The Need for Meaning
Who needs it? Not the earthworm or the eagle, the chipmunk or the whale. It is man alone of all earth’s creatures that raises the question, Does life have any meaning? Every generation has pondered it. If the need for meaning were not inherent in man, the question would not have haunted him through the centuries
EARTH seems big to man, but it’s a small planet orbiting a medium-sized star we call the sun. Our sun’s 864,000-mile* diameter sounds impressive until we learn that some red supergiants have a diameter of 2,000,000,000 miles. It takes light, traveling 186,000 miles a second, eight minutes to reach earth, but it needs 100,000 years to cross our Milky Way galaxy containing some 100,000,000,000 stars.
Some astronomers estimate that there are as many galaxies in space as there are stars in the Milky Way. Radio telescopes have detected light coming from 10,000,000,000 light-years* away. Even so, these staggering figures do not give us the size of the universe.
The unknown vast reaches of space are of no concern to the rabbit or the cockroach or the chimpanzee, or to any other animal. But man is awed by its immensity. Long ago King David of Israel saw only two or three thousand stars in the heavens, and just this tiny fraction of universal space caused him to cry out to Jehovah God: “When I see your heavens, the works of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have prepared, what is mortal man that you keep him in mind, and the son of earthling man that you take care of him?”—Ps. 8:3, 4.
David felt dwarfed by a few thousand stars. With our knowledge of untold millions of galaxies, we should feel microscopic! If the earth is a mere speck of dust in the universe, of what consequence are individuals living on this speck?
It is not only our smallness in a big universe but also our brief existence in the eons of time that makes it difficult for us to believe our life means something. Just as animals have no comprehension of universal space, so they have no concept of time, but “God has planted eternity in the hearts of men,” “he has given men a sense of time past and future.” (Eccl. 3:11, The Living Bible and The New English Bible) Although knowing that time is eternal, man is also told that his life is very brief.
The psalmist says: “As for mortal man, his days are like those of green grass; like a blossom of the field is the way he blossoms forth. For a mere wind has to pass over it, and it is no more; and its place will acknowledge it no further.” “Man himself bears resemblance to a mere exhalation; his days are like a passing shadow.” The Christian Bible writer James concurs: “You are a mist appearing for a little while and then disappearing.”—Ps. 103:15, 16; 144:4; Jas. 4:14.
If life is so fleeting and followed by a future of oblivion, how could it have meaning? But the need for meaning and permanence is so great that doctrines of immortal souls and reincarnations are seized upon. Many feel the need to make this present life memorable by leaving something of themselves behind—a book, a painting, a musical composition, an endowment, a foundation, anything to give some kind of tangible evidence of their having been here. It seems to help them to feel that there was some meaning to their existence. Even those who made a name for themselves fade from memory as they are eclipsed by prominent ones now living. Of efforts to change this fact of life, the verdict is: “Look! everything was vanity and a striving after wind.”—Eccl. 1:14.
In spite of man’s tininess in universal space, however, and his fleeting appearance in the stream of time, he still needs to feel his life is meaningful. This springs from the way he was created. It is an inborn need. Viktor Frankl, the psychiatrist who originated the psychiatric school of logotherapy, which he defines as meaning-therapy, says: “The striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man.”
How can the need for meaning in our life be met? The following article gives some of the requirements.
1 mile = 1.6 kilometers.
1 light-year = approximately 6 trillion miles.
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If the earth is a mere speck of dust in the universe, of what consequence are individuals living on this speck?
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“The striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man.”