Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sermon 1/13/08 Life's Toughest Questions: Why Are We Here

Life’s Toughest Questions, Part One” Why am I Here”

In the Simpson’s episode, Homer the Heretic, Homer gets the chance to ask God about the meaning of life,

Homer: God, what's the meaning of life?
God: Homer, I can't tell you that.
Homer: Why not?
God: You'll find out when you die.
Homer: Oh, I can't wait that long.
God: You can't wait 6 months?
Homer: No, tell me now...
God: Oh, OK... The meaning of life is...

At this point, the credits music starts and the show ends. The writer's original idea was that a commercial would come after this scene and before the credits, thus having the commercial interrupt God's explanation to humorous effect.[i]

In the end, Homer is left with an unanswered question. Many of us can understand Homer’s frustration because we have asked this very question. As a matter of fact, we took the survey of people at First- Centenary’s toughest questions, we have received 185 answers. Six percent of the people asked a question regarding the meaning of life. In the Vine, 23% of you asked this question. This question was asked second most of any question church wide and it was the top question asked by people in the Vine.[ii]

This question through the survey was asked with two different aims. Our purpose in life was asked as individuals, such as “What is my unique purpose in this life,” and it was asked corporately, “why humanity here is and what our purpose is?”[iii] This week, I will be focusing on the later question because it sets the stage for the first question. In order to understand our individual purpose, we have to understand our purpose on a larger scale. Next week we will answer the question, “How do I know God’s will for my life choices, which will focus more on the first question.

Some answers?

The question regarding the “meaning of life” has been asked for centuries with a variety of answers. The classical Greek philosophies tended to answer the question by saying our purpose in life are to seek knowledge in order to live virtuous lives. Aristotle wrote,

Every skill and every inquiry, and similarly, every action and choice of action, is thought to have some good as its object. This is why the good has rightly been defined as the object of all endeavor.[iv]

Going “good” was our purpose, but unless we sought learning throughout life we would never achieve our objective.

Another form of western philosophy has taken the form of “hedonisms” which is the pursuit of pleasure. The goal in life is to seek as much pleasure in your lifetime as possible, because when you die, life is over. Oftentimes, we use the slogan, “Life is short, play hard.”
Especially with the scientific revolution of the 18th through the 20th centuries, survival has become one of the foundational answers to the question regarding the purpose of life. Our being here is really for survival. In recent times Nihilist have come to believe that life is meaningless. Think about the popular TV show Seinfeld, which is a “show about nothing.”

Religious traditions have also given some answers about the meaning of life. The Eastern Traditions have often emphasized that the purpose in life is to transcend life itself. Islam has tended to see life as a test to see if we are worthy for heaven or not, while the Jewish tradition has viewed the purpose of life as serving God.

The Westminster Catechisms, used by the Presbyterian Church, begins by saying,

Q. 1. What is the chief and highest end of man?
A. Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to
enjoy him forever.[v]

In Summery, the answers to the question, “Why I am here range from these answers,

1. To gain knowledge
2. To be virtuous
3. To survive
4. To seek pleasure
5. To go through a test for the next life
6. To serve God
7. To glorify God

The Teacher’s Pursuit for the Meaning of Life

If there is one book of the Bible that deals with the issue of the meaning of life it is Ecclesiastes. I like to say Ecclesiastes is the most post-modern book in the entire Bible. I say this because the author of the book, like most of us in post-modernity, decides to question everything he has been taught to believe his entire life.

The writer, like most of us, was clearly struggling to find something in life worth believing in. He has come to the place in his life where nothing makes since. All the teachings and old proverbs he has heard all of his life has turned out to be meaningless as he looks back on his life. He begins this book by saying, "Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless." It is when we fail to believe in something that life seems to loose its meaning. In order to find meaning in life, the teacher begins searching for something worth believing in through life experiences.

In chapter one, the teacher[vi] begins by saying all his life he has heard that wisdom is the secrete to life and that this exceeds folly. To understand this better, think about how Wisdom literature in the Bible works. The book of Proverbs is a book that says if you seek wisdom you will get it and be successful. Knowing the right things will lead to the good life. He agrees with this to some extent, but concludes in the end that the same fate befalls the foolish and the wise, they both will experience death. If this is the case, then ultimately the wise and the fool die and nether has an advantage.

