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?”