Homer Simpson has a conversation with God. In The Simpsons episode entitled “Homer the heretic,” the conversation goes like this:
Homer:God, what’s the meaning of life?
God:Homer, I can’t tell you that, you’ll find out when you die.
Homer: Oh, I can’t wait that long.
God: You can’t wait six months?
Homer: No, tell me now.
God:Oh, OK. The meaning of life is ... [Theme music, credits and the show ends].
Wait a moment! This is the important bit. That’s at least a little more thought-provoking than the answer found in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. In the film, Michael Palin is handed an envelope, which he opens and says rather nonchalantly, “Well, it’s nothing very special. Uh, try to be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try to live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.”
OK, that’s not deep, but it is better than that given by the giant computer Deep Thought in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It was asked to find the answer to life, the universe and everything. After seven-and-a-half million years it came up with an answer—42. But by then no-one could remember the question.
Rick Warren begins his book The Purpose Driven Life with a four-word paragraph about the meaning of life, “It isn’t about you.” While some might like to think the world revolves around them, it has to be far bigger than any individual.
“If you want to know why you were placed on this planet,” adds Warren, “you must begin with God.”
The atheist philosopher of the early 20th century, Bertrand Russell, agrees—at least in this sense: “Unless you assume the existence of God, the question of life’s meaning and purpose is irrelevant.”
Begin with God? The Bible begins with God: “In the beginning, God created... .” God creates humans in His own image. Read this as being about God being interested in having a relationship with us. This is more than giving life—an amoeba has that. This is about life and love, and about love that gives freedom—especially the freedom to choose, to choose even to rebel.
The Bible begins with God bringing order out of chaos. By the third chapter human rebellion reintroduces chaos. The relationship with God is fractured and the picture changes. The first humans are no longer safe and secure in a garden; they begin to scratch out a living in the wastelands.
So we wonder about God. We wonder why He doesn’t fix the problems. War. Violence. Murder. Cancer. Abuse. And the problems become questions—questions about God; questions about the meaning of life.
We forget too easily that we are the rebels, not God. Choices have consequences. The Bible begins with God and is consistent in showing Him working behind the scenes to draw us back to Himself. You find it in the stories: Noah; Abraham; Moses; David; Solomon. You find it in the writings: Exodus; Jeremiah; Isaiah; Ezekiel; Hosea.
The picture is of God attempting to restore a relationship. You soon discover it’s about love. Arms-stretched-out-wide love. Arms-stretched-out-and-nailed-to-a-cross love. Here is the ultimate act of love. The Son of God dying the death we, the rebels, deserve.
Even better, the Son of God rises from the tomb. His victory over death makes real the promise of life eternal for His followers. We are not forgotten.
The Bible begins in Genesis 1 with God creating and ends in Revelation 22 with a triple promise from the Son of God: “I am coming soon!” “I am coming soon!” “I am coming soon!” That’s when the restoration will be complete.
We may say that “soon” is not soon enough, but God works to His schedule, not ours. He understands the situation better than we do. Our hope and our comfort is bound in the fact that He is there, He is at work and He is coming.
“A world without God would be a world in which gravity pulled us down and there would be no counterforce to lift us up,” says Rabbi Harold Kushner, “to cleanse us if we had sullied ourselves when we stumbled and fell, and assure us we are worthy of a second chance.”
Then he adds, “In a world without God, we would be all alone.....”
Thank God, we aren’t alone. There’s no question that, in the search for life’s meaning and purpose, God helps provide a more satisfying answer than 42.
King Solomon's Search for Meaning
King Solomon Tried It All!
As King of Israel, Solomon undertook a massive research project—his goal was to find meaning and fulfilment in life. The book of Ecclesiastes is a report of his discoveries. Here is a list of all of the futile ways Solomon tried to put meaning into his life (as described in Ecclesiastes chapter 2).
I said to myself, “Come now, be merry; enjoy yourself to the full.” But found that this, too, was futile. For it is silly to be laughing all the time; what good does it do?
So, after a lot of thinking, I decided to try the road of drink, while still holding steadily to my course of seeking wisdom.
Through Foolish Behaviour
Next I changed my course again and followed the path of folly, so that I could experience the only happiness most men have throughout their lives.
Then I tried to find fulfilment by inaugurating a great public works program: homes, vineyards, gardens, parks and orchards for myself, and reservoirs to hold the water to irrigate my plantations.
Next I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born within my household. I also bred great herds and flocks, more than any of the other kings before me. I collected silver and gold as taxes from many kings and provinces.
Through Cultural Arts
In the cultural arts, I organized men’s and women’s choirs and orchestras.
Through Sexual Pleasure
And then there were my many beautiful concubines.
Do you have any idea how many wives and concubines Solomon had? He had 700 wives and 300 concubines! Does that seem a bit excessive? Can you imagine the family problems he must have had?
Through Fame and Power
So I became greater than any of the kings in Jerusalem before me, and with it all I remained clear-eyed, so that I could evaluate all these things.
Through Unrestrained Self-indulgence
Anything I wanted, I took, and did not restrain myself from any joy.
I even found great pleasure in hard work. This pleasure was, indeed, my only reward for all my labours.
And after all of this searching, and experimenting, and analysing, Solomon discovered, “But as I looked at everything I had tried, it was all so useless, a chasing of the wind, and there was nothing really worthwhile anywhere” (Ecclesiastes 2:11, TLB).
For an additional 10 chapters Solomon continues to analyse life’s experiences. And after all of that, he concludes, “Here is my final conclusion: fear God and obey His commandments, for this is the entire duty of man. For God will judge us for everything we do, including every hidden thing, good or bad” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).
God wants us to see Him as the source of our fulfilment, instead of seeking it through others and things. Don’t become consumed with all the good things in your life. Keep your focus on God and thank Him for the blessings He gives. Fulfilment is to be the by-product of our purpose for life, not the reason for our existence.
God created us to please Him. That is the only legitimate purpose for life. 2 Corinthians 5:9 says, “So we make it our goal to please Him.”
King Solomon has shown us the paths that lead to emptiness. Everything apart from God is meaningless. We must find our fulfilment in God and His purpose for our lives.