Everything is Meaningless

Life doesn't always make sense; or, perhaps more accurately, life doesn't often make sense. In A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, writer Donald Miller, while attempting to draft a screenplay from the events of his own life, confronts this notion, that his life, like the average man or woman's, seems to play out more like a random series of events than a coherent narrative. Things just, sort of, happen, without any unifying rhyme or reason, or at least this is how it appears to the undiscerning eye. And the cynical mind stops here, at this existential meaninglessness. I'm not a cynic though, at least not most days. I'm of a more sentimental breed, to be sure, and the sentiment at the helm of my ship more often than not is the aching, yearning belief life is truly meaningful. After all, if it isn't, then what in God's name are we doing here? Why would humans universally search for meaning in a world where there's no meaning to be found? It's a cruel notion, to think we've evolved this unrelenting urge to seek out something nonexistent. Not only are we accidents, we are insatiable accidents, doomed to sleepwalk through our days without so much as the hope of a daydream.

I don't buy it though, and not only because it's dreary beyond all comprehension to believe the whole of humanity's search for meaning is all for naught. I just don't believe, won't believe it's mere coincidence that every human heart is bent in the same direction, toward this search for meaning and purpose. It's nonsensical to me. So if there really are some greater forces at work, then why does life play out so haphazardly? Why are even the writers of Scripture, witnesses to the Great Meaning, claiming "everything is meaningless"? (Ecclesiastes 1:2) I believe the author of Ecclesiastes, often referred to as the Teacher, is attesting to the same phenomenon Miller discovered, not that life is inherently without deep meaning or purpose, but that the day-to-day of life doesn't seem to form any sort of grand story on its own. The events of life often appear to be random, Miller claims. Everything is meaningless, the Teacher hyperbolically asserts. So where do we go from here? Can we ford through the meaninglessness, through the heaps of random events, and emerge with any true, lasting sense of purpose? And if so, then for the love of God, how?

Pleasure is meaningless, the Teacher says. Wisdom too, and toil. Uh oh. This is a death-blow to most of our Western worldviews, I think. If life isn't fundamentally about pleasure, then the hedonists are wasting their time (though at least they're having a fun go of it in the meantime). If wisdom isn't the highest good, then the intellectuals are tilling shallow, infertile soil. If work isn't the source of life abundant, then capitalism, and in fact the American dream, are tragically hollow. These ideals, while not inherently bad on their own, are simply not enough to string life's happenings together into any coherent story. The heartbreaking truth of the matter, though, is this is precisely what we're all attempting to do, every moment of every day. If we learn enough, work hard enough, party with enough abandon, life will start to make sense, so we grab hold of these delusions until they bless us, but they never will, because they never could. And all we are left with is the Teacher's angsty decree that "everything is meaningless."

Can anything, or anyone, provide enough context for our lives, to transform them into anything other than aimless atoms falling through space? Now I'll hang on the word "anyone" for a moment, because I think there's something to explore there. It may be SLIGHTLY more intuitive that certain possessions can't make life meaningful (though one needn't look long to find a middle-aged man determined to squeeze meaning out of his Buick, or a teen trying to find himself behind the screen of his iPhone). Once we've sucked the material world dry, we seem to graduate to searching for meaning in relationships with people. The stakes are higher in this game, because we're playing with others. A guy will date a certain girl because she makes him feel real, feel human. A girl will hang out with other girls whose company makes her believe, if only for a brief time, that she's important, and popular, and beautiful. I don't know who I am unless I have somebody else to reassure me of who I am. Identity is contingent upon company.

