MAKING SENSE OF LIFE Over the centuries -and certainly today- people have tried in many ways to make sense of life, that is, in general and of their own lives in particular. They have asked whether any meaning can be found to explain the baffling mixture of joys and frustrations which constitute everyday living. Are the blessings of simply being alive greater or less than the problems and tragedies which confront us in the world? How can we put together the pieces of the jigsaw of life? Where can we look for a satisfactory explanation for life’s mysteries? Is there a purpose to it all? This is an important question since a sense of purpose is considered essential to our well-being. So the search for a meaning which is larger than ourselves still preoccupies the attention of many thoughtful people. Throughout history, artists and thinkers have put forward ideas which are worth consideration as we ask fundamental questions about the point of living. The famous painter, John Constable, is celebrated for his lovely depictions of rural life in his works. In ‘The Haywain’, for example, the human figures in view are painted quite small in the landscape in which they are set. It is as if they are greatly overshadowed by the sheer magnificence of the English countryside. Yet while we may look to nature for inspiration can we also find our meaning that way? Are we perhaps insignificant in the face of the awesome beauty and power of nature as Constable’s painting might suggest? Poets have also taken their inspiration from the natural world. William Wordsworth, for example, regarded nature as his moral teacher and guide as well as the source of consolation and joy. In his poem composed in 1798, ‘The Tables Turned,’ he writes: ‘One impulse from a vernal wood May teach you more of man, Of moral evil and of good, Than all the sages can.’ On the other hand, another of our poets, Alfred Lord Tennyson, could write of nature being ‘red in tooth and claw,’ thereby drawing attention to its cruel streak. For, even nature-lovers must concede that besides appearing kind and generous, nature can seem heartless, even vindictive, at times as volcanoes, earthquakes, floods, droughts, forest fires and tsunamis devastate people and places in the world. It seems that nature is insufficiently constant upon which to base our hopes or give us an ultimate reason for living. However, the search for meaning and purpose can be extended to include a wide variety of human activities and enterprises. Looking to society, the community and human organisations for answers to our basic questions about life might appear to be fruitful at first except for a fundamental drawback. It is that although people are amazing in their creativity and achievements, it is our human weakness which lets us down. So putting our trust in governments, political systems, military force, or philosophies of one kind or another leaves us open to the dangers of manipulation and control. For instance, often in a desire for personal peace and comfort we can let things slip and allow principles to go by the board. And when apathy sets in people with their own agenda take control, the silent majority is not heard and, as they say, ‘anything goes’. So no final understanding of the meaning and purpose of life can be had by simply contemplating nature on its own. In isolation and without reference to its origin it can tell us little in those significant respects. Nor, it seems, can we place our hopes for answers in human endeavours which, however great they may be, are marred by our personal shortcomings and limitations. When the ancient Greek philosopher declared that ‘man is the measure of all things’ his apparent optimism is somewhat qualified by human pride and other failings. However, this does not mean that we cannot learn anything from the natural world or from human kind. Nothing could be further from the truth. For, pointing away from themselves, they are in fact testimony to God, directing our attention to Him as the creator and sustainer of the universe: the One who brings all things into existence and who keeps them in being. The theme of the first part of Psalm 19 is God’s reality and power demonstrated in creation: ‘The heavens are telling the glory of God; And the firmament proclaims his handiwork.’ St Paul takes up the same idea when he wrote: ‘Ever since the creation of the world (God’s) eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.’ (Romans I, v.20). Similarly, when it comes to human beings, as we reflect, for example, on the transcendent qualities of human consciousness and self-awareness which elevate us from the animal kingdom and which are inexplicable if the world began by chance, we ask how did it all happen? Surely it could not have come about unless a personal-infinite God created us to be like Him in such ways. In this way our humanity points away from ourselves to our origin in the creation of the universe. For the Bible informs us that we are made in the image and likeness of God. The search for an ultimate reality which makes sense of the world and gives meaning to our lives is most easily rewarded when we simply listen to what Scripture says: ‘The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it. ’(Psalm 24, v.1) ‘Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.’(Isaiah 55, v.6). Jesus said: ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’. If you know me, you will know my Father also’. (John 14, vv.6 and7). Whereas nature in itself is silent or at best non-committal and people are finite and fallible, we can turn to our Heavenly Father, who as Creator is behind nature and has spoken in the Bible, to know and to tell us how and why we are here.
Michael L. Diamond - December 2021
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MAKING SENSE OF LIFE by Rev Michael Diamond Please click below to download the article
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