What is the meaning of life?

There is no meaning to life, that is to say, life is meaningless. King Solomon, one of the wisest men of the Bible (1 Kings 4:29-34, 10:1-9, 10:23-24, 2 Chronicles 1:11-12, 9:1-8, 9:22-23, Ecclesiastes 1:16, 12:9-10), came to this conclusion: "Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterley meaningless! Everything is meaningless." (Ecclesiastes 1:2)


        I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. (Ecclesiastes 1:12-14)

Solomon looked at all aspects of human life on earth -- labor, achievement, advancement, pleasure, wisdom, knowledge, madness, folly, possessions, honor, wealth, poverty, power, justice, family, friendship, companionship, marriage, consumption, sleep, love, hate, life, death -- and concluded that man's lot in life is simply to enjoy the work and provisions God has granted (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26, 3:10-14, 5:18-20, 9:7-10, Deuteronomy 8:10-18).


        I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil -- this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him. (Ecclesiastes 3:10-14)

In the end, it's not meaning that matters. To search for meaning in life is futile (Ecclesiastes 8:16-17). What really matters in life is purpose. God created us for a purpose. Without purpose, life is useless (Isaiah 49:4). Our purpose is to serve God, our creator and master, and to please him and seek after him (2 Corinthians 5:1-10). Our purpose is that of Christ's, because we were created by him and for him (Colossians 1:15-16). As Christians, we can serve him by obeying his commands and sharing his gospel with others (Isaiah 55:11, 1 Corinthians 3:5-9). If any meaning is to be derived from this, then it is that of Paul's declaration to the Philippians, "to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21-26). In his widely popular book, The Purpose Driven Life, author Rick Warren states the five purposes of God's children:

1. "Love God with all your heart": You were planned for God's pleasure, so your purpose is to love God through worship.

2. "Love your neighbor as yourself": You were shaped for serving, so your purpose is to show love for others through ministry.

3. "Go and make disciples": You were made for a mission, so your purpose is to share God's message through evangelism.

4. "baptize them into...": You were formed for God's family, so your purpose is to identify with his church through fellowship.

5. "teach them to do all things...": You were created to become like Christ, so your purpose is to grow to maturity through discipleship.

(The purpose-driven life: what on earth am I here for?, ©2002 by Rick Warren, p. 306, Zondervan Publishing, ISBN: 0-310-20571-9.)


        Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

In The Purpose Driven Life (Day 1), Warren also makes reference to another book, The Meaning of Life, by Hugh S. Moorhead, which is a collection of over 250 answers to the question, "What is the meaning or purpose of life?" acquired from many of the greatest philosophers and writers of the twentieth century. Now out of print, here are a few of the answers from this collection. The book reference in parentheses was the work in which the author answered the question personally for Mr. Moorhead, a professor of philosophy at Northern Illinois University. He sent the author's own work to them with the request, "Please comment on the question, what is the meaning or purpose of life."

Edward Abbey (Down The River) "The question implies the answer: life has no given meaning, existence no purpose. This precisely is what makes our situation so interesting." August 5, 1987

Edward Albee (Seascape) "The meaning of life, you ask? Being aware of it, I should say." 1980

Steve Allen (The Funny Men) "There is no reason to assume that life has only one meaning. Da Vinci's life may have meant something other than that of Charles Manson."

Michael Anania (The Red Menace) "I don't want to retreat into the justly despised positivism, but the question "the meaning of life," proposes its own answer. "Life" includes "meaning," or at least the aspiration toward meaning. Life, if you think of it as an assertion of meaning in process, always exceeds assigned meaning. To offer a parody of technical language--the set of all meanings is included in life, which is an additional meaning so expands the set by a hyposet, and so forth. So any statement--any such question, expands the frame exponentially. What I'm saying in a nutshell is the meaning of life is meaning."

