Summary: 1. Why am I alive? -- To be loved by God. 2. Does my life matter? -- I was made to last forever. 3. What is my purpose? -- To get to know God.
(Note: The outline and some of the content of this sermon are from Rick Warren’s Forty Days of Purpose material.)
In the scripture we have read today, Paul is speaking to a group of Greek philosophers. Now these men were not atheists or agnostics. Neither were they anti-religious. In fact, Paul says that they are very religious. And there is a reason for this. These men spent their every waking moment thinking, discussion and debating the meaning of life and existence. The writer of the book of Acts tells us: “All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas” (Acts 17:21). The point is that if you think there is a meaning to existence, whenever you talk about the meaning of life you necessarily have to bring religion into it. At some point God must enter the picture.
There have been those who have tried to tackle the meaning of existence while denying the existence of God. One group was the Existentialists. I love existentialist philosophers because they always asked the right questions, even if they came up with the wrong answers. The problem is that existentialism always ended in despair. They concluded that there was no meaning to life, therefore you had to develop your own meaning. If you want to get a flavor of existentialism read The Stranger by Albert Camus, or Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. The emptiness and despair is almost overwhelming in these writings. When this philosophy was originally taught in the universities of France, the professors would have to spend a great deal of time at the end of class talking the students out of suicide.
No wonder that one cartoon had a car parked in front of a University Philosophy Department with a bumper sticker which read “Honk, if you know the meaning of life.” Often the very people who are supposed to be grappling with the meaning of life are the ones least able to do it. The best they seem to do is deny there is any meaning.
Another group which has tackled the problem of existence is the Nihilists. Nihilism teaches that there is no meaning to life, and therefore you might as well do as you please and get the most out of your miserable existence while you can. If you ask me, this is the philosophy under which many of our movies and television programs are being written. It ends in a kind of despairing hedonism. Sometimes you watch these programs and you ask yourself: “Is there anything truly good in the world? Are there any truly good people in it?” You would certainly never discern that by watching much of what is on the screen today. And neither would you ever discover any meaning in the world.
But the question of meaning is an important one. An article in a major newspaper said that people in general are not afraid of death or hell as much as they are afraid of having no meaning to their lives. A recent Wall Street Journal Cartoon said: “The real meaning of life is not to fret and bug yourself about what the real meaning of life is.” But evidently we are bugged about the meaning of life, and it is at the core of our human existence. It is as though something at the core of existence is asking us: “Who are you? Where are you going? What’s the point of all this?”
So this morning we will ask three questions: 1. Why am I alive? 2. Does my life matter? 3. What is my purpose? The first question is: Why am I alive? Arthur Ashley Brilliant said, “My life has a superb cast, but I can’t figure out the plot.” Jack Hanley wrote, “I hope life isn’t a joke, because I don’t get it.” Dr. Hugh Moorhead, chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Northeastern University, once wrote to 250 well-known philosophers, scientists, writers and intellectuals of the world, asking them, “What is the purpose of life?” Some of them offered their best guesses, and others confessed they made up the purpose of life out of their own head. Still others admitted that they had no idea what the purpose of life was, and asked Dr. Moorhead if he would write back and let them know what he discovered. He published all the answers in a book that leaves one bewildered and despairing that anyone has any real answer. Isaac Asimov wrote, “As far as I can see, there is no purpose.” Joseph Taylor wrote an article entitled, “I Have No Answers to the Meaning of Life and I No Longer Want to Search for Any.” Now that’s despair.
These are tragic statements, because a life without purpose is not a life worth living. Oprah Winfrey had a show on the meaning of life awhile back. At every break in the show she would say, “Now, come back because we’re going to tell you your purpose.” But by the end of the program she was no closer to discovering life’s purpose than she was at the beginning. Finally, as the credits at the end of the show were rolling, she looked squarely into the camera and said, “Remember, you’ve got to figure it out by yourself.” What a let down. But the Bible helps us to know that we do not have to figure it out ourselves. God has revealed it to us in his Word. Proverbs 16:4 says, “The Lord has made everything for His own purpose.” In our Scripture reading this morning we read: “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:26-28). In other words, this is not about you, it’s about God. You are not here to figure out your own purpose or make your life work. You are not here to strive for success and to make your life as good and pleasurable as possible. It is not about your personal happiness or fulfillment. You are here to fulfill the purposes of God. God has a purpose for the world and a purpose for your personal life. Your purpose comes from the purposes of God for the world.