Thursday, 4 July 2013

Meaningless! Meaningless!

Today I listened to a debate between Dinesh D’Souza and Andrew Bernstein.[1] I don’t think it was one of Bernstein’s better days, because he actually said this:

“Life is not a dress rehearsal. It’s not preparation for beyond. This is it. We need to fulfil ourselves here and now. So, I urge all of you to think about what you want out of life. Do you want an education in a given field? Do you want romantic love? Do you want children? Do you want a career in a certain field? And then work your hardest and best using your mind to create those values in your life and then live a happy and fulfilled life.” (Bernstein: 1:09.16 – 1:09:45)

This however, begs the question…what about the suicidal student who fails their exams and can’t get an education in a given field? What about the woman who is always the bridesmaid and never the bride? What about the couple who can’t have children and then are told they are too old to adopt? What about people who can’t get a job in their chosen career…what do we say to these people? “Tough. You should have tried harder. You clearly didn’t use your mind properly to create those values in your life.”

Whilst Berstein tries to dodge the existentialist bullet of despair and claim that this is really a motivational speech to rally the human race to greater things, it is actually starting to sound depressing. What do we say to those people who fail to achieve their goals in life, and even more puzzling, what do we say to those who do achieve them?

As Bernstein was speaking about all the grand possibilities that I could pursue in my life I wondered what it would be like if someone opened up the most wonderful store in the world and gave me a gold credit card at the door saying I could buy whatever my heart desired… because I was about to die. Do you think there would be much point to the shopping trip? It would immediately become meaningless to me! What would I want the exquisitely tailored outfit for? Why would I want a new sofa? What use would I have for the latest high tech gadget? Would my purchases bring me true fulfilment? In the same way what does it matter if I a manage to make a success of myself, if my book becomes a best seller, if I star in the latest Hollywood blockbuster, or am featured on the cover of the Rolling Stone. If Bernstein is right and we can be fulfilled through our achievements, why is it that we see so much unrest and unhappiness in the people who appear to ‘have it all.’?

In a lecture given in 1962, Frances Schaeffer said that man is afraid of the annihilation of life, NOT because he fears death, but because it makes his present without meaning.[2] 

Whilst there is nothing wrong with having ambition, hopes and dreams for your life Mark’s gospel asks this question: ‘What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?’ (Mark 8 : 36). He’s right!

Berstein, for all his ‘wise advise’ would do well to read the words of Solomon, the writer of Ecclesiastes – the book that cries ‘Meaningless, meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless’ (Ecclesiastes 1 : 2) over and over again. Here are some of Solomon’s observations…

‘Laughter,’ I said, ‘is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?’ I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly – my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.  I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards.  I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees.  I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well – the delights of a man’s heart. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me. I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. 
My heart took delight in all my labour,
and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
 and what I had toiled to achieve,
 everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2 : 2 – 11)
After achieving every possible pleasure for himself he then makes a sobering discovery, one that Bernstein would do well to note for it is Bernstein who suggests that we can use our minds to create a fulfilled life now.
“I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness.
The wise have eyes in their heads,
 while the fool walks in the darkness; 
but I came to realise
that the same fate overtakes them both. Then I said to myself,
‘The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?’
 I said to myself, ‘This too is meaningless.’ For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered;
the days have already come when both have been forgotten. 
Like the fool, the wise too must die!  (Ecclesiastes 2 : 13 – 16).

However, unlike Bernstein, who sticks to his philosophy of meaninglessness, the writer of Ecclesiastes comes to this conclusion:

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)

Life is a gift from God and we are to enjoy it as such. We should make the most of every opportunity that is given to us and make use of the gifts we are given, but we should do this with reverence to God and with an awareness that this life is not all there is. There is something far, far greater to come.
Therefore we do not lose heart.
though outwardly we are wasting away,
yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
For our light and momentary troubles
are achieving for us an eternal glory
that far outweighs them all.
2 Corinthians 4:16,17

For what is seen is temporary, but what is not seen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:18

[1]   The Objective Standard,2013. Christianity: Good or Bad for Mankind, [video online] Available at: [Accessed 3rd July 2013].

[2] Dr. Francis Shaeffer, Christianity and Science, audio recording, L’Abri Ideas Library, Catalogue number 303, 13 November 1962.

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