The question we ask this morning is indeed a thought-provoking question. Have you ever really thought where true meaning in life is found? I mean, what do we have to do to find this meaning? Do we have to have a special type of spouse or parents? Do our children have to fit some bill? Do we have to live in a special kind of house or in some special area of the world to find true meaning? Or is true meaning in life found by having the right kind of job? Is it possible to live our entire lives and never find true meaning? That would be sad, to live more than seventy years on this earth and never discover what life was really about.
What complicates this matter is that different people give us different answers to what constitutes true meaning in life. I could ask 10 different people about the true meaning of life and probably get 10 different answers. Who do we believe? Who has the right answer? What if I live my seventy years on earth believing the answer of one individual where it concerns the true meaning of life and find out in the end he had told me incorrectly. It was only his opinion of what constitutes true meaning in life, and he was wrong.
Some believe life has no meaning. Listen to what Shakespeare has Macbeth saying: “Tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time, And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death. Out, Out, brief candle Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot. Full of sound and fury Signifying nothing.”
Viktor Frankl put it this way, “Clinics are crowded with people suffering from a new kind of neurosis, a sense of total and ultimate meaninglessness of life.”
Carl Jung, that great psychologist, said; “The central neurosis of our time is emptiness.”
Great writer, Mark Twain, said shortly before his death, “A myriad of men are born; they labor and sweat and struggle…they squabble and scold and fight; they scramble for little mean advantages over each other; age creeps upon them; infirmities follow;…those they love are taken from them, and the joy of life is turned to aching grief. It (the release) comes at last-the only unpoisoned gift earth ever had for them—and they vanish from a world where they were of no consequence,…a world which will lament them a day and forget them forever.”
The entire chapter of which we only read a portion is Jesus’ prayer. From it we learn that the world is a tremendous battleground between the forces under Satan’s power and those under God’s authority. Satan and his forces are motivated by bitter hatred for Christ and his forces and followers. In his prayer, Jesus prays for his disciples and those who would be his followers in the future, which includes us. He prays that God would keep his followers safe from Satan’s power and that he would set them apart and make them pure and holy. Also in this prayer, he tells where true meaning in life is found.
Sometimes it is easier to define something or answer a question by negatives than positives. So we want to begin by telling where true meaning in life is not found.
IT IS NOT FOUND IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE
By saying this we are not discounting the importance of knowledge. In America and in most parts of the world, we place a great deal of emphasis on knowledge.
This is particularly true in our school systems, and then it transplants into the work world. From time to time we redesign or replace standardized tests to better test the knowledge of our students. We have now gone to the PACT (Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test) test. We administer this test to students in certain grade levels. It is designed to test what they should have learned by this time in the educational process. Then we grade our schools by how well the students score on the tests. Are the majority of students where they need to be, or do the schools need to make some changes to bring them up to par. We are quickly finding out that many of our students are not where they need to be.
Now why is it so important that our students learn this material? Well, we believe they need this information to compete with other students throughout the world, to get into good colleges and to be able to handle the jobs that are currently available for them and the ones that might be developed in the future. We don’t want to graduate students who have no skills to perform in jobs where they can make a good living.
John is also the author of several epistles that bear his name. It is evident by reading them that he majors on knowledge. This is because he wrote during a time when Gnosticism was prevalent. Gnosticism was a religious movement that flourished during the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD and presented a major challenge to orthodox Christianity. Most Gnostics professed Christianity, but their beliefs diverged sharply from those of the majority of Christians in the early church. The term Gnosticism is derived from the Greek word gnosis, which means “revealed knowledge.” To its adherents, Gnosticism promised a secret knowledge of the divine realm. Only those who had this special knowledge could have interaction with God.
Just any knowledge will never lead us to find the true meaning of life. Now, knowledge is important. We can hardly get along in life without it or at least some of it, but it will not necessarily lead us to find meaning in life. There have been many knowledgeable people in history with great intellects that have been very unhappy.
In our society, we measure people’s IQ (intelligence quotient). Those who don’t measure up to what science considers normal are considered mentally challenged or retarded. They may have to take special classes in school if they can go at all and may later have to be placed in institutions where someone can care for them. At the very least, they may need assisted living. Yet, the interesting thing is that some of these individuals who have little knowledge according to our standards may very well know the true meaning of life.
How many of us have dealt with kids who did not want to go to school or whose favorite class in school was recess. We have struggled with them to make them do their homework while answering questions of why they need this knowledge. What good is it going to do me later on? How many teachers have had students ask them why they needed to learn some particular material and what good it would ever do them?
As important as knowledge is, general knowledge of what we consider important in our world will not necessarily lead us to find true meaning in life.