Isaac Asimov (In The Beginning) "As for the meaning of life in general, or in the abstract, as far as I can see, there is none. If all of life were suddenly to disappear from Earth and anywhere else it may exist, or if none had ever formed in the first place, I think the Universe would continue to exist without perceptible change. However, it is always possible for an individual to invest his own life with meaning that he can find significant. He can also order his life that he may find as much beauty and wisdom in it as he can, and spread as much of that to others as possible." July 13, 1987

A. J. Ayer (Language, Truth and Logic) "I do not think there can be any general answer to the question, what is the meaning of life? Our individual lives have whatever meaning, or meanings, we succeed in giving them." October 22, 1953

Hazel E. Barnes (An Existentialist Ethics)
"To create meaning where there has been none,
To make one's life significant in a Universe not made for us,
To recognize that human solidarity must be based on reverence
for the need of every individual."

Thomas Berger (Killing Time) "Have pondered on this matter for longer than a half century, I now suspect that the meaning or purpose of life is probably not that which could be addressed by the question, 'What is the meaning or purpose of life?' "

Leonard Bernstein (The Joy of Music) "As to teology and/or ontology, consult Kant, Spinoza, Plato, et al. As for me, the purpose of life is to live it as fully as possible, and to be grateful every day for the privelege of sharing it."

Max Black (Language and Philosophy) "A philosopher once said to a fish, 'The purpose of life is to reason and become wise.' The fish answered, 'The purpose of life is to swim and catch flies.' The philosopher muttered, 'Poor fish.' Back came a whisper, 'Poor philosopher.' " January 3, 1953

Erma Bombeck (If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries--What Am I Doing in the Pits?) "To me the purpose of life is to know enough about it to enjoy it -- but not enough to take it too seriously."

Ray Bradbury (I Sing the Body Electric) "Life" Why life is for living! Glory Hallelujah!!!" February 21st, Apollo Year One!

Steven M. Cahn (Fate, Logic, and Time) "The meaning of life is invented, not discovered."

William H. Calvin (The Throwing Madonna) "As I understand evolution from Big Bang to big brain, the only discernible purpose to life is to create yet more complex and capable life forms. If we can indeed invent a computer which is smarter and wiser than we are (and lacking our tendencies to destroy ourselves and our environment), we will be carrying on this bootstrapping tradition." June 1, 1984 Seattle

Rudolf Carnap (Introduction to Semantics) "I have written only my name into your book because I find that I cannot make an adequate statement on the question in a few lines. But to give you at least an indication of what I am thinking, I will here say a few words (informally and inadequately formulated). I think that our life does not have a purpose by itself. It has as much meaning and significance as we give to it. We are free to choose our aim and the principles guiding our life. Life gains significance by our striving to fulfill the freely chosen purposes. The purpose may lie in our individual life or, on a higher level, in the development of humanity in a certain direction to which we wish to contribute. In either case the aim is human; there are no supernatural goals." February 6, 1952

Eric Chaisson (Cosmic Dawn) "As I see it currently, the role of life in the Universe is to reflect on the Universe, to grant the Universe itself a consciousness of sorts. Without life, galaxies would twirl and stars would shine, but no one would appreciate the grandeur of it all. Thus, the Universe strives to create life, and to develop intelligence, so that the Universe itself can be known, appreciated, and perhaps loved."

Preston Cloud (Cosmos, Earth ands Man) "Does life have a meaning? I would say rather it has a great potential for meaning. It is we who create the meaning. It is we who endow it with purpose, or fail to do so."

Norman Cousins (Who Speaks For Man?) "You ask what I think the meaning and purpose of life are. I'm not sure what they are, but I think I can indicate what I think they should be. First, I think we haven't begun to explore human potentiality -- that we are, in this respect, living in a primitive period of our life on earth. Certainly one main purpose of life is to give every human being a chance to unfold fully, and in doing so to enrich the common life. Secondly, I think war is the greatest single obstacle to the flowering of human life and personality. And the idea of unfettered national sovereignty that flows into it, it seems to me, is the greatest current impediment to the human future. The creation of a rational world order should therefore, I believe, be a major life-purpose of every sentient human being..." August 1970

Harvey Cox (The Seduction of the Spirit: The Use and Misuse of People's Religion) "The purpose of life is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever."

