September 13, 2013

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Year of Faith: What is the meaning of life?

John F. FinkIt’s part of human nature to be able to consider the ultimate questions about the meaning and purpose of life. Every culture, even the most primitive, has done so, with varying answers.

Some of the answers have come down to us in the Jewish scriptures that Christians know as the Old Testament, especially in the Book of Ecclesiastes and the Book of Proverbs. The conclusion of the Book of Ecclesiastes is that “all things are vanity” (Eccl 12:8). The author examines the things that humans usually search for—wisdom, pleasure, riches, renown—and find them all lacking, “a chase after wind” (Eccl 1:14).

The Book of Proverbs is considerably more optimistic than the Book of Ecclesiastes. Of all the Wisdom Books, it is probably the one that best provides the guide for successful living that the ancient Israelites sought.

What about people today? In the midst of our busy lives, spent in the most prosperous nation in history, do we take time out to reflect on why we are here? Certainly the secular society in which we live doesn’t encourage such reflection.

It encourages us rather to keep pushing ourselves to succeed in business, to buy as many of the luxuries our economy produces as we can, to enjoy our entertainments. But why?

Secular society doesn’t have the answer to that question. Religion does. It’s up to our religious leaders and all the faithful to remind society that there is an ultimate purpose to our lives.

I have always felt comfortable with the answer to the question “Why did God make you?” that I learned as a child: God made me to know him, to love him, and to serve him in this life and to be happy with him forever in the next.

I have heard and read many more sophisticated philosophies of the meaning of life, but they all seem to boil down to that rather simple answer.

But that simple answer implies considerable work on our part. First, we must come to know God, which means studying as much about him as he has deemed fit to reveal to us. Once we know God, we can’t help but love him since, as the First Letter of John tells us, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8).

If we truly love God, we will want to serve him. To do that means first and foremost to discover in our daily lives God’s unique vocations for us. I think we have many vocations—many calls from God to use the unique gifts and talents he has given us to accomplish his will for us.

We receive many calls as we proceed through life. God’s call might be different when we are in our 40s, 60s or 80s than when we were in our 20s.

When we choose our profession, surely God isn’t calling us to pick something only because it will enable us to earn the most money. Our calling is to use God’s gifts for the benefit of others.

It’s in discerning God’s will for us that we discover why we are here.

I’ll say more about this next week. †

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!