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The Meaning of Life

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The Meaning of Life

God Loves You Cross Heart Sky

 

The Meaning of Life

Iris Ching Lam Wong, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University


 

ABSTRACT

This article is presented as a discussion in two totally different and unrelated scenarios. They are processes of thinking, there may not be a conclusion. The first one is the main part of the article which is about God and meaning of life. The discussion consists of two different points of view: Christians’ (represented by Jesse), non-Christians’ (Amy and Iris). Issues such as Christians’ meaning of life and the rationality in believing in God are discussed in the scenario. God is not something that can be explained by physics or logical thinking, it is about faith. The second one is about selfishness, and whether if there is any intention that is not for our own good. It is illustrated by using voluntary work as an example. People are generally selfish, but there are still times people would give. Hence, not all intentions are selfish. .

Keywords: Faith, God, intention, life, meaning



Scenario 1

One day in Starbucks, Iris is chatting with her two best friends Amy and Jesse. Iris has just broken up with her boy-friend, she is so unhappy.

 

Does God’s existence give us the meaning of life?

Iris:         I feel so desperate now. I feel like I have lost the motivation to carry on. Why should I suffer? Why should I experience ups and downs? I’m totally tired of it! What’s the point of living anyway?

Amy:       Well… I don’t know. Maybe suffering is to give us chances to achieve a better self, and in my opinion, the meaning of life is to find our meaning of life.

Iris:         What do you mean?

Amy:       Haven’t you noticed that everyone is chasing after something in their life? For most of us, living is about setting up goals and achieving them so we would feel our life to be of some meaning and our existence is not something that doesn’t matter. Yet the process of making progress seems to be endless, you know, things could never be the best, only the better. Therefore, it seems pointless to make such achievement too. If there’s a God, I would really like to ask Him what I am here for and why we were created and the whole universe.

Jesse:     As a Christian, maybe I know the answer. According to the Bible, God created us because He loves us. It was suggested in Jeremiah 31:3 that “I have loved you with an everlasting love”. Everlasting love means He loved us before he created us. We are all created for a reason. God has individual plans for each of us. As long as we follow His plan, we would have the most fruitful life. For me, I am living to glorify God’s name and to spread the Good News of Salvation so as to make more people believe in Him and be saved.

Iris:       Then how about for non-believers like me and Amy? We are not living for God, would that mean we would have no meaning in life? If the meaning of life should be about Him, if He is really creating us because of love, how could He allow us to live without finding the true meaning of life? Wouldn’t He be doing something bad to us, the non-believers, despite His good intention of creation? Why did He not create with a clear direction so every one of us could have a great life?

Jesse:     …… (Looks clueless)

Amy:       I agree, many people in history did not believe in God but still could have a prosperous life. Did their life mean nothing then? Surely not! Since each of us is unique with different characters, each of us should have a unique meaning of life! If everyone is living for the same thing, wouldn’t the world be a little too boring? It is the uniqueness of people that make the world so interesting. I’m not saying that “living to glorify God” is meaningless. It could be a goal for living too. But it doesn’t mean that other things couldn’t be the goal for living. For example, if one loves art so much that they want to devote their whole life into the art industry, it could be their meaning of life too, just like you trying to devote your whole life for Jesus.

Iris:         I agree with you, Amy. God’s existence is not necessarily a matter for everyone. His existence could mean nothing for non-believers! God is just one option among all choices for the meaning of life.

Jesse:     Devoting your whole life to other things of course could make one’s life meaningful. Using your example, Amy, Christians could devote their life in the art industry too. But, the ultimate goal of life should be for God, since God is the creator, only living for Him would be the true meaning of life.

Iris:         So… Why should we believe in God if we could have a prosperous life with or without Him? Who cares about what should be the “true” meaning of life?

 

What is God?

