What Can Add Meaning to Your Life?
HAVE you dreamed of enjoying a better life, whether in your home area or in a tropical paradise? At one time or another, most of us have.
In 1891, French artist Paul Gauguin went to find such a life in French Polynesia. But reality soon set in. His dissolute past brought disease and suffering to himself and others. As he felt death approaching, he painted what has been described as a “final affirmation of artistic force.” The book Paul Gauguin 1848-1903—The Primitive Sophisticate says: “The spectrum of human activity encompassed by the painting spans all of life, from birth to death . . . He was interpreting life as a great mystery.”
Gauguin named that painting “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?”*
Those questions may sound familiar. Many thinking people ask them. After noting man’s scientific and technical advances, an editor of The Wall Street Journal wrote: “In the contemplation of man himself, of his dilemmas, of his place in this universe, we are little further along than when time began. We are still left with questions of who we are and why we are and where we are going.”
True, some people are preoccupied with caring for their family, earning a living, traveling, or other personal interests because they know of no other meaning to life. Albert Einstein once said: “The man who regards his life as meaningless is not merely unhappy but hardly fit for life.” In line with such thinking, some seek to put meaning in their life by pursuing the arts, scientific research, or humanitarian efforts to curb suffering. Do you know some like that?
It is understandable that basic questions about the meaning of life arise. How many parents after seeing a child die from malaria or another disease ask, Why such suffering? Is there meaning to it? Similar questions puzzle many young men and women who observe poverty, disease, and injustice. Brutal wars often lead people to wonder whether there can be meaning to life.
Even if you have not experienced such miseries, you might agree with Professor Freeman Dyson, who said: “I stand in good company when I ask again the questions [that the Biblical character] Job asked. Why do we suffer? Why is the world so unjust? What is the purpose of pain and tragedy?” You too might want the answers.
Finding satisfying answers would surely make a difference. A professor who endured the horrors of Auschwitz concentration camp observed: “There is nothing in the world . . . that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life.” He felt that even one’s mental health is linked to this search for meaning.
Over the centuries, many have sought answers through religion. After Gautama (Buddha) was exposed to the sight of a sick man, an old man, and a dead man, he sought enlightenment, or meaning, in religion but without belief in a personal God. Others have turned to their church.
What, though, about people today? Many focus on science, dismissing religion and “God” as irrelevant. “The more science progresses,” comments Religion and Atheism, “the less room there seems to be for God. God has become a Displaced Person.”
Doing Without a Creator—Why?
Actually, the trend to dismiss religion or God has roots in philosophies of men who stressed pure reason. Charles Darwin felt that “natural selection” explains the living world better than does the existence of a Creator. Sigmund Freud taught that God was an illusion. And the view that ‘God is dead’ extends from the time of Friedrich Nietzsche down to our day. Oriental philosophies are similar. Teachers of Buddhism hold that there is no need to know about God. As to Shinto, Professor Tetsuo Yamaori stated that “gods are nothing but humans.”
While skepticism about the existence of a Creator abounds, is it justified? Likely you know examples of ‘scientific facts’ that prevailed in the past but that in time were proved totally wrong. Views such as ‘The earth is flat’ and ‘The whole universe revolves around our globe’ prevailed for centuries, but we now know better.
What about later scientific ideas? For example, the 18th century philosopher David Hume—not accepting that there is a Creator—could offer no explanation for the complex biological design on earth. Darwin’s theory proposed how life-forms developed, but it did not explain how life began or what meaning it has for us.
Consequently, many scientists as well as laymen sense that something is lacking. Scientific theories may try to explain how? but the key questions center on why? Even people raised amid belief in a Creator are affected. One young European history student said: “For me, God is dead. If he really did exist, there wouldn’t be such a mess in the world: Innocent people are starving; animal species are going extinct . . . The idea of a Creator is nonsense.” Given the conditions on earth, many cannot understand why a Creator—given that one exists—does not change things for the better.
Yet, we must admit that the reason many reject the existence of a Creator is that they do not want to believe. “Even if God were to tell me personally that I had to change my life,” a European industrialist told an employee: “I still would not do it. I want to live my life the way I like it.” Clearly, some feel that admitting the authority of a Creator would conflict with their freedom or with the life-style they prefer. They may proclaim, ‘I only believe what I see, and I can’t see any invisible Creator.’
Apart from why individuals have ‘done without a Creator,’ questions about life and its meaning persist. The day after man landed on the moon, theologian Karl Barth was asked about this technological triumph. He said: “It solves none of the problems that keep me awake at night.” Today man is flying in space and speeding along in cyberspace. Still, thinking people see the need to have a purpose, something that gives meaning to their life.
We invite all who have an open mind to consider this subject. The book Belief in God and Intellectual Honesty notes that one who possesses “intellectual honesty” is characterized by a “readiness to scrutinize what one believes to be true” and “to pay sufficient attention to other evidence available.”
In the subject at hand, such “evidence available” can help us to see whether there is a Creator behind life and the universe. And if a Creator exists, what might that One be like? Would a Creator have a personality that relates to our lives? Our considering this can shed light on how our lives can become more meaningful and rewarding.
D’où venons-nous? Que sommes-nous? Où allons-nous?
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Gauguin’s painting raised questions about the meaning of life