IT IS NOT FOUND IN THIS WORLD
Listen to what John would later write in one of his epistles; “Stop loving this evil world and all that it offers you, for when you love the world, you show that you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only the lust for physical pleasure, the lust for everything we see, and pride in our possessions. These are not from the Father. They are from this evil world. And this world is fading away, along with everything it craves.”
Now, if this is God’s word to us concerning the world, it stands to reason that true meaning is not found in the world. Most of the time, what the world deems important is not what God deems important. Why is that? After all, didn’t God create the world? Yes, but the world and those who inhabit it are not now what God created them to be. Sin entered the picture and messed the whole thing up. Now all of the physical world is tainted by the effects of sin as well as are those who inhabit it.
The sinful nature that attaches itself to every individual distorts our thinking. It makes us search for true meaning where true meaning is not found. It makes many things look good to us. Like drugs, alcohol, stealing, lying, a life of crime, illicit sexual relationships, sex before marriage, running around on our spouses, cheating someone, gossiping, and the list goes on.
If the true meaning of life is not found in the philosophy of the world, how do I know how to avoid the philosophy of the world? Well, I suppose the best answer is to spend time in God’s Word to see what his philosophy is so you can then contrast it with the world’s and thereby avoid an empty search for meaning in life through the world’s philosophy.
Sadly, what the world says brings true meaning in life often seems more attractive that what God says brings true meaning. When we couple this with our sinful natures that bend us toward rebellion against God anyway, we find ourselves in an easy trap. It is much easier to fall into what the world says brings true meaning than to follow what God says brings true meaning.
Jesus says in the part of his prayer for his disciples; “Now I am departing the world; I am leaving them (the disciples) behind and coming to you (God). Holy Father, keep them and care for them-all those you have given me-so that they will be united just as we are. During my time here, I have kept them safe. I guarded them so that not one was lost.”
Now if true meaning was found in the world, why did Jesus leave it? Obviously there was something better. True meaning was found somewhere else.
I think C. S. Lewis, that great writer, characterizes our dilemma correctly when he writes; “The moment you wake up each morning, all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists in shoving it all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.” That is the voice of God, not the voice of the world.
There was once a young Jewish boy who lived in Germany. His father was a successful merchant, and the family practiced their Jewish faith. Then they moved to another German city, and the father announced that they would no longer practice their Jewish faith but would join the Lutheran church. The young boy was very surprised and asked his father why the family was joining the Lutheran church. His father’s answer was something like, “For business reasons. There are so many Lutherans in this town that I can make good business contacts at the Lutheran church. It will be good for business.” That young boy, who had had such a deep interest in religion, became disillusioned. He thought his father had no real convictions. The incident helped to turn him against religion with a vengeance. He would later move to England and begin to write. His name was Karl Marx and he became the father of Communism. He wrote the “Communist Manifesto” wherein he called religion the “opiate of the masses.” True meaning in life is not found in what the world considers important.
TRUE MEANING IN LIFE IS FOUND IN A RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD THROUGH FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST
Jesus makes this very plain in many of his teachings but also in the prayer we have read a portion of today. Speaking of himself, he says, “For you have given him authority over everyone in all the earth. He gives eternal life to each one you have given him. And this is the way to have eternal life-to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth.”
Many of the things we have considered this morning can add meaning to life, but they cannot bring true meaning to life. True meaning is found through faith in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. We must believe that he died for our sins on Calvary’s cross and that he wants us to accept forgiveness for our sins by believing in what he has done for us. That is the essence of true meaning in life. Other things can only add to that.
This is the message that we as Christians must carry to others. You see, we encounter people on a regular basis who are searching for true meaning in life. We have the answer for them, and we must share it when God gives us opportunity.
I believe that God wants us to enjoy the world he has created and the many things about it that are good. But these things are only icing on the cake. The main thing is the relationship with him. All the other things are fringe benefits.
We are familiar with this through jobs we have or have had. There is the main thing we were hired to do and are paid to do, but there may be fringe benefits we get by being a part of that company, like vacation time, sick leave, retirement plans, insurance, travel expense, etc.
Years ago a ship on the Atlantic was in distress because its supply of fresh water had run out. The crew faced a horrible death from thirst, and that with water all around them. When hope was almost gone, they sighted a ship approaching them. At once they hoisted distress signals. But the only answer they got was “dip it up.” They must have thought to themselves that this was a heartless mockery of their situation. Surely, the ship didn’t expect them to dip up buckets of salt water. They signaled again, but got the same answer. Finally, in despair, they lowered a bucket. Imagine their surprise when they dipped up fresh water. They didn’t know it, but there were at the mouth of the mighty Amazon River, whose fresh water flows far out to the sea.
If you will, the way we find true meaning in life is not in knowledge or in the pleasures of the world, but in dipping up the eternal life that God so freely gives us through faith in his Son.