The Meaning Of Life--All down through the centuries people have pondered the question, Does life have any meaning? The universe is so big, we are so small; eternity is so long, our life is so short. How could our lives have any meaning? But the fact the questions haunt mankind reveals the need to feel our lives are meaningful
3 3w.htm DOES
3 3w.htm Does Life Have Any Meaning? This Is The Negatives --------The Others are Positives
4 4w.htm THE NEED FOR MEANING
6 6w.htm MAKING LIVES MEANINGFUL
8 8w.htm THE ULTIMATE SOURCE OF MEANING
Does Life Have Any Meaning? Negatives --------The others are Positives
A man in his 80’s thinks: ‘My life is nearly over. It’s gone so fast. So little is left. Where did it all go? What did it mean? It’s all behind, nothing’s ahead. Except the grave. And oblivion. How pointless it all was! No wonder the cynic says, “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”’
But is this all there is?
LONG ago a man undergoing a painful ordeal without knowing why cried out in despair about the human condition: “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble. He comes forth like a flower, and withers; he flees like a shadow, and continues not.”—Job 14:1, 2, Revised Standard Version.
Is this all there is? Does life have any meaning? These questions have been asked over and over again, by generations of people down through the ages. Especially as they grow old. They look back on life and wonder what it meant.
At the funeral of an old man some will say: ‘Well, he lived a full life.’ Supposedly this means death is now acceptable. But does a full life that is past make dying easier to accept? Or does it make it harder? Would it not be easier to leave an empty life than a full one? No one says, “I’m so happy I’m going to kill myself!” It’s the miserable that resort to suicide. Yesterday’s full stomach doesn’t comfort today’s empty one. And what seemed meaningful during life often doesn’t seem so important as death draws near.
Life has lost its meaning for many. The world scene is bleak. Life is cheap. It’s frustrating for many. The young are neglected, the old shunted off into dreary nursing homes. Stress builds up until hearts fail or violence erupts. Political corruption spreads and credibility gaps widen. Concerned individuals who try to improve conditions have about as much impact as a flea pouncing on an elephant. Disillusionment sets in and people submerge themselves in meaningless preoccupations with self. On this trend, a United States best-seller, The Culture of Narcissism, says: “Having no hope of improving their lives in any of the ways that matter, people have convinced themselves that what matters is psychic self-improvement: getting in touch with their feelings, eating health food, taking lessons in ballet or belly-dancing, immersing themselves in the wisdom of the East, jogging, learning how to ‘relate,’ . . . They cultivate more vivid experiences, seek to beat sluggish flesh to life, attempt to revive jaded appetites. . . . mental health means the overthrow of inhibitions and the immediate gratification of every impulse.”—Pp. 29, 39, 40, 43.
When people pursue this course, their meaningless lives become more meaningless, and, in more desperate efforts to escape, they plunge into sexual orgies and perversions, go on sprees of vandalism and senseless violence, take drugs and even opt for the ultimate escape—suicide. All because they feel their life has no meaning.
Here for a few short years, then into the grave and oblivion. How can it have meaning? What makes a man more important than an ant or a grasshopper? In the vastness of universal space, he feels like nothing, irrelevant, of no consequence, here for a moment and gone for eternity. Life seems like an exercise in futility.
“How could my life have meaning?” a person wonders. ‘When I’m gone who will miss me, and for how long? And if some do, how will it help me? I’m just one among thousands of millions. Who notices, who cares, who remembers?’
But wait! Some do notice. Some do care. Some will remember. Life does have meaning, if you want it to, if you make it so. The articles that follow show that to be true
4w---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.”
6w--MAKING LIVES MEANINGFUL
BY SETTING GOALS
“Hitch your wagon to a star,” advises the old saying. Goals of high purpose give meaningful direction to our life, keep us from drifting, floundering or stagnating. Human creatures are goal-oriented. Setting goals aids progress and strengthens purpose. Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, in “Man’s Search for Meaning,” writes of the importance of goals even in Nazi concentration camps: “Any attempt to restore a man’s inner strength in the camp had first to succeed in showing him some future goal.”
