For about six or seven years when I was younger I collected comics. Every fortnight I would go into the comic shop, buy a few regular titles, read each of them a couple of times, put them in plastic bags and place them in specially-bought comic book boxes. Then, after a couple of weeks, I’d go back into the comic store, buy some more comics and do it all again.
After a few years, I began asking myself ‘Why?’ I had a growing number of comics, but the publishers kept producing more and more which meant that I would never have a complete collection. I began wondering why I was investing so much money in something that didn’t really benefit anyone and was potentially endless.
I started asking myself, what’s the point?
We can get so caught up in the things we do that it can be hard for us to step back and ask ourselves whether they actually have any real purpose. Asking if what we do has any real point can lead us to question the purpose and value of our lives because often we look for meaning in what we do. When we question the meaning of our actions or behaviours, it can lead us to ask if there’s any meaning to our existence. That can be a very hard question for us to ask.
When Solomon, also known as ‘the Teacher’ in the Book of Ecclesiastes, wrote that everything is meaningless, he knew what he was talking about. When he became Israel’s third king after his father David, God had offered to give him anything. Solomon asked for wisdom so he could rule the nation of Israel well (1 Kings 3:3-15). God was so pleased with Solomon’s request that he also promised to give him what he didn’t ask for – ‘riches and fame’ (v13 NLT). Over the course of his life, Solomon accumulated massive amounts of riches, power and wisdom, including 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). As Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 2:8, he had everything a man could desire!
When he looked at everything he possessed or accomplished, Solomon came to the conclusion that it was meaningless. He had searched for meaning to his life in wisdom and learning, in pursuing pleasures of every kind, in huge building projects, and in hard work. In all of this, though, he failed to find any meaning because he knew that when his life in this world ended that he would leave everything behind. Solomon had no way of knowing if the people who would inherit everything he’d worked so hard for would be foolish or wise, if they would use it well or squander it. So what was the point of it all?
We can look for meaning in life in exactly the same ways he did – through learning and wisdom, through pleasure and relationships, through our work, the things that we build and the things that we own – but the end result is still the same. If we look for meaning in the things we do or have, then our lives will ultimately be meaningless. Secular philosophers have come to the same conclusion and call it nihilism – that in the end nothing really matters. Maybe that’s why so many people in our society live for the present and to have fun. As long as we look for meaning in the things of this world, everything is meaningless because nothing in this world lasts for ever.
Two other Bible readings from last Sunday point us towards looking for meaning in life in a different direction. The Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21) ends with Jesus teaching us to ‘have a rich relationship with God’ (v21 NLT). In the same way, Paul tells us to ‘set our sights on the realities of heaven’ where ‘your real life is hidden with God’ (Colossians 3:1-3 NLT). When we look for meaning to life in our relationship with God through Jesus instead of the things of this world, we can find meaning which is stronger than death, which goes beyond the grave and which will last for all of eternity. It is a sense of meaning which doesn’t rely on what we have or what we do but remains standing through all our flaws, failures and storms of life when everything else is falling apart.
Jesus knew the meaninglessness of human existence. In particular, his crucifixion seems like a meaningless death. For three years Jesus had taught the crowds that followed him, healed the sick, set people free from guilt and fear, and even raised the dead. After all the good he had done, for Jesus to die a criminal’s death on a cross makes his life look meaningless. However, the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection shows that God can bring meaning out of something that looks meaningless. When Jesus was raised to new life, he showed that meaning in life is not found in the things of this world, but in a rich and solid relationship with God through him.
When we look for and find meaning in our lives through Jesus, then we have a new perspective though which we can see everything we have as a gift from God (Ecclesiastes 5:19) and enjoy them without relying on them to provide meaning for us. When we don’t rely on wisdom or learning, fun and pleasure, work or building things, or money and possessions for our sense of meaning, but find it in Jesus, then we can enjoy all the good things God gives us because he loves us and wants the best for us.
One of the reasons I stopped collecting comics was because it was ultimately meaningless. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong or bad. The problem comes when we look for meaning in life in them or other things like them. That’s when life can appear meaningless. In Jesus, though, we can find meaning that goes beyond everything else in this world.
More to think about:
- What is the most pointless thing you do in your life? Why do you keep doing it?
- What do you think about what Solomon’s opinion that everything is meaningless (Ecclesiastes 1:2 etc)? Would you agree or disagree with him? Can you explain why you think that way…?
- What do you look to for meaning in your life – learning and knowledge? fun and pleasure? work or making things? money and possessions? something else?
- What would happen if you lost them or if they were taken away? How would that change your sense of meaning in life?
- I know people who tell me that following Jesus is just as meaningless as everything else in life. Would you agree with them? Can you explain why?
- How might the meaning Jesus gives to our lives be different from the meaning we look for in other things? How can Jesus’ death and resurrection give us a deeper, more lasting sense of meaning?
- As people who find our meaning in Jesus, how can that shape the way we see the other things in our lives? If we find our meaning in Jesus instead of the things of this world, how might that help us view them differently?