This afternoon I sat down at my laptop computer intending to write something really profound to post on my blog. I thought about writing a book review. I currently have four books awaiting my assessment.
That was my plan when I sat down, but it has changed. Why? I am not sure. I thought I knew what I was going to say about the book, but I just couldn’t think of the right words to get started. Perhaps my brain is numb, foggy, or tired. Perhaps it is a lack of inspiration.
I felt I must write something. So, I asked my dear friend Google, “What is the meaning of life?” Now if that doesn’t get the brain working, it is time to admit defeat and turn off the computer.
According to Google, there are 390,000,000 websites with something to say about the meaning of life. I am not surprised. I imagine that the first conscious thought of that first human-like creature was a question like, “Who am I, and what the heck am I doing here, wherever this is, or isn’t, or . . . ?”
The existentialists say that meaning is not something we can discover, but rather something we must create. How? By choosing to act, that is, by making a choice the individual can affirm and give meaning to his or her existence in a universe that is cold and indifferent.
In contrast to the existentialists, the structuralists assume a universal structure, or a kind of hidden harmony, or universal code, that exists independent of human beings and determines human behavior. The self-conscious autonomous individual, who controls his or her environment and is master of his or her fate, gives way to the individual as a social creature controlled by his or her environment.
Failure to uncover the hidden universal structures led some to embrace poststructuralism, commonly referred to as deconstruction. The deconstructionists deny that the individual can arrive at a true understanding of reality through the application of reason. There is no one hidden meaning to be discovered. Instead, there are an infinite number of possible meanings. Each deconstruction can itself be deconstructed.
The contemporary quest for meaning has run into a dead end with postmodernism, sometimes referred to as posthumanism. Beginning with the conviction that all is meaningless, postmodernism sees no value in pretending otherwise. Rather it revels in the chaos and absurdity of everything. For the postmodernist, reality is a universe of random chaos, without meaning for either the individual or for history.
Contemporary intellectuals have concluded that the individual is only a cosmic cipher in a cold, dark, and ultimately meaningless universe. But such a conclusion is no conclusion at all. There is ample evidence in popular culture that the masses of people are not willing to accept the pessimistic conclusion of the intellectual dream spinners who find themselves adrift in a fog. The average man or woman today, as has every human being since the dawn of time, lives in a universe filled with hope, a universe in which the future is brighter than the past.
Perhaps the intellectuals are asking the wrong question, when they ask, “Who am I?” By asking the wrong question, they place the burden of finding meaning on finite human reason. The end can never be anything more than despair, the answer to which is an escape into nihilism.
In the fifteenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, the reader is told of an incident during which Jesus of Nazareth asks his disciples who the people think he is. They say that the people have concluded, having applied reason, that Jesus must be one of the Old Testament prophets back from the dead.
Jesus then asks the disciples, “Who do you say I am?” It is Simon Peter who answers the question: “You are the Christ [i.e., Messiah], the Son of the living God.”
Peter has spoken the truth, but how does he know it? Did he discover it on his own by reason? Did he learn it from reading the great books? No! Jesus tells Peter that what he knows has been revealed to him by God.
Reason can make us aware of the problem of finding meaning and purpose for life. Reason can propose answers to the problem. On the basis of reason, one might even conclude that the Gospel makes more sense than any other answer, and therefore must be true. But, as Simon Peter discovered, knowing who Jesus Christ is, and by implication finding the answer to the problem of meaning, can only be known through revelation, not reason alone.
Perhaps before asking the question, “What is the meaning of life?” one must first answer the question, “Who is Jesus Christ?” The answer that question will determine whether one lives with hope or despair.
Enough thinking for today. It is time for me to get to work on that book review.
Until next time, be good to all of God’s creation, and always live under the mercy.