He tells of two men in camp who had decided to commit suicide—what did they have to live for? But when one realized his adored child was waiting for him, and the other had a series of scientific books to finish, both chose to live. “There is nothing in the world, I venture to say,” Frankl wrote, “that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions, as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life.”
If this is true in “the worst conditions,” how much more so would setting goals and striving to reach them help people in their day-to-day living!
Goals in themselves, however, mean little. Only when they are accompanied by deeds do they have real meaning. A farmer may have as a goal the harvesting of a certain crop, but to attain that goal he must sow seed and do all the additional work needed to produce and bring in the crop. He can’t be like the farmer described at Ecclesiastes 11:4: “He that is watching the wind will not sow seed; and he that is looking at the clouds will not reap.”
Work accomplished reflects the qualities and abilities of the worker, shows what he is, and when it is successful it gives him a sense of fulfillment. “A long life without the feeling of fulfillment is very tedious,” says Dr. Hans Selye.
children benefit from work. Professor Alice Rossi, a sociologist at the
BY MINDING SPIRITUAL THINGS
Purpose and meaning are based in the things of the spirit, not the flesh. Frankl wrote of the ability to resist the tortures of the concentration camps because of spiritual strength: “The consciousness of one’s inner value is anchored in higher, more spiritual things, and cannot be shaken by camp life.” Why do successful executives, materially well off, change careers in mid-life? Psychologist Levinson said that they begin to ask: “Is this all there is? Was it worth all I had to give up along the way? Do I want to go on like this for the rest of my life?”
It is the awareness of a person’s spiritual need and the fulfilling of that that brings happiness and meaning to his life. (Matt. 5:3) The apostle Paul wrote: “The minding of the flesh means death, but the minding of the spirit means life and peace [with God].” (Rom. 8:6) Study the Bible and come to know Jehovah God and Christ Jesus, for ‘this means everlasting life, taking in knowledge of the only true God, and of the one whom he sent forth, Jesus Christ.’—John 17:3.
BY A RIGHT ATTITUDE
“According to your faith,” Jesus told two blind men who asked for sight, “let it happen to you.” It happened for them because they had a positive attitude and believed. (Matt. 9:29) Do you work toward a goal with confidence and vigor, not doubting or drifting willy-nilly? Think negative and get negative results; think positive to get positive results. Doubts are traitors that make us lose what we might win if we didn’t fear to try. Think on that which is good. (Phil. 4:8) Why is this so vital? Because of the principle expressed at Proverbs 23:7: “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he.”—Authorized Version.
BY SERVING OTHERS
We feel useful when we help others. It shows we have something to offer, and as Jesus said: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.” (Acts ) Useful lives become meaningful lives, viewed so by others as well as by ourselves. Serving mankind can in itself become a goal and impart meaning to a person’s life.
Serving God does much more toward enabling us to view our life as meaningful, even though we are small in a vast universe and exist only in a tiny fraction of the stream of time.
BY SUFFERING FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS’ SAKE
“Suffering ceases to be suffering in some way at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice,” writes Frankl. “Man is even ready to suffer, on the condition, to be sure, that his suffering has a meaning.” What greater meaning could it have than being for righteousness’ sake?
“Happy are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake,” Jesus said. The apostles experienced this joy: “They [the Jewish religious court of the Sanhedrin] summoned the apostles, flogged them, and ordered them to stop speaking upon the basis of Jesus’ name, and let them go. These, therefore, went their way from before the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy to be dishonored in behalf of his name.” (Matt. 5:10-12; Acts 5:40, 41) There is no merit in suffering for wrongdoing, but when you suffer for doing good, this “is a thing agreeable with God.”—1 Pet. 2:20.
8w--THE ULTIMATE SOURCE OF MEANING
“THE only adequate structure for morality is that based upon the ultimate meaning of life.” That is the claim made by a prominent psychiatrist, Rollo May. He raises the question of where this structure and ultimate meaning of life can be found, and answers: “The ultimate structure is the nature of God. The principles of God are the principles which underlie life from the beginning of creation to the end.”