The teacher then tries to find meaning in life by pursuing pleasure. He embraces the belief that says if I fill my life with nothing but pleasure, then I will find the meaning I have been looking for. As a part of this little experiment, he drinks wine and embraces foolishness or folly. This is strategically done in order to bring meaning to life. His goal seems to be this, I will do whatever I set my mind to doing and then I will find the happiness I am looking for in those things. You have heard the expression, if it feels good then do it.

The teacher does not stop here. He decides to try to find meaning in life through his work. He embraces the belief that if I can build it or earn it, then it will bring satisfaction. He is chasing a version of the American Dream. Look at what all he is able to accomplish. He is like the Biblical Bill Gates. He had great gardens and parks. He had male and female slaves and he amassed silver and gold. He had everything a successful businessperson can have. He literally threw himself and his self-worth into being successful.

As part of his test, he decides relationships will bring meaning to life. This is the belief that if I just meet the right person, then my life will have meaning and purpose. As a matter of fact, he has a harem. He has a woman any time he wants. WOW, that must be expensive, but I guess he can afford it.

He concludes, "I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure… Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind." Hebel is the Hebrew word for vapor and is translated here as "meaningless." All that he had done was like a vapor that vanishes into the air. The teacher has now knocked off the top four of the answers that are traditionally used to explain why we are here.

At the end of the book, the teacher explains his conclusion, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of every human being.”[vii]

As I have been thinking through this small book and the conclusion given by the teacher, I think it is part of the answer to the meaning of life, but it just doesn’t capture the answer to the question, “Why are we here?” Did God create all of humanity just so he would have people who feared and obeyed him? Granted, I think we should fear and obey God, but I am not quite convinced that this is the sole reason we are hear. I think the real answer lies in something Jesus once said.

Jesus and the Meaning of Life

In the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is telling the crowds not to worry about tomorrow because God will take care of you. He tells them that God cares for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field and he takes care of them. He then says in both of their cases, that God loves humanity EVEN more. Then Jesus says, “Seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”[viii] The point for our study is that it is important to fear and obey God and Jesus says this much. He says to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness. However, our purpose is much deeper than this. He says our whole purpose for being here is so that God will be able to satisfy us as we give ourselves to him.

John Piper, in his book Desiring God says this, “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied.”[ix] Now, I am not a huge John Piper fan and sometimes I question his theology, but think about the power of this statement! God is glorified when we obey him, but God is much more glorified when we are satisfied. We are here so that God will be glorified and we will be satisfied. Jesus also goes a bit further and says that our purpose is also to seek after God’s kingdom. God wants to satisfy us and use us to accomplish his purposes. God created us out of love and our purpose as Jesus later says is to love God with our heart, soul, and mind.[x]

I was talking to a young lady a few years back and she was very frustrated with life and she felt as though her spiritual life was in a wreck. As we were talking in came out that her greatest fear was that her dream of having children would not ever come true. She was afraid she would never get married and therefore not have kids. It came out that her biggest fear was that it was not God’s will for her to have children, although she really wanted them.

As we were talking, for some strange reason a thought hit me. It was one of those things that I had not really thought of before, but I knew it was true, so I said it. She asked me if I thought it was God’s will for her not to have kids and I responded, “I am not sure if it is God’s will or not, but I do know what is God’s will. God wants you to trust him regardless of whether or not you have kids. God wants you to seek after him no matter you circumstances, because God wants to be the one who gives you your ultimate satisfaction.”

The more I have thought about that talk, the more I think this random thought it true. We are here on earth to give our lives over to God so that God can give us life. God wants to give us eternal joy and happiness forever and he will if we let him.

[i] Reference taken from
[ii] Thank you Jenny and Tracie for reading the surveys and putting together the information
[iii] Thank you to Dwight for sorting through the questions and making these categories
[iv] Reference taken from
[vi] I use the term teacher because of Ecclesiastes 1:1. It has been thought that Solomon wrote this book because he is also called the king of Jerusalem. Scholars do not know for sure so it is safe to use the word “teacher”.
[vii] TNIV Ecclesiastes 12:13
[viii] TNIV Matthew 6:33
[ix] John Piper, Desiring God
[x] Matthew 22:37

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