Everyone wants to be happy. Everyone wants to find meaning in life. Pause for a moment and ask yourself the following questions. What is it that you are living for? What is it that makes you tick? What is the one thing that you believe will give you purpose? How has that worked out for you so far?
A disturbing truth
In the Old Testament there is a book called Ecclesiastes. It’s a kind of autobiography written by someone called ‘The Teacher’. He is someone who has lived life well and seen it all. The Teacher was a man of all seasons, a man who is searching for happiness and meaning. He is a man who has pursued everything to find it: wisdom, learning, pleasure, toil and achievement. Each time his verdict comes across as pessimistic. It was all meaningless!
To be clear, when the Teacher states that everything is ‘meaningless’ he isn’t saying everything is ‘without meaning.’ The original word used is hebel and is better translated as a vapour or smoke. The image shows us that, for the Teacher, happiness and meaning are elusive. I wonder whether you feel the same? We search for meaning in our lives, but nothing ever seems to quite fit the bill. We attain one goal, maybe a higher wage, the latest piece of technology, a wider circle of friends and we might be happy for a while. That is, until ambition gets the better of us and we set ourselves another goal and this vicious cycle continues.
The Teacher also observes one very disturbing thing: we all die, and when we do, what then? ‘Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labour that he can carry in his hand’ (Ecc. 5:15).
The God-shaped hole
Our continuing, failing search for meaning and happiness is actually a symptom of living in a crooked world and it’s that same crookedness which affects every fibre of our being too.
In 398AD, Augustine, one of the most influential theologians in church history, said:
You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.
What Augustine was getting at was an idea found right at the start of the Bible. This is the idea that human beings have been created ‘in the image of God.’ That means we have been created to know God, yet because the world is a crooked place and that crookedness affects us, we fail to see that all we could ever need is found in God. We pursue other things and replace God with stuff. When we do this, we alienate ourselves from the very God we have been created to know.
One of the most popular books in recent years is Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. He covers the whole narrative of history up to where we are heading in the future. His great conclusion is this:
We are more powerful than ever before, but have very little idea what to do with all that power… We are consequently wreaking havoc on our fellow animals and on the surrounding ecosystem, seeking little more than our own comfort and amusement, yet never finding satisfaction. Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?
Harari is right, but he fails where so many of us do. Happiness and meaning don’t have to be elusive. In fact, true happiness and meaning isn’t! God is there, and he cares about these things for us. God wants us to be satisfied. He wants us to be happy. He wants us to find meaning, but he wants us to find it in the right place. He wants us to find it all in him.
This is where God’s great answer to our predicament comes. Far from being apathetic towards us and our situation, God comes to us and offers us all that we need. He does this in the person of Jesus Christ. During his ministry Jesus invited people to come to him:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matt. 11:28-29).
This same invite goes out to all today.
Pursuing happiness and meaning and failing to find it is exhausting. It leaves us weary, broken and guilty but Jesus offers rest. He offers fulfilment. He offers life. He offers forgiveness for all the years we’ve ignored him. He’s so committed to giving this to us that he came to this earth and went to the cross for us. In coming and living among us, he identifies with the frustration of life under the sun, but he also takes the judgement we deserve for ignoring God our whole lives when he dies on the cross. Since he takes the judgement we deserve there is satisfaction, happiness, meaning, and acceptance in Jesus.
Pause for a moment and consider. What is the meaning of your life?
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