The Search for Meaning

Our conversation was fairly casual until she asked, “What would you say brings you meaning in life”? Though a complete stranger, (let’s call her Lisa), she was clearly anticipating my genuine response.

I was caught off guard.

My wife and I were on vacation in a little coastal town and happened to find ourselves in a local bookstore. Through casual conversation, Lisa explained how, after a mid-life crisis, she left everything to move to the place where she found true “meaning” in life--the beach. By her question, she encouraged me to relentlessly pursue whatever I felt was meaningful. This, she felt, would lead to the good life. 

Lisa’s question articulated a deep longing in every human heart. 

What is “meaning”? What “matters”? If there is such a thing as “meaning”, where is it found? 

None of these questions are new (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Philosophers have been wrestling with these questions for a long time. Even in the Old Testament, the author of Eccelesiastes wrestled with this concept of “meaning” (Ecclesiastes 1:1-3). 

Our present-day understanding of meaning has been deeply influenced by the last 200 years of thinking about “Meaning/meaning”. 

The message of the Modern Era (1800s-1900s) was that “meaning” no longer existed. Thinkers like Jean Paul-Sarte, Albert Camus, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell and others argued that there was ultimately no such thing as “Meaning” (capital “M”). According to these philosophers, all effort in life to find meaning is ultimately a wasted effort. As hard as we might search, a universal “Meaning” simply wasn’t there. All we were left with was the “absurdity” of a life without true “meaning”. 

This led to a harrowing outlook on life. Ironically, these thinkers stumbled onto the same truth captured in the book of Ecclesiastes thousands of years earlier: If there is no universal “Meaning”, then all of life is truly “vanity” or meaningless (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2).   

In response to this cold outlook on life, the Postmodern Era (1950s-Today)--led by philosophers like Jacques Derrida and others--took the very idea of “Meaning” and essentially said, “we don’t need it”. Postmodernism says, “don’t try to find the Meaning of life--just create your own”. 

According to postmodernism, “Meaning” is self-created and everyone has their own.

This is why Lisa asked, “what gives you meaning in life?” Because in postmodernism, no one right sense of “Meaning” exists--only individual “meanings”. Whatever works for you--whether it’s golf, family, religion, or the beach. In other words, we are all on a personalized quest for our own self-fulfillment.

But is this true? Are we free to claim our own meaning in life? Is there actually ultimate “Meaning” to life? 

Modernism said the search for meaning was coldly over for all of us. 
Postmodernism says the search for meaning never ends for each of us. 
The gospel says that Meaning came to us.

True Meaning

In Greek thought, the “Word” (Greek: logos) was a popular subject. The “logos” was the concept of the “divine order of the world”. In other words, the “logos” made sense of the world. It was the “logic” that structured the world. The logos was the “meaning” that orders our world.

“Logos” is the Word John uses in John 1 to describe Jesus.

"1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”

14And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory
as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

John says that the “logos” isn’t a concept to discover, create, or learn, it’s a Person to be trusted.

John claims, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that the “concept” that gives meaning, purpose, and explanation to our lives cut through space and time and dwelt among us. His name is Jesus.

John is saying we don’t have to continue on the never-ending quest for meaning. By using the word “logos”, John is saying the answer to the “meaning of life” question has a full and final answer in the person of Jesus.

And so as a result, we don’t have to go out and find meaning ourselves...Meaning has come into the world to find us.

He isn’t just a “divine order” or a principle or a rule to follow. He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). He speaks with authority to each of us because He created each of us.

Here is “Meaning” that cannot be fractured by a financial crisis or washed away by a hurricane. Here is “Meaning” that death itself could not destroy.

The philosophers aren’t the only ones on a search for truth and life. Deep down, all of us are trying to find our way in the quest for truth. We’re hoping that, in finding it, we can find life.

Fortunately, we don’t have to spend our lives blindly searching for truth along the way. The good news of the gospel is that the  “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” has fully and finally come to us (John 14:6).
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