“Man has a relationship to God,” May continues. “This is so fundamental in man that it is attributed to his creation, where he was ‘made in the image of God.’” He also observed that man’s ego and self-will cause him to stray from the godly image, and this causes inner conflicts and tensions and guilt feelings. This reminds us of the apostle Paul’s dilemma, as he expressed it: “The good that I wish I do not do, but the bad that I do not wish is what I practice. Miserable man that I am!” (Rom. , 24) The basic point being made here, however, is that the ultimate meaning of life is to be found in a relationship with Jehovah God.
A person feels dwarfed not only by space and time, as previously discussed, but also by the teeming millions of human creatures on earth all around him. “The bigger the crowd,” says C. G. Jung, “the more negligible the individual becomes.” He feels “overwhelmed by the sense of his own puniness and impotence” and that, as a result, “his life has lost its meaning.”
But the masses of humanity, so overwhelming to the individual, are as nothing when compared to God. To him “the nations are as a drop from a bucket; and as the film of dust on the scales . . . All the nations are as something nonexistent in front of him.” (Isa. 40:15, 17) This was written more than 2,000 years before the modern schools of psychology were established, the central figure of which is Sigmund Freud, born in 1856 C.E.
For our lives to have any real meaning, they need a connection to Jehovah God, the Creator of the universe. Many today, however, have doubts that God even exists, and they therefore find it difficult to relate to him. Nonetheless, evidence for his existence abounds. Many look at the heavens and earth and agree with the apostle Paul when he said: “His invisible qualities are clearly seen from the world’s creation onward, because they are perceived by the things made.” They also can repeat with the psalmist his recorded words: “The heavens are declaring the glory of God; and of the work of his hands the expanse is telling.”—Rom. ; Ps. 19:1.
The consensus among scientists now is that the universe had a beginning. The Bible’s first verse also says this: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen. 1:1) Robert Jastrow, in his book God and the Astronomers, wrote:
“Now we see how the astronomical evidence leads to a biblical view of the origin of the world. The details differ, but the essential elements in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same: the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy. Some scientists are unhappy with the idea that the world began in this way. . . . But the latest evidence makes it almost certain that the Big Bang really did occur many millions of years ago.”
The British theorist Edward Milne in a mathematical treatise on relativity concluded: “As to the first cause of the Universe, in the context of expansion [the Big Bang], that is left for the reader to insert, but our picture is incomplete without Him.”
of the American Medical Association,
“The superb order and regulation in various manifestations of life and in the basic processes at the cellular and molecular levels have strong influence on the belief that a higher power exists.”
Now this recognized great First Cause whose name is Jehovah had a purpose, or goal, in making the earth: “He formed and made the earth—he made it firm and lasting. He did not make it a desolate waste, but a place for people to live.” So, too, when Adam was put in the garden it was for a purpose: “to cultivate it and guard it.” To both Adam and Eve God said: “Have many children, so that your descendants will live all over the earth and bring it under their control. I am putting you in charge of the fish, the birds, and all the wild animals.” (Isa. 45:18; Gen. 2:15; 1:28, Today’s English Version) “Everything Jehovah has made for his purpose,” this is his purpose for humankind, and his purposes never fail.—Prov. 16:4; Isa. 46:11.
Today people work toward goals that make them feel their life is meaningful, but is there a lasting quality to these goals? Will the meaning survive in time and universal space? The ultimate source of meaning is the doing of work willingly that Jehovah God has ordained for humankind—caring for the earth, beautifying it, lovingly exercising oversight of animal life, praising Jehovah as they enjoy life under the kingdom of Christ Jesus. In this way no longer will they be dwarfed by space or terminated by time. Each one will then harmonize with and advance the purposes of God for the earth. Each life will then have meaning, meaning to man and to God. And if your ultimate meaning in life is not to be terminated by time then make as your goal the gaining of everlasting life in the paradise earth under Christ’s kingdom.
