The Meaning of LIfe

meaning-of-life-37When you first see the word, you may wonder if you will remember how to spell it.  When you try to read it, you may think you will mispronounce it.  The word is Ecclesiastes, and it is one of the Wisdom books of the Old Testament.

Ecclesiastes is a record of Solomon’s attempt to find the meaning of life.  When you get to the last chapter of the book, Solomon makes a summary statement:  “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”

There are some places in this book where you will find a phrase is repeated several times.  The fourth chapter is a good example:

  • 4:1: “the oppression that is done under the sun”
  • 4:3: “the evil work that is done under the sun”
  • 4:7: “I saw vanity under the sun”

The three repeated words, “under the sun,” reveal the key to Solomon’s frustration.  His attempt to find meaning in life was difficult.  “Under the sun” places the emphasis on a horizontal perspective at the expense of the vertical dimension.

What Solomon initially failed to grasp, was firmly gripped by Paul.  Notice how he accentuates the vertical perspective of the Christian life: “Seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth  (Colossians 3).”

Paul’s use of the word “above” calls attention to the vertical perspective and contrasts it to the “things on earth,” or the horizontal realm.  Which one of these orientations guides you?

The answer to this question is found in what you wear:  What have you put off and what have you put on?

  • Paul said you should, “Put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds.
  • Once you have put off the horizontal, you are ready to put on the vertical: “Put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created you.”

There were times when I was a kid that I would frustrate my parents and they would ask:  “What in the world do you think you’re doing?”  That’s not a question you need to answer; however, you might think about this:  How are you living under the sun, and what have you put off and put on?

A Life of Purpose

life-purposeA recent Gallup poll surveyed the happiness levels of Americans and has found that the levels are at a four-year high. Almost 60 percent of Americans say they feel happy, and they do not have a lot of stress or worry.

The Center for Disease Control looked at another aspect of life and found that about 40% of Americans haven’t discovered a satisfying life purpose, and almost 25% of Americans report they do not have a strong sense of what makes their lives meaningful.

The quest for happiness and the search for meaning have different results. Researchers agree that when a person engages in a single-minded quest for happiness he discovers a pot of dissatisfaction at the end of his rainbow.

This was the sad case of the prodigal son. Victor Frankl showed an understanding of this paradox when he said: “It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness.”

Frankl’s understanding of meaning, life’s purpose, and happiness was formed under the harsh conditions of a Nazi concentration camp. Frankl wrote of his experience in the 1946 best seller Man’s Search for Meaning. He had come to the conclusion that the difference between those who had lived and those who had died came down to one thing—meaning. His fellow prisoners who had found meaning in the dire conditions of the death camp were much more resilient than those who had not.

Frankl’s conclusions have been supported by research that shows the value of having purpose and meaning in life:

• It increases overall well-being and life satisfaction
• It improves mental and physical health
• It enhances resiliency, and self-esteem, and it decreases the chances of depression.

The Journal of Positive Psychology reported on research by Jennifer Aaker of Stanford Graduate School of Business. Aaker and her colleagues, found that “Happiness was linked to being a taker rather than a giver, whereas meaningfulness went with being a giver rather than a taker.”

The Apostle Paul knew a little something about givers and takers: “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

How about you? Are you a giver or a taker? When you find the answer to this question, you may find your purpose in life.