Amy:       To be honest, I don’t really think God exists. “God” is just the main “ingredient” of a “religion”. And religion is a kind of culture that is created by man. Why I am saying this is that we could see all places around the world have their own religion. There are so many different “Gods” and they all claim that they are the true one. It shows a fact that religion is actually a spiritual need of people, for instance, to satisfy the emptiness of their heart, to feel that they have something to rely on so they would feel more secure, or for some people, it acts as an exit for feeling guilty since they believe the God is forgiving their sins. It could also act as a teaching material that has a good impact on society, be the indication for moral standard and so on. Therefore, the religious “God” exists because it is needed and therefore created by people.

Jesse:     Yes, religion has its functions. But it doesn’t mean that our Christian God is created by man because of its functions. These functions would still exist no matter whether God is real or not.

Iris:         I think the existence of God actually could not be proven or disproven since there is always evidence against His existence. It would just be an endless argument if we are only trying to find the answer by rational thinking. However, whether He is real or just a conceptual image, God should be all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving and omnipresent. This should be the basic definition of God, no matter according to the Bible or the philosophers.

Amy:       But wouldn’t it be irrational in believing, if no concrete proof could be given?

 

Is it rational to believe in God?

Iris:         Jesse, why do you believe in God then?

Jesse:     It is difficult to explain, maybe because of the spiritual experiences I had, or that I know He would bring me more good than harm… and only through Him could many things be explained so it would be irrational for me not to believe.

Iris:         What facts could God explain?

Jesse:     Umm… Have you heard of the cosmological argument?

Amy:       Yes, that’s an argument for the existence of a first cause to the universe.

Iris:         Could you elaborate more?

Jesse:     Everything in the universe happens for a reason, right? Like paper is made from wood; wood is from trees; while trees grow because of sunlight and water… When we trace back step by step, we will finally ask a question: “Where’s the universe from?” According to the cosmological argument, the answer to the question would be “God”. God is the creator of the universe and He is the first cause, for example, He causes everything, but He himself is not caused by anything else. He is everlasting and self-caused.

Iris:         But it’s not fair. Why should everything have a cause while God could be an exception?

Amy:       Yes. Actually I don’t think the argument is convincing either. Why should we stop the chain of asking why at “God” but not the universe? Couldn’t the universe be self-caused instead? If there must be a first cause, why must it be “God”? I think this argument is just trying to give a reason for the cause of the universe unconvincingly because no reasonable causes could be found. At the same time, due to the omnipotent characteristic of God, it can therefore be used as a solution. So, I don’t think the cause should be God. It could be by chance (no matter how small it is), by evil… or anything else. It’s just the choice of what people want to believe.

Jesse:     (laughed) Calm down, Amy. Let me try to answer the questions one by one. First, of course God could be self-caused. If not, there would be something that created God. This would make “God” no longer perfect. Therefore the chain would stop after agreeing “God created the universe”

Iris:         Ok… Then why couldn’t the chain be stopped at the universe?

Jesse:     I don’t know if you have noticed that why everything on earth should have a cause is because they are all physical, we can see and touch it and explain it with science. But God is different from what we understand physically, in other words, it is non-physical. Due to the difference in nature, God could be the first cause but not the earth or the universe because they are physical. And actually Amy’s right. God being the first-cause is just a prediction because He is a very good candidate. However, could you find a better candidate other than God?

Iris:         Hmmm… Yet, even if God is a possible cause, it does not make Him the true cause. Being possible does not necessarily mean it is the answer. After all, who knows exactly where the universe comes from?

Amy:       (laughed) what are we discussing? We have been off the topic since the very beginning. Anyway, you should cheer up and continue your life, Iris.

Iris:         (Cry) Oh… You reminded me… I feel so sad again.

 

Scenario 2

One day, Iris was planning what to do in her summer with Amy.

 

What is your intention?

Iris:         Look! There are four months for our summer vacation! Let’s visit Taipei and go shopping!

Amy:       (delighted) Good idea! We can also go to the theme parks!

Iris:         Yes! But would it be a bit meaningless if we are playing the whole vacation?

Amy:       What do you want to do then?

Iris:         How about some volunteer work? Like this one, it’s about visiting some elderly people who live alone. They seem lonely and lack others’ care. I want to do something for them.

