Finding Meaning In Life

By William C. Sexton

Thomas Jefferson, in the first sentence of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Recently I read a book, The Pursuit of Meaning, in which the author suggested that happiness is an illusive term or principle, implying the pleasure principle, meaning is more a proper subject of pursuit! (Joseph B. Fabry).

Fabry was a student of and an admirer of Viktor E Frankl, who survived Hitler’s Camp of extermination and has written several books dealing with meaning. Two of them I have read recently: The Will to Meaning (1970) and the Unheard Cry For Meaning (1978). The basic thesis of these books is: meaning is a primary concern of man! Man is ever seeking for meaning; if it is not found, he seeks to end his life in despair!

Does The Bible Address Such?

Yes! I believe that it does. Many are the passages that so deal with the subject, among them are these: Matthew 9:13; Acts 10:17; 21:13; 2 Timothy 4:6-8.

“But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

“Now while Peter doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen should mean, behold the men which were sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate.”

“Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

“For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing”

In these passages, we see the need for meaning. Jesus pointed to the need for the people critically observing Him to understand the meaning of a passage which they proposed to believe (Matt. 9:13)! Peter, having seen a vision, does not understand how that fits into the plan of God in which he is involved; he clearly needs to be able to see meaning in what has happened (Acts 10: 17). Paul, saw meaning in the course of action that he was pursuing and, regardless of the uncertain results, he was determined to follow through to the end, believing that even if he lost his life God would be served and his mission fulfilled (Acts 21:13)! At the end, his death was certain; yet, he was not regretful! Instead, he was looking forward to the reward, the ultimate toward which he has been moving (2 Tim. 4:6-8)! Yes, beloved, there was a need for meaning! Paul found it, Peter was seeking, and others, to be successful must seek and find it.

What Is Meaning?

Frankl says, “Meaning is that which is meant, be it by a person who asks me a question, or by a situation which, too, implies a question and calls for an answer” (The Will To Meaning, p. 62). When we seek to give a full, clear definition of meaning, it is not all that easy; it is harder, than it first seems. Synonyms for meaning are “sense,” “import,” “signification,” “significance.” The opposite of meaning is “meaningless” (having no meaning; without significance, senseless).

Meaning is not the same as “means.” Confusion can and does occur at times. Finding meaning in life (that which is valuable) makes sense, has significance to the person involved!

“The fact remains that meaning is available under any circumstance, even the worse conceivable ones” (Frankl). Fabry, as a therapist, has as his aim: to guide people “toward understanding them – as they are and could be and their plan in the totality of living.” As Christians, we have discovered certain truths about ourselves and about the universe, which makes it possible for us to find meaning. (1) We have been created in the image of God (Gen. 1:2627); (2) Therefore, we are responsible to Him and capable of submitting to His instructions, and when we fail, we SIN and shall receive sin’s “wages” (Rom. 6:23); (3) We can and have obtained forgiveness and started over by (a) believing in Jesus as God’s remedy for sin; (b) repenting of our sins; (c) confessing our faith; (d) being baptized to have our sins washed away by the blood of Christ (Acts 22:16; Acts 17:30-31; Rom. 10:9-10; Mk. 16:16). (4) Now, being children of God, we are responsible toward others (Rev. 2: 10; 2 Tim. 2:2; Mk. 15:15-16). We are grateful for the relationship we have and we are so glad that we can serve God, being guided by the authority of His Son (Mt. 28:18; Col. 3:17).

We see that we have freedom to act, choices to make! He does not force us to serve Him, but He gives us that right and charges us with certain responsibilities! We can and must find meaning as we act, regardless of the reception that we receive.

Each person has his uniqueness! Frankl points to a person and his response, which I believe rather well points to each person’s uniqueness: “If I don’t do it, who will do it! If I don’t do it now, when should I do it! If I do it for myself only, what am I?” This points to the uniqueness of the time available to each individual, the person and his responsibility. No one can do what another is charged with. Transcendence – no person lives or dies to himself; he has a social and spiritual duty to the other creatures of God (Rom. 14:7-9; 15:1-3).

