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The meaning of life?
Dear Father Paul: I am a 64-year-old man who lately has been obsessed with looking back over my life in search of meaning. As I review the years and decades, I am finding it very hard to find any real meaning for my existence on planet earth. Why was I born … what’s my purpose for being here … what’s the meaning of life … etc? How would you answer these questions?— G. L.
Dear G. L.: You are not alone. Almost everyone who has ever lived has sooner or later asked themself these same questions. “Why am I here? What’s the purpose of my existence? What’s it all about? What’s the meaning of life?
The wisest (and probably the richest and most successful man in history), King Solomon in the Bible, like you, spent his later years searching for the answer to these very same questions until he found the answer. His story and the eventual answer he discovers are found in the short, 12- chapter, Book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament of the Bible.
In Ecclesiastes, written almost 3,000 years ago, Solomon reviews his entire life and the various things he had tried to find meaning and satisfaction in life. The book starts with Solomon’s view, held earlier in his life, that there really is, in fact, no meaning to life at all. None. You are born, you live and then you die. That’s it. That’s all there is. At the very beginning of the book in chapter one, verse two Solomon says, “Everything is meaningless, completely meaningless.” (New Living Translation). Millions of people today have this same view of life. How sad.
Solomon goes on for the next 11 chapters explaining his tremendous success in life … all that he has accomplished and what he has tried over the years to find meaning and satisfaction. And he concludes that these things in themselves only bring emptiness, hollowness and futility.
Solomon goes into great detail in pointing out what he has tried and found unsatisfying. Among many things, he mentions gaining vast knowledge and learning (education), hard work that led to much success, owning huge palaces, building beautiful parks and gardens, gaining awesome political power, attaining fabulous wealth, servants and hundreds of wives, as-well-as the finest food and wine and hosting big parties for his friends.
But he says in Ecclesiastes 2:11 that in the end all of these things he has done and gained in his entire life were “meaningless … like chasing the wind,” (New Living Translation).
Later in that same chapter Solomon says, “What is the value in all my wisdom. This is all so meaningless! For the wise person and the fool both die, and in the days to come, both will be forgotten. I am disgusted that I must leave the fruits of my hard work to others.” (New Living Translation). Basically, Solomon came to realize that all he had worked and strived for … all of the things that he thought were so valuable at the time, were, in fact worthless in eternity.
Solomon is not unlike an awful lot of us who spend our whole lives seeking things that are ultimately meaningless … things that do not provide eternal, lasting peace, joy and satisfaction. Pastors like me preside at the funerals of such people all of the time … people who spend entire lives chasing after such things as Solomon, only to die disillusioned, cynical and bitter like Solomon as he looked back over his life.
The story is told about two men standing on the sidewalk as the funeral procession of John D. Rockefeller passed by. One man asked the other, “Say, how much do you suppose he left?” To which the other man replied, “He left it all, every single cent.”
Fortunately for Solomon, he discovered the real meaning of life before he himself died. Solomon discovered the eternal truth that everything apart from God is empty, hollow and meaningless. At the end of Ecclesiastes in Chapter 12 Solomon concludes his search for the meaning of life by saying these profound words, “Here is my final conclusion: Fear (revere) God and obey his commands, for this is the duty of every person. God will judge us for every thing we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.” (New Living Translation).
May you G. L., myself, and all of us, find the true meaning of life like King Solomon did, while we still have the time to find it. I urge you to read this excellent little book of the Bible for yourself.
Do you have a question? Send your question to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will try to answer it in the paper.
[Father Paul Massey is Pastor Emeritus of Church of the Holy Cross in Fayetteville, Georgia. Visit www.holycrosschurch.wordpress.com for information, service times, directions and downloads of Sunday sermons.]