Summary: God offers a life worth living to those who abide in Christ.
The night before his crucifixion, Jesus spoke words of comfort to his friends: “Do not let your hearts be troubled…. My peace I give to you…. Because I live, you also will live.” Comfort and hope are the main topics in John 14. Now the Lord begins to teach on the centrality of “abiding in him” in order to bear spiritual fruit, to produce good works, to have a life worth living. This well-known passage on the vine and branches will be our text for several sermons. [Read John 15.1-11.]
Everyone faces the great question of life’s purpose. Many simply answer (by default), “My purpose is to survive for another day.” The pressures of work, the problems relating to others, the pain and suffering which abound – these and countless other “distractions” may prevent us from asking – much less answering – the real questions: “Why survive? Can I live a life worth living? But the answer to this question is what makes survival desirable!
The Bible explains our purpose by connecting human life to the life of God. In fact, the Apostle Paul says that if we remove God from the equation, life is purposeless and we ought maximize personal pleasure. “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’” (1Corinthians 15.32).
Of course many non-believers refuse to accept such grim consequences to their philosophies. They deny the God who made both them and the world in which they live, yet the natural conclusions of that belief are too terrible to cope with, so they live as if life has purpose. But there are thinkers who admit the utter futility of life apart from God.
Atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell: “Unless you assume a God, the question of life’s purpose is meaningless.” (Quoted in Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, 17).
Welsh scholar Rheinallt Williams: “There is nothing which arises more spontaneously from man’s nature than the question about life’s meaning…. But if to be shoveled underground, or scattered on its surface, is the end of the journey, then life in the last analysis is a mere passing show without meaning, which no amount of dedication or sacrifice can redeem.” (Quoted in Blanchard, Does God Believe in Atheists?, 332-333.)
Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy: “What is life for? To die? To kill myself at once? No, I am afraid. To wait for death till it comes? I fear that even more. Then I must live. But what for? And I could not escape from that circle.” (Quoted in Blanchard, Does God Believe in Atheists?, 333.)
Novelist Rebecca West: “I do not believe that any facts exist, or, rather, are accessible to me, which give any assurance that my life has served an eternal purpose.” (Quoted in Blanchard, Does God Believe in Atheists?, 333.)
William Provine (The Scientist, 1988): “No moral or ethical laws exist, nor are there absolute guiding principles for human society. The universe cares nothing for us and we have no ultimate meaning in life.” (Quoted in Blanchard, Does God Believe in Atheists?, 333.)
Richard Dawkins (described by some as, “increasingly our most militant atheist), when asked, “What is the purpose of life?”, replied: “Well, there is no purpose, and to ask what it is, is a silly question. It has the same status as ‘What is the color of jealousy?’” (Quoted in Blanchard, Does God Believe in Atheists?, 333.)
We might wonder how one lives with such a bleak perspective.
The French novelist Antoine de Saint-Exupery: “Each man must look to himself for the meaning of life.”
That makes no sense, but it expresses the most common philosophy of the day.
There are also those who suggest we follow the consequences of meaningless to a “natural” conclusion. By doing so, he made himself more of an “animal” than a man, but the Marquis de Sade said: “It is only by enlarging the scope of one’s fantasies, by sacrificing everything to pleasure, that man can succeed in gathering a few roses among life’s thorns.”
But those who try to satiate pleasure find each new thrill gives less even as desire demands more. Aldous Huxley (who proposed using drugs to make people do what he wanted), said: “Oh, how desperately bored, in spite of their grim determination to have a Good Time, the majority of pleasure-seekers really are!”
Those examples of the futility of life apart from God contrast starkly with the teaching of the Bible. In John 15, Jesus points us to life’s purpose by a parable. Seeing a vine, he tells his men, “I am the true vine.” This is the last of seven such statements, known as the “I AM sayings.” Each describes something of Christ’s ministry, and tells us much about our relationship to God through faith in him.