Why Are We Here?

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Romans 11:33-36

What is our place in the universe? Do our lives have meaning and purpose? Let’s think about some of the most basic questions of human existence.

Well, here we are – there’s no denying that. Each of us is here, on earth, alive. We didn’t have any choice in the matter. None of us can go back and undo our births. Whether we like it or not, we have been brought into the world, and now we are forced to try to make sense out of life. We can’t get around the fact that we are here.

The question is: What are we here for? Is there any point to our existence? Do our lives have some larger meaning and purpose beyond just surviving for as long as we can and then ceasing to be? Is there any reality beyond what we can see, touch and taste, anything more that makes living worthwhile? We seem so small and insignificant. We live our little lives for a while, and then we die. Can one individual life really matter except perhaps to a few of our closest family and friends? And they in their turn will also all disappear without a trace. Even the entire history of the human race, measured against the backdrop of the vastness of the universe or the antiquity of the earth, is a mere blink of the eye. So what does it all mean? What possible significance could human life have when considered in those terms?

Why are we here? That is one of the most important questions there is, and each of us has to answer it somehow. Some people try to avoid thinking about it at all. “That’s philosophy stuff,” they say, “Don’t bother me with that. It’s all too deep for me. I don’t have any time to worry about the meaning of life.”

I suppose most of us think like that most of the time. I can’t say that I lie awake every night worrying about such cosmic questions as my place in the universe. Usually I’m too busy trying to do my job, taking care of my home and family, and enjoying what free time there is on a full calendar. But every once in a while I do find myself wondering. And of course, if you never, ever think about the deeper questions surrounding the meaning of life, then you already have answered them in a sense. There’s really no practical difference between a person who is an atheist and one who simply lives day after day as if God did not exist, assuming that this life is all there is. So we’re back to this most basic of questions: Why are we here?

“NO WHY, JUST HERE”

Some people are sure there is no answer to that question. Or even worse, they’re sure that they know the answer, and it is a dismal one. Many people who do not believe in God or any life beyond this world have concluded that human existence is without real meaning or purpose. For particularly sensitive or thoughtful people life can become unbearably bleak.

Mark Twain was one of the greatest writers of the nineteenth century. He had fame, fortune, great talent. He started out as a frontier newspaper reporter in the American west and later became a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi. By the end of his life Twain was a world famous author and lecturer with an honorary doctorate from Oxford University. You might think he was a happy man. Instead, soured by personal tragedy and even more by a sense of life’s futility, he developed a relentlessly pessimistic view of the world. Here is a famous passage from Mark Twain’s autobiography. This is what he thought about the meaning of life:

A myriad of men are born; they labor and sweat and struggle for bread; they squabble and scold and fight; they scramble for little mean advantages over each other. Age creeps upon them and infirmities follow; shames and humiliations bring down their prides and their vanities. Those they love are taken from them, and the joy of life is turned to aching grief. The burden of pain, care, misery, grows heavier year by year. At length ambition is dead, pride is dead, vanity is dead; longing for release is in their place. It comes at last – the only unpoisoned gift earth ever had for them – and they vanish from a world where they were of no consequence; where they achieved nothing, where they were a mistake and a failure and a foolishness; where they left no sign that they have existed – a world that will lament them a day and forget them forever.

A contemporary thinker has expressed the same dark view of life much more succinctly. In answer to a magazine writer’s question “Why are we here?” one American intellectual responded, “No why; just here”.

It may surprise you to learn that the Bible agrees with this perspective on the world and human life – up to a point. Much of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes was written from the perspective of life without God. What does the world look like if there is no God, if this life is all there is? It looks empty and insignificant. It produces bitterness and the overwhelming sense that nothing really matters. Even the best things we can experience, says Ecclesiastes, things like human love, family and interesting, productive work amount to nothing in the end because nothing lasts. “Vanity, vanity,” says the Teacher of Ecclesiastes, “Meaningless! Everything is meaningless! . . . I have seen it all, and everything is just as senseless as chasing the wind. . . The more you know, the more you hurt; the more you understand, the more you suffer” (Eccles. 1:1,14,18, nirv, cev).

