’s children do all the good they can get away with. Consider Paul’s admonition to the congregations in Galatia: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap [Christian version of “Karma”]. For he who sows to his flesh will of his flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap everlasting life.

            “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith,” (Galatians 6:7-10, NKJV).     

            Doing good involves meeting people at their real points of need. Note for example: “He who despises his neighbor sins; but he who has mercy on the poor, happy is he,” and: “He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, but he who honors him has mercy on the needy,” (Proverbs 14: 21 & 31).

            Righteous Tabitha (Dorcas) was returned to life after dying to continue making tunics for the needy (Acts 9:36-39).

            Jesus himself set the example when he “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed of the devil…” (Acts 10:38). Jesus loved people. He provided them with food and drink, with healing and deliverance, with sound teaching and good counsel, and with compassion and affection. He was able to do all this because “God was with him” (ibid.). In love, Jesus gave for us the greatest sacrifice: his own life. We are called to imitate Jesus’ good works and perhaps even exceed some of them (John 14:12).

            The good works that we do must be done with humility and a servant’s heart (Matthew 23:11-12 & Matthew 10:15). And we must seek in them God’s glory, not our own. Christian writer Warren Wiersbe expressed it beautifully when he wrote, “Ministry takes place when divine resources meet human needs through loving channels to the glory of God,” On Being a Servant, p. 3.

            As Christians, we do not look for any reward or recognition for our good works in this life (Matthew 6:1-4). We do them to follow the pattern of our Lord, and because they need to be done – not to earn salvation or any human payoff. Jesus admonished, “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men to be seen of them…” Ostentatious giving is not the way to go (Matthew 6:1-4).

Justice & Equity

Our world is chock full of injustice and corruption at high levels. We have seen truckloads of it in recent times with the scandals involving Wall Street, the government and voter fraud. Sadly, we have also seen in various manifestations of the Church with its sexual and financial scandals.

            The true child of God must rise above this ignoble behavior. We are called to a higher standard. This is exemplified in some verses in Psalm 82:        

            “How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked,” (Psalm 82:2-4).

            This is a mandate for every godly person on planet Earth. If you want an example of a Christian who put her money where her mouth was, study the life of Corrie Ten Boom. In Proverbs we read: “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter…” (Proverbs 24:11). At great risk to herself, Ten Boom lived these verses when she rescued precious lives from Hitler’s ovens during WWII.

            One of the meanings of a godly life, whether it be Jewish, righteous Gentile (Noachide) or Christian, is to produce justice and equity where there is none. It is to provide hope in the face of hopelessness. It is to set captives free (Luke 4:18). It is to cancel out the effects of the devil’s causes. John wrote, “The reason that the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil,” (I John 3:8b). It is our duty to continue our Lord’s work.

            As we read earlier, our true enemies “are not flesh and blood, but wicked spirits in high places…” – the spirits that are behind so much of the evil that is in this world. [Note: for background on this, study the following: Genesis 3:1-16; Job 2:1-10; Daniel 10:12-21; Luke 8:26-37; Luke 13:11 & Luke 4:18. Read also God at War by Gregory A. Boyd and The Twilight Labyrinth by George Otis Jr.]

Quest for Divine Reality

For some, God is an elusive, unfathomable mystery, at best a mere intellectual abstraction utterly beyond the ken of mere mortals. From the fourth century to the twenty-first out theologians continue to debate the nature of the invisible God. Is He a trinity, a binity or a singularity? One thing we do know: God is a Spirit (John 4:24) and no mortal truly understands the nature of spirit. It is beyond the realm of human analysis.

            While man seeks to comprehend that which is beyond his comprehension, God seeks man. More importantly, He seeks relationship with man. In Moses’ day, God commanded, “And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them (Exodus 25; 8). God sought to live with, and in, his people. From Adam’s day till our own, God has been pursuing relationship with man. It is man who through ignorance and sin that has alienated him from his loving, attentive creator. God told Israel, through his prophet Isaiah, “…your iniquities have separated you from your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear…” (Isaiah 59:2). This is a working principle of spiritual life: sin and uncleanness separate us from God, repentance and cleanness draws us near.

            An important passage on this meaning of life is found in Acts 17:26-27, “And he has made from one [blood] every nation of men…so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us; for in him we live and move and have our being…”

            We might think of the movie image of two lovers searching for each other on a crowded New York street. Suddenly they spot each other. They run toward each other, make contact, and swing around in joyful embrace for they have found each other!

            God and man were meant for each other, but Satan and sin have come between them. For the relationship to be restored, they must be removed for they are a contaminating influence. Seeking relationship with the living God is the greatest meaning of human life.

            David, king of Israel, had a passion for God. For him, God was no mere intellectual abstraction but a living reality, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God,” (Psalm 84: 1-2).

            Consider also Psalm 42:1-2, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you O Lord. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?”

            Being a godly person is not primarily about participating in denominational religion – it is about our vertical relationship with God and how that is reflected in our horizontal relationships with fellow man (Matthew 22:34-40).

Summing Up

Human life has many purposes and meanings, all of them reflecting the will of God in creating us. We are here to reflect the divine image and to exercise faithful stewardship over the whole of creation. We are raw recruits in God’s “Boot Camp for Eternity.” We are called to wrestle with issues of good and evil, and to overcome the latter.

            Like our leader, Yeshua, we are light and salt in a darkening, spiritually flavorless world. We must master the world, the flesh and the devil on an ongoing basis.

            Collectively, we are here to disseminate the good news about what God has done. We are also expected to do all the good we can get away with, all the while keeping it pretty much a secret. Another part of our purpose is to produce justice where there is none. That means helping the poor, the orphans, the widows and the downtrodden. It means setting people free from bondages, of which there are many. It means loving the unloved. 

            A true Christian seeks to be an instrument of God in the world, and to leave it a better place than he found it. A child of God seeks to move ever closer to his Father in humility, obedience, worship, praise and relationship.