The Meaning of Life
By Merle Hertzler
Some will seek to find meaning by looking for heaven. They say their accomplishments on earth will cause them to shine forever with many crowns, and that this gives life here on earth significance and meaning. But what if there is no afterlife? Our brains must certainly be the seat of all of our thoughts, memories, and feelings. And surely our brains will no longer be functioning when the universe decays. So how can there be a future life without the brains that give us these thoughts and feelings? (See Is There Life After Death?) So I see no hope for an afterlife giving meaning to this life.
Does life have meaning? There is a simple answer: my life has meaning to me, and others report that their lives have meaning to them. The fact that life means something to us is important, for we are important. After all, our minds must be the most amazing thing that we know of in this universe. My fascination with the human mind and its capabilities far eclipse my fascination with any other part of nature. It would seem to me that you and I have intrinsic value and intrinsic worth, for we have human minds. And if we have value, and if life has meaning to us, then it would seem to me that life does indeed have meaning.
Our lives have meaning, but not the stressful meaning that eternity would give to them. Suppose we do live forever. Suppose further that there is a hell, and that certain actions will lead to the eternal conscious torment of ourselves or our friends. Life then has a desperate purpose: to limit the number of our friends who must face that torment, or, more selfishly, to keep ourselves out of that torment. Life then becomes filled with a stressful intensity that is not good.
Life can be stressful, and most people seek relief from the stress. Some find relief in the virtual worlds provided by video games. These games allow us to go through the functions of life, without the thought that failure could be disasterous. I, for instance, enjoy the game Civilization. I like to build my own world, and defend it against attackers. It can be intense. The armies of evil may attack my civilization. It becomes my duty to defend my people, and develop their technology. And if I fail? So what! It was only a game. I will try a different strategy next time. Now if this had been real life, oh how dire the situation would have been! War is horrible. If my people must defend themselves against invaders, and if they lose, the consequences can be grave. But when I enter the virtual world, I experience the thrill of being in control and facing the enemy armies, without fear of the long term consequences of failure.
Others find relief in television and movies. I enjoyed Prison Break last year. I would wait anxiously for the next episode. I surely wanted Scofield and his friends to get out. But what did it really matter? After all, these were only actors. This was only a virtual world, not a real world. And yet I found that entering that virtual world, and living through the experiences of these men, was an intensely meaningful experience.
There is a certain advantage of living in a virtual world in which our failures have no long-term consequences. The fact that an event is limited in time in no way diminishes the thrill it can give us. In fact, it can add to the thrill. Trying to sink a 30 foot putt for the joy of the moment can be exciting. But if one believes that, if he misses the putt, he will suffer horrible eternal consequences forever, the joy leaves, and the event now becomes quite stressful. Thinking of eternal consequences adds to the stress of the moment. The fact that our time on earth is limited can actually help us in reaching the joy of these moments that we have.
Video games and movies have something in common. Both are virtual worlds with no real meaning outside that virtual community. But both present us with a thrill that many find addicting.
Let's return to real life. In many ways, the life we live now is like those virtual worlds. From within life, the action is intense, and the decisions can be absorbing, just like it is in those virtual worlds. But when we step back and look at the entire cosmos, and look at the vast timescales involved, then our little problems are no more significant to the cosmos then the problems faced on the sitcoms. To the cosmos, our lives are insignificant. But to us, they have vast meaning and importance. The virtual world, so to speak, that we inhabit is important to us. And that matters. If my life has meaning to me, and to the folks around me, then my life has meaning within this small corner of the cosmos that we inhabit.
Notice that life in this corner of the cosmos can have meaning to us, but we are not forced to make it have meaning. We are not faced with the threat of hell if we fail. We can choose for ourselves whether we want to enter this virtual world called life in the middle of the cosmos. As W. H. Auden put it:
If we really want to live, we'd better start at once to try;
So life has meaning to us, if we choose to live it with meaning. But we are not forced to make it have meaning. With these thoughts in mind, let us look at these questions posed to me by Pastor Al.
Pastor Al seems to think that living for the moment is pointless. Why so? One can enjoy a trip down the ski slope, knowing he will eventually come to the bottom. One can enjoy a night with friends, knowing he will eventually go home and go to bed. The fact that an adventure will eventually end need not diminish the thrill of the moment.
I would like to help set minds free, and allow them to experience the joy of discovery for themselves. Why do I bother? Because people have feelings, and I know what it is like to be a person with feelings. It matters to me. It feels good to us as humans to experience the freedom to think. So I hope to help others feel what I feel.
Who told me what it is to be free or blind? I have experienced it for myself. I know in my own mind what it is to be free.
Once more, Pastor Al turns to the thought of hell. Yes, like many modern beleivers, he has nice euphanisms for hell. He refers to being "eternally wrong" but, of course, we all know why he considers that so horrible. Once more we see the fear of hell What a depressing way to live life.
I do not believe there is life after death, but if there is, I cannot understand why forcing myself to "believe" things about Jesus that are not supported by the facts will do me any good in eternity. Why would God honor me for ignoring the facts, and forcing myself to believe something I actually think is false? I cannot see how such "belief" would do anything to improve my future state.
The life that is lived to escape hell may have meaning, and dire importance, but I cannot see how it could possibly be better than the mind that is free to live this life now.
Pastor Al says joy comes only by submitting to Jesus. But how does he know that? Nowhere does the Bible say joy comes only from submitting to Jesus. And I have found many people that report they are joyful, even though they are not Christians. So how does Pastor Al justify his claim? It is just an empty claim.
He says my heart is made of stone and accepts only what it wants to believe. I am sorry, but he simply doesn't know my heart. I can assure him that I came to my conclusions after long study of both sides. It was the overwhelming weight of the evidence that changed my mind.
Life has meaning to us if we choose to get involved. And I urge all to do that, to set their minds free to explore and help others, enjoying the few precious moments that we have here on earth.
I invite you to leave your comments at The Meaning of Life
Copyright ÓMerle Hertzler 2006. All Rights Reserved.