I was told a story of a 13 year old boy who is struggling now between a Bible-based view and a secular, if not atheistic, world view. And about where he is now seems to be wondering what the point of life is, especially if the Bible isn’t objectively true. Though young, he sees the alternative society offers up as consumer-driven and ultimately empty.
My first instinct was to feel a little sorry for him that he has to go through this trying time of determining what he believes in while people around him try to convince him to their way of thinking. But I suppose I should also grant that he is smart enough to realize an acquisitive life is fairly meaningless and promises no satisfaction. I’ve known too many people who’ve reached middle age and still haven’t figured that out.
The question of why we exist is one that philosophers, religious thinkers, and other intellectuals have struggled with for centuries. And maybe that’s where I don’t measure up as an intellectual…because I don’t really care very much about the question. Is it to give glory to God? Is it to be free? Is it to serve each other? Or is it all one big colossal accident and there is no reason? *shrug* I dunno.
In Christianity there is the concept that humans cannot know the mind of God. Whatever His plan is, it IS, and we cannot fathom it. All we can do is have faith that it will take care of us, probably in some way we cannot understand.
That’s around where I start. I don’t know if the plan is really detailed to every single life and material object and quark of dark matter or whatever. Or maybe all of reality IS the plan. The study of physics and chemistry, etc, is the corner of reality that we’ve been able to shed light on and get a feel for “well at least we understand that XX works like YY and effects us like ZZ under AA conditions.” And while that allows me to believe that we’ve worked out a tiny section of the plan, I also feel like we’ve had to simplify what we found in order to make it fit into our language and thereby our mental capacity. This is very much akin to the simplification teachers have to give to Einstein’s theory of relativity just so us regular people can begin to grasp it.
And I recognize that the question isn’t meant to invoke the physics that got any particular person here, but I bring it up to explain that’s where my mind goes. There is a vastness to any plane on which this question is tackled, to such a degree that I would never feel like I had enough solid information to go on. The Bible does specifically say that God created us to glorify him, but what does that mean, really? *shrug* I dunno.
I hope no one came here actually hoping for some direction. I don’t know that 13 year old kid above, I hope he’s okay and grows up solid in his critical thinking, and open to life and the world around him.
It’s just that I probably get the best instruction from the Absurdists (who had a strong tendency to atheists). The idea that there is no meaning to life, that we’re here by accident is comfortable to me. It’s freeing as I then feel that my choices to try to move myself and my society to somewhere better, somewhere more loving and more accepting, are truly my choices. I don’t have to worry about trying to make myself be happy by checking boxes of acquiring any material possessions or even a particular social status – the pursuit of happiness being a completely separate endeavor from trying to live the way I’m supposed to.
The reason people ask the question Why always seems to have another component. Why questions don’t settle matters by themselves, they elucidate information that might answer a more basic question that can be difficult to articulate. And the asking of Why questions tends to reveal more about the questioner and the situation than questions of Who or What. “Who ate the last doughnut?” is a very different circumstance than “Why did you eat the last doughnut?” Even though there is a narrow difference between “What did you say?” and “Why did you say that?” there is still a difference.
Asking why we are here requests an answer that would satisfy a hundred Who/What/How questions. If it’s to glorify God, we have now have a game plan for what to believe. If it’s to be free, now we have an objective. If it’s to serve each other now we have a methodology.
Without asking Why we may end up just wandering around, serving our basic needs, and having no idea what to do with the greater capacity we know we have. We didn’t build cities, establish complex traditions, study our own histories, pursue scientific discovery, create epic poetry and end various diseases on accident – humans have always seen possibilities greater than themselves and sought them.
But the answer to Why questions sometimes feels too conclusive, even predestined. That is, if the reason we are here is to serve God then all other options are not only sub-optimal, but perhaps morally wrong. And if the Why of our existence is truly inevitable then there is no way NOT to serve God. All actions, thoughts and words would be in line with service to Him. This, of course, does not follow. Not when the Bible gives a pretty firm code of conduct in terms that let us know it’s possible to break with, at the cost of breaking with fellowship with God. Eg Anyone who ever took a cookie before dinner and then lied about it knows perfectly well that “Thou Shalt Not Lie” is pretty easy to break. The Commandments, then, can only be expected to instill in us the scruples to behave in an honorable way. They do not literally control us.
So then Why we are here ought to tell us a “preferred” way to live, or a philosophy to aspire to. In other words, the answer satisfies the question, “Now that we find ourselves alive on Earth, what are we to do?” Enough people over the millennia of human existence have found themselves lost in the wake of this query that I have no doubt as to the great value of a satisfactory answer. I don’t look down on people who ask it. I just wonder why I’m not one of them.
I believe in God, but as for what God is, I don’t know. I believe my human mind cannot fathom God in the same way it cannot fathom the vastness and intricate workings of the universe. But neither God nor the universe need my mind to grasp them in order to exist.
I don’t have any solution to Why, just an axiomatic idea. The meaning of life is to live.