What Is the Meaning of Life?
What Is the Meaning of Life?
‘Does anybody know what we are living for?’ asked Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of the rock group Queen, in the lyrics of the last song on their album, Innuendo.
Millions are implicitly asking just that question. Jonathan Gabay, a thirty-one-year-old professional writer, was facing employment challenges and stress when he hit rock bottom. He began to ask questions about the meaning of life. He wrote to people in all walks of life: world leaders, the homeless, Oscar-winning actors, philosophers, comedians, taxi-drivers, teachers, explorers and prisoners on death row. He even wrote to me!
To each one he asked, ‘What is the meaning of life?’ Gabay compiled a book of our responses, together with others who had attempted, over time, to answer this question. They include the following:
Richard Nixon: ‘Life is one crisis after another.’
John Lennon: ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.’
Dennis the Menace: ‘Life is what you make it – and I can make it UNBEARABLE!’
Albert Einstein: ‘The man who regards his life and that of his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unhappy but hardly fit for life.’
Numerous people replied that the meaning and purpose of life was to be found in Jesus Christ. Not only Mother Teresa and Billy Graham, but actors, scientists and the then Lord Chancellor. The Chief Cashier of the Bank of England, Graham Kentfield (whose signature was on every banknote at the time) said, ‘I am clear that the meaning of life can only be properly understood in the context of our relationship with God.’
Life is about love and worshipPsalm 117:1-2
This short psalm says so much about what life is all about. The key is your relationship with God. You should ‘praise’ and ‘extol’ the Lord (v.1) because of his great ‘love’ for you and ‘faithfulness’ towards you (v.2). The psalmist gives us a beautiful summary of God’s attitude to you, and what your attitude to him should be.
Lord, thank you that Jesus laid down his life for me. Thank you that I am a child of God. Thank you that the love of God is poured into my heart by the Holy Spirit who has been given to me (Romans 5:5). Thank you, Lord, that through an experience of your love for me, I find the very meaning of my life.
The meaning of life is found in Jesus ChristColossians 1:24-2:5
The meaning of your life is found in Jesus Christ. Christianity is Christ. This passage highlights how Paul’s entire life, thinking and preaching are focused on Jesus Christ.
Paul is in prison suffering for the sake of Christ’s body: that is, the church (1:24). Paul is a servant of Christ, commissioned to disclose the mystery that was kept hidden for ages and generations but is now revealed (v.26). God has ‘chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory’ (v.27).
There will always be an emptiness in your heart until it is filled by Christ living within you. The moment you put your faith in him, he came to live within you by his Spirit. You experience, right now, ‘the glorious riches of this mystery’ and you have ‘the hope of glory’ (v.27).
Jesus Christ should be at the centre of all our teaching and preaching in the church. Paul writes, ‘We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ’ (v.28).
Not only is Christ in you, but you are also ‘in Christ’. Paul’s desire is that everyone should grow and mature in this relationship. This is what drives him: ‘To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me’ (v.29).
This provides an excellent model for pastoral care, discipleship and mentoring:
- The aim
Paul’s aim was to bring ‘each person to maturity’ in Christ (v.28, MSG).
- Our concern should be for each person. As a good pastor, Paul did not want to lose any of his sheep.
- Aim for spiritual maturity. This does not happen overnight. It takes a lifetime.
- Aim for maturity in Christ. We do not want to attach people to ourselves, but to Christ. In the same way that good parents encourage their children to be independent, Paul encouraged the independence of believers – not to be dependent upon him, but strengthened to cling to Christ.
- The method
Our method should be to proclaim Jesus. Paul wrote, ‘We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom’ (v.28). Jesus Christ is the key to spiritual maturity. As your knowledge of and intimacy with Jesus increases, you grow in maturity.
That is why it is so important to prioritise the things in your life that feed that knowledge and intimacy – such as worship, prayer and Bible reading.
- The commitment
Paul writes, ‘To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me’ (v.29). In Paul’s ministry, there was a balance between God’s grace and his own responsibility. There was an element of ‘toiling’ and ‘striving’, which all effective Christian ministry involves. It requires time and effort, overcoming disappointments and difficulties.
On the other hand, you can only do it through God’s grace. You do not ‘labour’ and ‘struggle’ on your own. You do it with ‘all his energy, which so powerfully works in [you]’. You need his help and his power for each and every task.
What delights Paul is to see ‘how firm’ the Colossians ‘faith in Christ is’ (2:5). The whole purpose of Paul’s life revolved around Jesus: ‘I want you woven into a tapestry of love, in touch with everything there is to know of God. Then you will have minds confident and at rest, focused on Christ, God’s great mystery. All the richest treasures of wisdom and knowledge are embedded in that mystery and nowhere else’ (vv.2–3, MSG).
Lord, thank you that I found the meaning of life in Christ. Thank you that you came to live within me by your Spirit. Thank you that in Jesus I find all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Help me to proclaim Jesus Christ and to present everyone fully mature in Christ.
Knowing God is what it is all aboutJeremiah 9:17-11:17
Today, some people still literally worship idols. Others worship a different type of ‘idol’. We are tempted to worship success, intelligence, money, power, celebrity or sensual indulgence. Personally, I have never met anyone made happy by these things alone. Yet, advertisers consistently play on our desire for these things, even though they fail to bring us true happiness.
Jeremiah proclaims that God’s judgment is coming on his people because they have missed the very purpose of their lives. They are worshipping idols who cannot speak and can do neither harm nor good (10:5).
Yet this is what the Lord says: ‘Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let those who boast boast about this: that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord’ (9:23–24a).
In other words, Jeremiah says that what matters in life is not your brains (wisdom), nor your body (strength), nor your bank account (riches). None of these provide the purpose of your life. The purpose of your life is to understand and know God (v.24a). If you know God and his kindness, justice and righteousness, then you will imitate him and bring him delight (v.24b).
God’s concern is for your heart. It is not true that the Old Testament was concerned with physical circumcision and the New Testament with circumcision of the heart. God has always looked at the heart and regarded it as far more important than the outward sign (vv.25–26).
God is always looking for leaders of his people who know him and listen to him: ‘It’s because our leaders are stupid. They never asked God for counsel’ (10:21, MSG). They didn’t realise that ‘mere mortals can’t run their own lives’ (v.23, MSG).
Jeremiah on the other hand did listen to the Lord, constantly proclaiming: ‘The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord’ (11:1).
The great strength of Jeremiah, and of all-powerful preachers, is that they wait on the Lord and speak what the Lord tells them to, rather than simply relying on human understanding. God speaks in public through those who first speak to him in private. As the papal preacher, Raniero Cantalamessa, says, ‘The more you are called to speak, the more you are called to listen.’
Father, help me to grow into maturity in my knowledge of you and to hear the words of Jesus speaking to me clearly. Help me to proclaim Jesus with authority and power, so that many will put their faith in Christ and find the purpose and meaning of their lives.
‘To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.’
Sometimes I feel weak and tired and I am not sure how I will get through a particularly pressurised time. It can feel a ‘struggle’, but it is with ‘all his energy, which so powerfully works in me’.
Verse of the Day
‘Christ is in you… therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory’ (Colossians 1:27, MSG).
Jonathan Gabay, The Meaning of Life: Revelations, Reflections and Insights from All Walks of Life (Virgin Books, 1995)
Queen, 'The Show Must Go On', Innuendo (Parlophone, 1991).
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.