Aimlessness And Emptiness Difficulties For Many

The Bible speaks of vain action, fruitless behavior (Rom.1:19-22; 1 Pet. 1: 18). Being “vain” in the real sense brings no real fruits in the eternal sense. It may not be recognized for sometime, by some, however. Many are coming to realize that there is no real meaning in what they are doing. Living for instant pleasure, pleasure vanishes! Therefore, many are in trouble, finding life hard to live! As a therapist, Frankl was dealing with people needing meaning! We as Christians, too, have to deal with people needing meaning!

There are three ways in which a person can see needed values – three different types of services that we may render and see that we are fulfilling our mission, even though we are not achieving all that we’d like to.

(1) Creative action wherein we give to the world, the community of humanity among which we live, move, and have our being (Acts 17:28; Rom. 1:14-15).

(2) Experiential action wherein we get from the community of mankind that which we value, consider our due (Jn. 4:34; 1 Thess. 2:19-20; Phil. 4:18).

(3) Attitudinal action wherein we can’t rally do anything about the fate we are facing, but that we can manifest a stance that is right. That was Paul’s situation in Caesarea, a fate which he deemed that he could not change; nevertheless, he was determined to make his stand Acts 16:25ff; 25:10-12).

There are two types of values: ultimate and moment. Our mental health depends on us finding meaning in our present situation. We are free to find, but it cannot be given! We need to see ourselves as being: (1) irreplaceable (I can be taken away, but I cannot be replaced): (2) each moment is unrepeatable (once it has passed, it cannot be recalled or repeated, it is gone for ever); (3) I must act to be true to myself!

Man Has The Will To Meaning

It is man’s responsibility to find meaning! It is within his power to do so! He has to see the whole framework; his presence has to make sense, have significance, have purpose. He has to be fulfilling self as he understands his role in the universe, as a creature responsible to the Maker!

Each has a perception of self as an individual on the earth, among men. Each person, also sees self as a citizen, neighbor, family-member – all from the stand point of a creature of God. Being a creature of God, a Christian believes that he has a duty to others, to make a contribution to them (cf. Mt. 20:27-28). He should be like Jesus who came to minister, not to be ministered to.

Being true to oneself requires that one do that which is right even if no other so believes (cf. 1 Cor. 4:3). Paul was not all that concerned about pleasing others, knowing that God was the real and only true and final judge of his actions.

Stance is important. Even if he can’t change the actions of others, he can still be true to his mission and find meaning, even if people are going to take his life (cf. Acts 16:25; 2 Tim. 4:6-8). Man needs meaning. To live is Christ, to die is gain (Phil. 2:21)!

The tragic triad, pain, guilt, and death, is inevitable to the man or woman without Christ, if man cannot put it all in a framework that makes sense. All have made and still make mistakes; likewise, all have suffered, and will probably be required to suffer more in the future; all of us look forward to death – it is coming to each, as time passes, though we don’t know when!

Forgiveness of sinful action is available through Christ; pain can be endured and make us mindful that we are moving toward a goal; death can be faced, as a door into an eternity of bliss. In that framework, one can have a sense of dignity, purpose in the worst of conditions that can be brought on by evil men.

So many today, however, are not functioning from that framework or foundation. So many have been taught that “in the final analysis, life is nothing more than a combustion process, an oxidation process.” When such is presented as being scientific, we need to jump up and demand, “What meaning, then, does life really have?”

Beloved, have you found meaning in Christ for your life? If not, then we urge you to seek and find! Having found that, it is an ongoing process, activity! We must find it daily, hourly – all the way along life’s roadway!

If we are finding meaning in life, then let us challenge the false views, fruitless behaviors, stimulate men and women to find meaning in Christ (Jn. 14:6; 6:37). Meaning has to be found; it can’t be given!

Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 9,pp. 271-272
May 3, 1984