Amy:       Oh! Seems it could make our vacation more meaningful. But could you give me some time to think about it? It makes me think about the meaning of doing volunteer work.

Iris:         Undoubtedly, being a volunteer is to help others! There are always people who need help. Helping them could make their life easier and happier.

Amy:       But are you sure we are not doing this for ourselves? Like this time, when we are planning our holiday, the first thing we think of is to play. Then we want some meaningful activities therefore we want to do volunteer work. I don’t think we are doing this out of love or for those in need. It reminds me of a theory which suggests that people are always motivated to do everything by self-interest like money or appreciation from others.

Iris:         Even if we are doing the volunteer work because of our wants, it doesn’t mean that we do not care about the elderly. Couldn’t there be more than one motivation, like one is to make our holiday more meaningful; on the other hand to serve the interests of the elderly? People always describe volunteer work as an activity that helps yourself also when you are trying to help others.

Amy:       Are you sure it is about “caring” but not psychological comfort? You may feel uncomfortable if you do not do something for them, so you are helping them. Are you sure you are willing to help just because they need help rather than you want to help?

Iris:         Yes, it is a possible consequence that I would feel bad if I know I cannot do anything for them. But it doesn’t mean I am doing this to make myself feel better. They are not necessarily of causal relationship.

Amy:       You seem to be right. But if you are saying that you are doing volunteer work out of love and care, will you still choose to be a volunteer if you can gain nothing, including happiness and satisfaction from it, or even have some conflicts like you have to give up something important before you can help?

Iris:         Well, in this case, I think I need some time for consideration.

Amy:       See? We are thinking about ourselves while considering. How about if I ask the other way round? If you know that you can never truly help the elderly, but you can still gain satisfaction and happiness after doing so, will you still choose to be a volunteer?

Iris:         Umm… Maybe yes, maybe no. I’m not sure. Maybe you are right about the motivation of our acts. Though I insist there should be acts out of other reasons, like love and care, we are motivated mainly by self-interest. But it is comprehensible, isn’t it? We are humans, and being self-centered is kind of our nature, we are born with it to survive through competitions and difficult times.

Amy:       I don’t think there are any problems, as long as we are not being selfish without considering others or at the expense of others’ interests.

Iris:         So… should we join the volunteer work?

Amy:       Okay! I have decided. Since it doesn’t violate my principle and I really want to help them, let’s join it together!

Iris:         Great!

 

REFERENCES

Chun, J. (2012). Being philosophical: Invitation to philosophical thinking. HK: McGraw-Hill Education.

Law, S. (2003). The philosophical gym: 25 short adventures in thinking. NY: Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin Press.

 

ASSIGNMENT SUMMARY

The assignment connected to this paper required the author to write an article which contains at least two issues discussed in class. Among all the issues she chose “Does God Exist?” and “Are we selfish all the time?” This course introduced what philosophers from different places and times thought about the issues and required students to develop their own ideas by reasoning and logical thinking.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Iris Ching Lam Wong is a nursing student, studying about love and taking care of others, and also responsibility and other qualities. She is also a Christian and she likes thinking about God and the meaning of life. She enrolled in the GE course – Invitation to Western Philosophical Thinking because she thought maybe philosophy could give her answers. The thoughts she had during that time are the result of these articles.

 

  1. Like. Good work.

    I remember the argument about the first cause is later refined by scholars. Instead of saying “everything have a cause”, they say “thing that has a start has a cause”…so since universe has a start, it has a cause. On the other, God does not has a start, He don’t have a cause… Cheers

  2. Or, Tom, to piggyback off your thoughts: What if the reason why many of us do not think to question existence beyond the Divine or as Wong puts it, “this argument is just trying to give a reason for the cause of the universe unconvincingly because no reasonable causes could be found,” is a result of of fear – fear of discovering an answer (or answers) that would extend way beyond our limited ability to fathom (even more so than we do with God)? Or, as Arthur C. Clarke ponders somberly: “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”

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