We have an inbuilt desire to do things that matter. But what if everything we build and love and fight for is gone someday? Without a trace. As if it never was. Would it matter that we existed for an instant in the face of an eternity without us? The inescapable answer is that it would not.
The problem is that we know, with the rarity of absolute certainty, that we will die.
However, modern science tells us the universe is not about us. It tells us via evolutionary biology that we owe our existence to chance. With all the potential apocalyptic disasters looming over our heads, it is possible that we as a species will not endure forever. We know we have our own expiration date. Yet, the thought of our non-existence causes us great angst.
“Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die.” This is how Paul of Tarsus, the writer of much of the New Testament, which is the second part of the Christian Bible, summed up life if death is our final curtain call.
But even hedonism, the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain, doesn’t work out. We can’t do what we want because of limitations that all of us (to some extent or another) face. We may lack the material resources: money, power, or physical capacity, to do what we want. Further, more often than not, our desire to do something will conflict with someone else’s desire to do something else. Someone may prevail (there is a possibility that neither person will get what they want) but it may not always be you. We also know that many aspects of our lives are beyond our control. Disease, natural disaster, war, economic collapses, and political convulsions, can all radically alter the course of our lives. As we are all too painfully aware, there is little we can do to insulate ourselves from these things. So the best we can hope for is to strive to eat, drink, and be merry as it is not within our power to achieve even this modicum of happiness.
Why do we feel this need for significance in the face of our insignificance? Is it some kind of cosmic joke? If so, I don’t hear too much laughter.
The Bible reassures us that there is a meaning to all of this. The writer of Ecclesiastes, a part of the Old Testament, the first part of the Bible, outlines the meaningless nature of life coming to the conclusion that life only has meaning because God judges everyone in the end. The Bible tells us there is a life after this – heaven and hell. After advising those who reject the resurrection of Jesus, the central element of Christianity, to “eat and drink, for tomorrow we die”, Paul points out the difference for Christians is that we have a hope because the end of this life is not our end. For those who believe and obey Jesus, who defeated death, there is a hope that will never be destroyed. Paul writes: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (2)
You may choose to reject the idea of eternal life through the death and resurrection of Jesus, but if this life is all there is, any attempt to find meaning is doomed, fulfillment is fleeting, and significance illusory.