What is the meaning of life? The answer to this question has puzzled philosophers, public intellects, and cultural elites through the centuries. There is hardly any agreement on the answer, and the rise of expressive individualism over the past ten years has heightened the subjectivity of the solutions proposed.
Figuring out the answer to the meaning of life is, in some sense, the most important answer to discover. Maybe you’ve wondered, What’s my purpose in life? Why am I here? Why did God create me? Despite varying responses from a broad spectrum of intellectual thought, the Christian faith is not uncertain about the answer to the meaning of life. The answer is located in the Bible, probably most notably from the book of Colossians.
Colossians is written by Paul. Weighing in at four chapters long, this Epistle is highly theological. As Paul often does in his letters, when he addresses the church at Colossae, he tackles particular issues the church is facing. The big issue at Colossae is heresy. I recount one seminary professor’s definition of heresy as “damnable error.” We don’t know exactly what this damnable error was, but it undermined the divinity of Jesus.
The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is fully God — equal in divinity with Father and Holy Spirit. The divinity of Jesus is a major theme in Colossians. But how does this teaching relate to the meaning of life? Such is the sentiment of one Psychology Today quote I discovered, in which the author said, “But even if God exists, and even if He had an intelligent purpose in creating us, no one really knows what this purpose might be, or that it is especially meaningful.”
The Apostle Paul disagrees. Consider Colossians 1:16: “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” We think Jesus is absent in the Old Testament, and then suddenly appears in the New Testament with the virgin birth at Christmas. Incorrect. Jesus is fully God and therefore has no beginning. And Paul teaches that all things were created by Jesus. Do you know the very first chapter in the Bible where it says that God created light, heaven, earth, sea and vegetation, birds, sea creatures, and so on? Do you know where Jesus was? Right there.
Jesus is the agent of Creation, the God-man who created all things, the One who rules and reigns, and has no beginning or end. Well and good. But what does intellectually subscribing to this fact accomplish for you existentially? Consider the last part of Colossians 1:16: “all things were created through him and for him.” This is where you come in. You are part of the “all things.” You were created by Jesus and for Jesus. This is the meaning of your existence. The Bible teaches that the ultimate meaning of life is not status or success, a position or place, but a Person. Jesus. He’s the meaning of life.
Building and borrowing from other themes of Scripture, humans were created for the glory of God. Glory means “weight” or “weightiness.” We were created by God to live in such a way that reveals his weightiness in everything we say and do. And by glorifying God, we find satisfaction.
The meaning of life from a Christian perspective is summed up well in the first question and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which says:
Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
You were created to glorify God. You glorify God by obeying him; you enjoy him by glorifying him. Obedience to God and enjoyment of God are interconnected. This might seem tyrannical and insecure on the part of the divine: Did God create us for his glory? Isn’t that selfish and insecure? No, because, “God, and God alone, is man’s highest good.” 1
God is not just sovereign and strong, but also good and satisfying. He is glorious. He is the Creator, you are the creature. He is the Potter, you are the clay. The Creator and Potter have a right to determine how things work. And this glorious God has ordained that living for him — knowing him, enjoying him, obeying him, glorifying him — is the path to the meaning of life. Far from being a killjoy, this is man’s highest good. No amount of money, status, or success can compare with knowing God. You can continue to run from God in hopes of finding fulfillment through worldly means, but you’ll be running in vain. God has created your heart in such a way that, apart from entering into a right relationship with him, you’ll always feel empty and miserable on the inside.
But don’t take it from me.
Tom Brady is an NFL Quarterback who is considered to be one of the best football players ever. He is married to a supermodel and together, they are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. While Tom Brady has more than three Superbowl championship victories on his resume now, he said something profound during an interview on 60 Minutes after winning his third Superbowl ring that has always stuck with me. The interviewer said, “with all that money, fame, and accomplishments in his life, we were surprised to hear this from Tom Brady.” And what did Brady say? Brady said, “Why do I have three Superbowl rings and still think there’s something greater out there for me?” He continues, “. . . I think there’s gotta be more than this.” The interviewer asks, “What’s the answer?” Brady responds, “I wish I knew.”
A common criticism against Christianity is that it is too restrictive. It limits unbelievers from authentic self-expression, so they say. Those who don’t embrace the faith feel as if the Christian religion places too many constraints on how to live, what to do with their body, how to conduct themselves morally, and so on. So they can never see themselves becoming Christians because it violates their true freedom. The thought of living for the glory of God seems to remove personal freedom.
Autonomy is good. It’s good to have desires and feelings and want to express yourself. But this way of thinking fails to see the purpose for which humans were created. It assumes you know what’s better for your life than God. It reveals an overly inflated view of man’s wisdom over God’s. Living for Christ will not ruin your life, but will be the beginning of true and meaningful life. I encourage you to turn to God today.
- Herman Bavinck, The Wonderful Works of God, p. 1. ↩