Christmas is a time of joy and happiness for many people. But for some the loneliness they harbor and hide throughout the year seems to surface into conscious suffering. Part of this pain, I believe, has to do with unanswered questions to life’s biggest questions, questions that long to be answered because only then can the meaning of our lives be understood and appropriated.
Seems to me there are two kinds of people who never ask the big questions of life: those who are young and doing well, and those who are young and not doing well at all – those who are desperate. The former have no reason to question their lot in life because all is going just as it should. No complaints, no questions. The latter for whom life is a daily trial are too busy trying to survive. Not many street people mull over “the meaning of life” while looking in a dumpster for their next meal.
When I was a kid I never asked myself or anyone else about the meaning or purpose of life. I was too busy trying to survive. The adults around me appeared to be doing the same. Some through a bottle (survival by escape), some through hard work - workaholics. The philosophical questions were for the rich and educated – well, at least for the educated.
Some children were taught the purpose of life from an early age, even if they didn’t quite understand it. Many were exposed to theology like, “Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
I don’t think I was ever tuned in to this kind of theology at an early age. Oh, yes, I went to Sunday School for a while until I was 5 or 6 years old. I remember the church: Faith Temple on Warren Niles Road in Warren, Ohio. Paul Winyard was the pastor. Delivered from alcoholism (I only recently learned this from his nephew) he was a dedicated, fiery preacher. His voice certainly got the attention of this little boy. But mostly I just attended Sunday School and missed the morning sermon. (I got a free bible for attending 10 weeks in a row.)
None of my Sunday School teachers were philosophers. Housewives and steel workers, they taught me about Jesus. Accepting Jesus into one’s heart was important but there was no discussion about the purpose of life.
As a young man in the military during the Viet Nam war I began to ask some of those philosophical questions. In Okinawa, thousands of miles away from home, away from my fiancée, away from all that was familiar to me, I felt lonely to say the least. Young men my age were dying in Viet Nam. Now I had time and now I was interested in finding out some answers to questions like, “What is life all about?” “What does all this mean?” “Is there any purpose to being alive besides mere existence?”
Serious pursuit of answers to these questions led me back to Jesus. Why? Because I believed that the Bible held the answers to my questions. I was not and am not disappointed with the teaching of the Bible. I have, however, been less than happy with what some people thought the Bible taught. But that only spurred me on to study it for myself. Seminary, Greek and Hebrew, and nearly 50 years of study have helped me come to some conclusions about life.
I have no problem telling people what the meaning of life is: As Creator of the universe, God created human beings in his own image and likeness. He made them caretakers of planet earth and wanted them to multiply because he wanted a lot of them. He gave them free will so that they might return his love and choose to follow him always. It was risky because they could also choose not to love and follow him. And so it happened that our first ancestors chose to do exactly that. But it was anticipated and he sent his son to pay the penalty for our sin and rebellion, to create a new people who would love and follow God always. This is what God always wanted: a people who would freely love him and obey him in an eternal fellowship.
That’s it in a nutshell. This is what the meaning of life is all about. I know this raises lots of questions (not to be ignored) but for everyone, rich, poor, male, female, famous, ordinary, including those of other religions or philosophical persuasions - this is the meaning of life. Knowing this, believing this, and appropriating this will dispel the despair and the emotional pain that can arise at Christmas.