What if my life truly holds nothing meaningful, nothing that lasts beyond the speck of time in which I inhabit this earth? What if all I do will be forgotten, dismissed and erased from memory? What if my life is just a random assortment of evolution and chemistry that just happened to form my rapidly decomposing body? What if I am just living to die? What if my life is meaningless? And my death— what if that means nothing too? What if I, Scott Stinson, an 18 year-old kid moved by beauty and fascinated with life, mean absolutely nothing?
If there is no God, then I, and all of existence, must be meaningless— my drive for knowledge, my obsession with being remembered, my craving for love and admiration, my longing for something more then what life has given me right now— all is for naught in the end. It all is stopped by death. Life dangles hope and love in front of my face like a fisherman jigs a lure in front of a bass’s lifeless eyes, knowing that I am dying as I am living. And with death comes what I know to be true, but refuse to admit: nothing. Ok, let’s be frank— you and I both know this can’t be true. Life means nothing and the only thing we can know for certain is that we, and this universe, will burn up and die? I’ve spent many a sleepless night tossing and turning with that question plaguing my thoughts. I kept tripping up on one question, though: If this is the reality of life, then why can’t I admit it? I honestly could not tell myself that if there is no God, no eternal purpose to my life, then I ultimately mean nothing and everything I do, no matter how big or small, neither improves nor impairs the people around me since we all are dead in the end anyway. It must be this way if there is no God, however, because what else could provide eternal hope and eternal life? My first reaction in my head after telling myself that I am worthless would be to whisper, no, this can’t be; my efforts matter, my personality matters, who I am as a person matters. I matter. Intellectually I could admit, with tremendous ease surprisingly, why yes I do believe that this life is all we have, and yes I do believe that we should make this life the best possible since it is the one shot we have before we kick the bucket. But after I stopped being an intellectual who doesn’t really consider the gravity of my beliefs, I sat back and pondered what it really means to say, no God, therefore no purpose. And it frightened me. And it will frighten you too.
In the words of Leo Tolstoy, “Today or tomorrow sickness and death will come… to those dear to me, and to myself, and nothing will remain other than the stench and the worms. Sooner or later my deeds, whatever they may have been, will be forgotten and no longer exist. What is all the fuss about then? How can a person carry on living and fail to perceive this? That is what is so astonishing! It is only possible to go on living while you are intoxicated on life; once sober it is impossible not to see that it is all a mere trick, and a stupid trick!” (A Confession) The trick Tolstoy alludes to is very sinister— hope, love, poetry, song, dance, family, relationships, comfort, security— we long for these things within the deepest fibers of our being, and the good news is that we can experience them. We can immerse ourselves in these joys, feel their warm, enveloping presence and taste their aesthetic pleasure. But then, the trick: we sit laughing at the banquet table, stuffing our faces with any comfort we can find until Father Time flips the switch and our once lavish throne flips backward and throws us into the everlasting fire that’s been kindling our backs the length of our feast, the flames gently licking us ever so often and singing our hairs, making us lean forward towards the feast more intensely then before in fear of our inevitable fates behind us. I can’t imagine that this is all life has in store for us; there just has to be a better offer on the table then no God, no purpose.
“If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity). Lewis brings up a fascinating idea— what if when people say, “there is no purpose to life,” what they are actually saying is, “having no purpose in life is my purpose in life.” Let me explain further— atheists and nihilists and existentialists, like Nietzsche, Camus and Sartre, when they say that life has no meaning are really saying, “it is better for me to say there is no purpose so that I can have complete control then to admit there is a higher order to which I have to ascribe too.” It is impossible to say without a shadow of a doubt that there is no God and no ultimate purpose, because to do so would be to admit that life had a purpose before you denounced it. You can say, “life has never had purpose, I have just realized it to be so.” But if life has never had any purpose, how would you know it to be so? Like Lewis inquiries, if there’s nothing else out there, then we would never have thought that there was anything else other than ourselves. If life means nothing, then life’s questions would mean nothing to us. Life in general would mean nothing to us. If life really has no purpose at all, then why does death drive us crazy? Dying would mean nothing special to us if there was no life after death, it would just be the way. Evil and good— these things would not be. Hope would never exist; we would have no need of it because death’s totalities would be common knowledge to us and would not scare us. We would have no quarrels with death either, since we wouldn’t have knowledge of any sort of greater good or greater hope then the days we have on this earth. But that just isn’t the case— death makes us shiver in our subconscious and paralyzes us with fear.