There is another aspect of a life dedicated to God that gives it a meaning of universal importance. Remember the words of the man of long ago, Job, that were quoted in the opening article of this series? Remember how those words bitterly lamented man’s fewness of days and their fullness of trouble? Well, Job’s days were filled with trouble because of a challenge raised thousands of years ago by Satan the Devil. That challenge was that Jehovah could not have people on earth who would keep integrity to Him under test.
Doubtless in reference to this issue previously raised, Jehovah on one occasion asked Satan: “Have you set your heart upon my servant Job, that there is no one like him in the earth, a man blameless and upright, fearing God and turning aside from bad?” Satan’s retort was, ‘You’ve put a protective hedge around him! Let me strip him of his possessions and he’ll curse you to your face!’ Satan was allowed to do that, and, later, was even permitted to bring painful disease and torment upon Job. The issue between God and Satan was a universal one, for it was aired before angels in the heavenly court of Jehovah God.—Job 1:6 to 2:8.
Satan was allowed to do all he could to Job to break his integrity to God, but he failed. Job cried out: “Until I expire I shall not take away my integrity from myself!” Later he declared, “God will get to know my integrity.” Job proved Satan a liar and his challenge false. Further words of his constitute a cry of hope for all mankind: “I myself well know that my redeemer is alive, and that, coming after me, he will rise up over the dust. And after my skin, which they have skinned off,—this! Yet reduced in my flesh I shall behold God, whom even I shall behold for myself.”—Job 27:5; 31:6; 19:25-27.
Though many others have failed, some people down through the centuries have kept integrity to God and proved Satan’s challenge false, and to this extent they have contributed to the vindication of Jehovah’s name. Surely, nothing could give a life more meaning than this, to support the cause of the Creator of the universe, to demonstrate to both men and angels that Satan lied when he said he could turn all men away from God!
Throughout the Bible book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon repeatedly referred to this life and its secular works as vanity, and dismissed it as “this brief span of empty existence through which he passes like a shadow.” (Eccl. 6:12, The New English Bible) Nevertheless, he admonished young persons to remember their Creator and concluded his writings with these words: “The conclusion of the matter, everything having been heard, is: Fear the true God and keep his commandments. For this is the whole obligation of man. For the true God himself will bring every sort of work into the judgment in relation to every hidden thing, as to whether it is good or bad.”—Eccl. 12:13, 14.
A life lived in integrity to Jehovah God is not vanity, is not futile, is not meaningless. Jehovah the Creator of the universe is the ultimate source of meaning, and a life dedicated and devoted to him will last forever and will have meaning forever.
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Jehovah the Creator of the universe is the ultimate source of meaning, and a life devoted to him will last forever and have meaning forever
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EVEN PROMINENT PSYCHIATRISTS HAVE BEEN OBLIGED TO CONFIRM THE NEED FOR BELIEF IN GOD
C. G. Jung:
The “idea of an all-powerful divine being is everywhere, if not consciously recognized, then unconsciously accepted . . . Therefore I consider it wiser to recognize the idea of God consciously; otherwise something else becomes god, as a rule something quite inappropriate and stupid.”
“The individual who is not anchored in God can offer no resistance on his own resources to the physical and moral blandishments of the world.”
“Religion, as the careful observation and taking account of certain invisible and uncontrollable factors, is an instinctive attitude peculiar to man, and its manifestations can be followed all through human history.”
On his patients over 35: “There has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life.”
On belief in God and His mercy: “Then the individual will have gained a feeling of his own minuteness and insignificance in the face of the greatness of the universe and God’s purposes therein. . . . He will recognize that there are purposes which swing in arcs much greater than his little orb, and he will aim to put himself in harmony with them. He will realize, without sentimentality, his dependence on God.”
On atheism: “True religion, namely a fundamental affirmation of the meaning of life, is something without which no human being can be healthy in personality. . . . What happens to mental health when this meaning which religion gives is absent? In other words, what is the effect of atheism on personality? . . . I have been startled by the fact that practically every genuine atheist with whom I have dealt has exhibited unmistakable neurotic tendencies.”
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We may seem microscopic in this vast universe, and we may be as a fleeting moment in the endless stream of time, but our position on the earth is unique and our lives are involved in the most meaningful issue in the whole universe