I feel like I'm in a tricky position here, because if I claim relationships aren't the fundamental essence of meaning, then I risk downplaying, or even denying the absolute necessity of healthy relationships to the human experience. To be human is to be human in relationship; God said it was not good for man to be alone. The catch here, though, is I can't expect a particular girl, or group of friends, or online community, to determine my identity. This is too heavy a mantle for finite humans to bear. It's quite possible this is one reason so many marriages fall apart, because a wife can't expect her husband to save her, a man can't ask his wife to give him a reason to live. The pressure will crush even the healthiest of relationships, and the same can be said for friendships. I can personally attest to how badly damaging it can be to a friendship if one party demands such things from the other, because I've been, at times, the demanding party. We're all just people, too busy trying to survive to be any sort of existential backbone for the lives of others.

So we can't find true Meaning in work, or play, or things, or people, or wisdom or folly; where, then, can we find it? Ok, here's the part where you get frustrated with me Stranger, and I apologize for it, but I regret to report I don't have a tidy little answer for you. It's much easier to ask the Big Question than to offer any proportional answer, I find. So we have to find meaning in a world where everything is meaningless. So our search for purpose has largely become a practice in tapping dry wells. Where, then, shall we turn? Well, what did the Teacher discover at the end of his existential quandary? Here, in my Bible, the subtitle for this text reads "The Conclusion of the Matter". Seems pretty clear-cut, doesn't it? Let's take a look:

Now all has been heard;
    here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments, 
    for this is the duty of all mankind. 
 For God will bring every deed into judgment, 
    including every hidden thing, 
    whether it is good or evil.
Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

Fear God and keep his commandments? Is this the whole meaning of life? Is this all the Teacher has to teach? Honestly Stranger, being a "good Christian" and all, I'm tempted to say it is, but at the same time, I've grown quite weary of simple, cheap answers. Life is a fickle beast, and as soon as we claim to have tamed her, she finds a new way to trample us. All the same, I think there's a deep, profound truth in the simplicity of this statement, that life is about little more than maintaining a healthy respect for God and a due reverence and appreciation for His or Her Word. This simplicity, I believe, retains its truth in the midst of trial, and perhaps on the other side of it too, because if this God we're worshiping isn't who He or She says He or She is, we're all screwed right out of the gate anyway. SNL alum Darrell Hammond's memoir is poignantly called, "God, if You're Not Up There, I'm F***ed." This is exactly how I feel. It's terrifying to trust God, but every so often, life backs me off a cliff, and either God catches me or I smash against the rocks. And I'm still here Stranger. I'm still in one piece, more or less. There's something to this whole God thing, I just know it, as much as I know anything.

The notion binding the pages of my story together, the core truth, is that I am to respect God, and love God, and trust God and serve God, and by extension, respect and love and trust and serve people, and maybe allow God and other people to love me too. I realize I'm reading between the lines a bit here, but I believe you'll find these concepts are hardly inconsistent with the larger Christian narrative. Is it enough though? Will it really satisfy the seemingly insatiable craving we all carry with us? I really, sincerely believe it will Stranger. At least, it did for me. All I can say with any certainty is I've been picked up, dusted off, and set upon solid ground, that I once was lost, but now I'm found, was blind but now I see! Catch my drift?

The thing is, I believe this can be true for you too. It can be true even if you've been abused, even if you've been the abuser, even if you've cheated, even if you've been cheated on, even if you cut, even if you smoke or drink or shoot up or screw around. Grace is not intimidated by your mistakes, your struggles, your failures. It's amazing really, this Grace of God's. And I don't know how this journey of yours will look, mostly because I'm not even very clear how mine will pan out yet. This is why I confess I don't have the tidy answer, with the tiny box and bow. If I did, I'd give it to you, I swear. If a certain combination of words could cure what hurts you, and give your life meaning, I'd say it in a heartbeat, but I can't, because I'm just a kid, and words aren't magic. All I can do is give you a hint where to start: on your knees, before the God of the universe, the saving Grace of the galaxies.

Everything is meaningless? Sorry Teacher, but I don't think so. Not everything. Not anymore.

I drew this picture. I really like it.

"There's none too poor, too dirty, too broken, too naked, too stupidtoo drunken to be thrown outside His love." - Enter the Worship Circle, Give Me Your Hand


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