Friday, July 19, 2013

Christian Metaphor, part 3

(Start with part one, or go to part two)
God’s will and the meaning of life

I’ve mentioned humans wanting to please God several times now.  Is this an assumption or a fact? Well, if we believe to have been made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26), then our desire to please God is a mere reflection of God’s desire to please Himself.

Why did God put us there?  Or better yet, why did God create us?  If we read Genesis, we learn that God created us simply to please Himself (Genesis 1:31).  He didn’t need us; He wanted to share Himself (love).  He created us in His image, and He delegated to us the stewardship of the Earth. In other words, He wanted us to exist the way He exists, experience being the way He experiences being.  And in the beginning, we did just that.  This is why we call the Garden of Eden “paradise”, and why we all long to return there.

* Eternal life

Speaking of returning to paradise, this brings up a concern many philosophers and theologians have pondered.  In addition to determining the meaning of our lives, we also want to be reassured that our lives will continue... indefinitely.  Isaac Newton’s first law of motions states that “an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”  Now, if we allow the substitution of “person” instead of “object”, and give an existential meaning to motion, we can rephrase part of the above as follows:  “A person who is alive [wants to] stay alive”. 

This may seem quite elementary, but it’s fundamental.  Once we are aware of the fact that we are alive, and we come to enjoy said life (or at worst, fear the alternative), we begin to grasp for reassurances that we will always .... be. 

No amount of life experience seems to teach us that “the only thing that doesn’t change is change itself”.  Every school year ends with a bittersweet sentiment – on one hand, we were so looking forward to summer; on the other hand, the next year is full of the unknown.  A child’s wedding likewise can be a bittersweet moment – on one hand, we are pleased that our daughter or son has found someone to share their life with; on the other hand, we become aware of the drastic reduction in their need for us and thus may worry what their joy means to our own joy.  Even religious people often fear death, if for no other reason than because it constitutes a major change and leads to a great unknown!

But for many people, myself included, even if the details cannot be known, the underlying assumption of eternal life is necessary in order to live a life without despair.  In the end, does it really matter to us if, after we die, we simply cease to be aware of our existence, or cease to exist?  When we’re sleeping, do we ever worry about not waking up?  If you’re anything like me, as much fun as life is, sleep is always most welcome in the morning!  Therefore, I imagine that whatever being dead is like, I’m sure we won’t miss being alive!

Of course, that’s a strange thing to say.  Death implies the lack of “being”, so to say that we will “be” dead seems quite inaccurate.  And yet, we use the same existential term that God Himself uses to describe what we fear is the opposite of living.  To me, that just goes to show that death is nothing more than a transition into a continuation of life beyond what we are able to experience in the here and now.  I am satisfied with the conviction that eternal life is a reality, even if the details of what that practically means cannot be known to me until I cross over to the other side.

If we all must die and that means we cease to exist, or if we all must die and we have no way of knowing what it’s like to be deceased, then that really begs the question: what is the meaning of life?  Or put another way, why are we here?  No other creature – to our  knowledge – wrecks their brain (those that have brains) or wastes time in contemplating their purpose.  They simply exist, and without a sense of right and wrong, good and bad, we can say they exist in contentment.  Animals, and much less plants, don’t worry about the future or regret or reminisce about the past.  They spend their lives experiencing their existence. They simply “are”.  Yet we humans are not satisfied with being like every other creature.  We want to be better, more special.  There must be a meaning to our existence.  

(go to part 4)

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