What if this is because it is unnatural to die, what if we are not natural to the ways of this world? I have wrestled with these questions for a while now, so let me offer an inquiry: we have faint memory traces of perfection, of a harmonious universe and a perfect existence with God, but now we are apart from God’s touch. We now are trapped in the absurd existence. As Albert Camus says in Myth of Sisyphus, we desire with every fiber in our body to know the truth about our existence, but this world offers none of the sort. Instead, we get no truth and only small, fragmented truths, no absolute knowledge of any greater being, and a death that ends all happiness and joy. But what if the reason we long for purpose and truth lies in the desire itself: we were once with God, our creator and Father, but now we are separated from Him. And with that comes the fear of dying, since we are not designed for it or meant for it. We can’t say without emotion involved that we mean nothing, because we do mean something, and we know it to be so. But the separation from God, the fall of creation, has created a barrier between our desires and what our desires are. We are meant for eternal significance, but death robs us of this reality. Fear and anxiety— they are not natural to us, but because of death’s grip it has become our most powerful emotion. Christianity’ s story of the fall of the creation, that Adam and Eve chose themselves over God (the first sin), chose control over submission, which then snowballed into unspeakable horrors and an absurd existence, seems to make the most sense out of life. It was all there— joy, peace, love, admiration, affection, spirituality, compassion, perfection, harmony— God had shared it with us. But we decided that those things weren’t good enough and that we could attain them on our own accord, we didn’t need God to have purpose or to be a good person. And look at us now. Why else would death scare us so bad that we become gluttons for comfort, love, relationships, art, admiration, etc.? It only can be that death is not the intended purpose to life. There must be something greater to life, or else as Lewis alludes to, having no purpose and dying would not strike fear into our hearts, we would just exist with no hope, no evil, and no fear. But that just isn’t the way it is. You and I both know this to be true.
Some people ask these questions, see no absolute answer, and throw their hands in the air out of indifference. They then say to themselves, I can’t find a proof for God, therefore there is none in existence. I know death will come and end my brief life, so I now must enjoy every single passion my body provides me. I must fulfill my every desire, before death sucks me into its infinity. Epicureanism, as this philosophy is called, seems to me to be an intellectual cop out. It seems to be a way to forgetting death’s meaning by simply being a sucker for comfort. Trust me, we all do this. I am such a wimp when it comes to denying a great meal, or a hot shower, etc. I can never say no! But when this becomes the answer to your questions of life, that’s when you know fear has won. You’ve run into the warm, bedazzling arms of comfort in fear of the sickening snarl death stares at us with. And even though comfort wins the day, keeps you comfy and safe for your life’s relatively short span, death is still staring us down, waiting for the warmth of your body to cease being so, and thus wins the war. It’s depressing, but true.
Others, as Camus addresses in Myth of Sisyphus, see no purpose to life, and commit suicide. Tolstoy also discusses this at length, citing his own desire to end his life upon realizing the bleakness of fate. In no way, shape or form am I condoning suicide. Life is valuable and sacred, and I think most everyone in the world would agree (I hope). But the point of Camus and Tolstoy, mostly Tolstoy in this regard, is this: once you understand that without God life means nothing, the joys and luxuries you once clothed yourself in become fake and empty. Happiness becomes bleak, love becomes shallow, a beautiful summer’s evening transforms you into a bitter person because you know that nature is playing a sick joke on you. Camus would disagree with me; he would say that this actually stokes the fire of the passion for life. But he would agree with me that at this point in a person’s life is when people desire suicide. Yes, it is a dangerous place to be mentally, but it is an honest effect of what a realized meaningless existence can do, tragically. I say it is tragic because I, and you, both believe with every atom of our bodies, with every desire in our hearts that life, this planet, beauty and love, transcend time and space in their significance. Love moves us to tears because it has an indescribable power, a silent giggle in our hearts that uplifts our fragile egos from our humble cottages onto Zeus’s throne. We have purpose! And this is only so because God loves us beyond human reasoning. I hope to show you why this is true, why the Christian Triune God is the thing, is the it you have looked for in art, relationships, life, money, sex, etc. But first, let’s start small (if that’s what this blog is) and discuss life’s complex questions and lack of proposed answers. In conclusion: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)