In the New Testament the apostle Paul expresses a sort of conditional agreement with this pessimistic view of things. “If the dead are not raised,” he wrote to the Corinthians, “then let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” If it is true that this is all that there is, Paul is saying, if there is no more to life than what we experience here on this earth, then the only thing that makes sense is to squeeze as much pleasure as we can out of today because tomorrow we’re going to be dead. The best anyone can hope for is a little temporary happiness, followed by an exit into nothingness. No wonder so many people in our society who believe this are loudly demanding the option of ending their lives with medical assistance and painless drugs. If I thought this life was all there is, I’d think about killing myself too when things get unpleasant.

THE CHRISTIAN ALTERNATIVE

Needless to say, Christians have a different response, a contrasting world view, an alternative answer to life’s most basic questions. The difference is grounded in two cosmic events, both of which we accept by faith.

The first is God’s creation of the world. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). That is the first sentence in the Bible. When the Bible opens, God is already there. The Bible tells us about the beginning of the universe, but not about the beginning of God, because God has no beginning. He simply is. You either know and believe this or you don’t. I can’t prove it to you anymore than an atheist can prove that there is no God. You can either believe in a God who created everything, or you have to believe in nothing, that “nothingness” is where we all came from and where we are heading.

Christians believe in God the Creator, and therefore in a creation that has meaning. The world is not an accident. It did not emerge by chance, from nothing, out of nowhere. Our world came from God. And God did not create the universe without a reason. He has infused his creation with purpose; the world and our lives have an end, a goal toward which they are moving.

The second cosmic event that shapes our Christian perspective on life’s meaning is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. I said that the apostle Paul expresses a conditional agreement with the bleak view of the pessimists – that life has no ultimate meaning. On this view we should live it up while we can because pretty soon we’ll all be dead. But notice the condition Paul lays down: “If the dead are not raised,” he wrote, “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32). But that’s a false supposition. It’s just not true, the dead are raised, and the proof of this is the resurrection of Jesus. “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep,” (1 Corinthians 15:20). This life is not all there is. Christ’s resurrection is the first of many more to come, the sign and guarantee that all those who belong to Christ will also be raised after death to new life in the kingdom of God. We who are followers of Jesus have an assured future. Because we have a future we can also have a present that is full of hope and joy and purposeful living.

TO GLORIFY AND ENJOY GOD

So what is the Christian response to the question of the meaning and purpose of human existence? One of the best expressions of the Christian answer was made more than 350 years ago in a document produced by a group of English church leaders meeting in Westminster Abbey in London. The first question of their Westminster Catechism asks, “What is the chief end (or purpose) of man?” and responds, “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

What are we here for? Christians reply that in simplest terms we, along with everyone and everything, are here for God. The Bible declares that “from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever!” (Romans 8:36). In the first century Roman Empire, a world of multiple religions and countless gods and goddesses, Paul affirmed that “For us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things come and for whom we live” (1 Corinthians 8:6). So our view of the meaning and purpose of life is quite simple. We came from God and we live for God. We were first created and later redeemed by the one true infinite God of the universe in order that we might know him, worship him and glorify him. Our lives have been given to us in order to serve this God by sharing his love with one another and communicating the hope of his salvation to the whole world. Our final destiny is to be raised from death and enter the presence of the living God, there to delight in his Person and experience his perfections – to enjoy God forever. In the end, it’s all pleasure for us and all glory for God. As believers in Christ we rejoice with the psalmist: “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11).

There is a lot that I admire about Mark Twain. He was a brilliant writer and a perceptive critic of human affairs. He recognized the vanity, the emptiness of so much of what passes for “the good life.” He rejected the illusions attached to wealth and fame and worldly pleasure. He knew those things aren’t worth living for. He recognized the truth too about human beings, that we are not really the noble and virtuous beings we think we are, but are morally skewed. People, in Twain’s view, were petty, cruel, selfish, and cowardly. And that’s all true.

But the tragedy of Mark Twain was that he knew some of the truth, while he couldn’t accept the whole truth. He accepted human sinfulness, but he did not accept the gospel, the good news about what Christ did to overcome sin, save and change sinful people. Twain recognized what was wrong with the world, but he did not see how God could put it right. He felt deeply the futility of human mortality and the meaninglessness of living in a dying world, but he did not feel the love and hope that come from knowing the God of resurrection life.

I hope that you aren’t like Mark Twain. I know you don’t have to be. You too can experience the difference that only God can make. You can have the answers that knowing him provides. You can know what it is like to live for the glory of God, and you too can enjoy him forever. All this is found in Jesus Christ. Come to him and enjoy!