Arthur C. Danto (Nietzsche as Philosopher) "I have no thought about the meaning of life to dignify the volume with. I do think--and it leaves me quite cheerful to think it--that life has no meaning at all. I think actions do, I think lives do (perhaps all lives) but not LIFE! But it is a topic I feel diffident to discuss, and am certain my view is of almost no interest to anyone, least of all to me."

John Dickson (Victoria Hotel) "Actually I've never given the matter much thought, although I suspect that, reduced to its basics, the purpose of life is to live and/or procreate and the meaning of life is to live as an integral part of and with the universe, including everyone and everything in it. But I suppose, as a philosophy professor, you have asked the question many times without having received the same answer twice. Just because I happen to write poetry is no reason why my answer should be any more valid." June 29, 1980

Annie Dillard (Teaching A Stone To Talk) "Alas, I don't know what the meaning of life is -- I think it is to perceive and know, collectively, God's creation."

John Dos Passos (Tour of Duty) "That's something everybody has to work out for himself." September 23, 1953

Ren´┐Żubos (A God Within) "I do not know the meaning or purpose of life. But I'm convinced that mankind is engaged in a creative process of the kind that Saint Bernard had in mind for the Cistercian Monks (page 171)." [i.e., partners of God, contributing through their labors in a creative, human process of recreating paradise]

Will Durant (The Life of Greece) "You ask me what is the meaning of life. Nothing has any meaning except what mind puts into it. The meaning of life, to my mind, is that it provides an opportunity for our full development as individuals and as members of a group. Life will have just as much meaning for you as you put into it." January 19, 1954

Freeman Dyson (Disturbing the Universe) "You ask: what is the meaning or purpose of life? I can only answer with another question: do you think we are wise enough to read God's mind?"

William Earle (Public Sorrows & Private Pleasures) "I wish I could respond to your question, "what is the meaning of life" except to say that I suppose its whatever you make of it, and perhaps to beware of assuming that there is only one."

Richard Eberhart (Collected Poems 1930-1960) "To your question what is the meaning or purpose of life, read all the great poems of the world and you still won't find out. But read them anyway as if you could. Life keeps its secrets." Hanover, New Hampshire 1980

John Ehrlichman (The Company) "Today I am the grandfather of Matthew, who surely is a gift of God -- as surely as the fact that life is synonymous with God -- in that relationship lies all the meaning that man can comprehend -- and more." June 20, 1979 Matt's birthday!

T. S. Eliot (Selected Essays 1917-1932) "Mr. Eliot says your question is one which one spends one's whole life in finding the answer for, and he is sorry he has not yet got to the point where he can sum it all up on a flyleaf." October 17, 1950 [Typed note from the author's secretary.]

Albert Ellis (Humanistic Psychotherapy) "As far as I can tell, life has no special or intrinsic meaning or purpose. We are merely here because we are here, and I doubt very much whether the universe cares whether we are here or not, or will either cheer or mourn our eventual demise. I think that each of us humans makes his or her own purpose in life. Naturally, all of us who survive make of our main purposes that very survival. Otherwise, we would not exist nor have progeny. But once we decide to survive, then we pick various forms of happy or successful survival and these tend to follow both biological and social norms, but include a great deal of individual differences. I personnaly think that it would be more satisfactory if more of these individual differences existed and were encouraged by our educational system. In any event, I think that they will continue to flourish because it is the nature of humans to have an almost infinite amount of variety among them. But whatever main goals we seem to pick for ourselves, these become our purposes in life, and we had better not insist that they also become the purposes of all or most other humans! I believe that unless we make one of our main purposes some form of happiness or enjoyment, life itself tends to become dull and hardly worth living. Therefore, the survival of the human race tends to be significantly correlated with its potential and actual enjoyments. But that still does not mean that any human or group of humans has to choose to continue to live and to live happily."

(The Meaning of Life according to our century's greatest writers and thinkers, ©1988 collected by Hugh S. Moorhead, Chicago Review Press, ISBN: 1-55652-038-7, permission pending.)

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