Revealed – the meaning of Life


Isn’t the meaning of life the most profound and elusive mystery of all, unknown to most of us? Surely anyone who tells you they have the answer is joking, mad or simply mistaken…

I hope not, because I think I could answer the question. I can do this, not because I am especially wise. If only! I can do it because it has all been done already… I think…

But first you’ve got to understand that you can’t expect to get a sensible answer unless you ask a sensible question. But what the hell is “What’s the meaning of life?” or “What’s it all about?” supposed to mean? They may be grammatical, but so are “What’s the meaning of cheese?” and “What’s grass all about?” – and I dare anyone to give a serious answer to either.

We think of the quest for life’s meaning as like a journey along a yellow brick road which will lead us to an awesome, mysterious source of all the answers. The truth is that, like the Wizard of Oz, the grandeur and remoteness of the meaning of life is all just a front. Pull back the curtain and the mystery vanishes.

If the meaning of life is not some esoteric piece of wisdom, a hidden key that, once discovered, will unlock the secrets of the universe and end our quest for understanding, then what is it? It might help to start by trying to imagine what you’d really like to know.

The most natural interpretation is that we all are in a way puzzled by why we are all here. But even that is ambiguous. Is that a question about where we came from or where we’re going?

Compare that to a more mundane question, such as why on earth you are sitting in the front row waiting for a Steve Hofmeyr concert to begin. One answer is because you bought a ticket. That explains why you’re there in a backward-looking way. Another answer is that you’re there because you want to hear Steve sing, which explains your presence in a forward-looking (though somewhat mysterious) way. The explanation you are interested in depends on what you need to know. If you just wake up to find yourself in this scenario, it’s the backward-looking explanation you need. If you’re having last-minute doubts about the wisdom of your choice of entertainment, the forward-looking explanation is what should exercise you.

I never thought I would say this, but in this very particular sense, life is like a Steve Hofmeyr concert: if we want to know why we are here, we can look backwards or forwards, and the answers we get, or fail to get, are very different and satisfy different needs.

It is perhaps surprising how often it is assumed that a look back to our origins will lead us to the meaning of life. It certainly did not work out that way for Victor Frankenstein’s creation. He was desperate to know where he had come from and, unlike us, he discovered the awful truth. Yet the revelation did not shed light on his life’s meaning, it just pissed him off. What is true of the monster is true of us: knowing why your creator made you does not settle the question of life’s meaning, which is one reason why believing in God does not make as big a difference to how we understand the meaning of life as may be supposed.

Oh yes, I, as Christian, can argue that I have only one purpose – to serve and to live for the Glory of God, but deep inside I still always want to know the answer to more – that one little nagging question: what is the meaning of MY life?? And meaning and purpose although supportive of each other are definitely not the same.

And the fact that I might not know the answer (yet) does not mean that life has no meaning. It just means, that human life might not come with any pre-assigned meaning. Life’s meaning is not given to it by its Creator.

Might it be that, perhaps then, YOU are the main (and possibly only) contributor of meaning to your life?

And rather than answer the question of why we are here by looking backwards, we should look forwards. What future purpose or goal would make this life worth living? The problem with this line of inquiry was identified more than two millennia ago by the patron philosopher of common sense, Aristotle. His point was that we do many things for the sake of something else.

We eat to live, work to pay the mortgage, study to pass exams and so on. But unless at least one thing is done for its OWN sake, there is no point in doing anything. Not everything can be a means to an end: there must be ends which are valuable in their own right. So if living must at some stage be valuable in itself, if it is to be worthwhile, why not here and now?

To put it rather dramatically: Why should we think that this life, with all its problems and pressures, really is valuable or have any worth in itself? And even though I would dearly like to live up to my purpose (that of serving and living to the Glory of God), I still have personal problems and fears and failures (and bills) to face every day – and NOTHING I do to address these in my human form can be ignored just because I am in the process of living a meaningful life.

All of us know of things that give life value.  But one person’s list might entail focusing less on their own pleasures and helping eliminate the poor and underpriviledged terrible suffering another person’s may be helping their own children build their lives and yet another’s may be winning a personal struggle (sickness, depression, death, divorce).

This is why there can be no final answer to the question of life’s meaning. There are many things that make life worth holding on to and savouring. But life is unpredictable and we are often mysteries even to ourselves. We think success, happiness, helping others, or surpassing ourselves will make life worth living, but we can always be wrong or frustrated by events.

And that’s it. I could go into more detail; address more of those nagging doubts; explain why having a religious worldview would change things a little, but not as much as you might think; and hopefully present a more complete and convincing argument. But the basic answer would be the same: the only sense we can make of the idea that life has meaning is that there are some reasons to live rather than to die, and those reasons are to be found in the living of life itself.

I know that may not seem like enough, but if you expect a 5-course a la carte banquet, even a eat-as-much-as-you-want (or can) buffet looks shabby in comparison. Trying to work out the meaning of life can be rather like trying to connect a new sound system to accommodate your DSTV decoder, dvd player, TV, hi-fi set and amp, via and through all the plugs and inlet/output sockets in order to get the surround sound from and to all devices and control them all with one remote control – when you realize you’re missing a wire and HiFiCorporation is closed for the long weekend…

The meaning of life? What gives meaning to your life is the fulfillment, achieving or accomplishing of your (and God’s) purpose for you. Unless you know what’s expected of you, you’ll keep yourself busy with serving your problems, your illness, your shortcomings, your finances, your job, your responsibilities, your need to compare yourself with the Jones’s  and your ultimate survival instead of life serving you and your purpose.

If you’re still trying to find the meaning of life, the real problem might be that you’re trying to put together an elaborate Maråker cabinet when you have only got a standard three-shelf Billy bookcase (and you have a book collection totalling 10  – including 5 Reader’s Digest collected works and 2 family Bibles). 

Might something only seem to be missing because you’re expecting much more?

“Although a man may have no jurisdiction over the fact of his existence, he can hold supreme command over the meaning of existence for him.”  Norman Cousins

25 Responses to “Revealed – the meaning of Life”

  1. September 22, 2008 at 5:51 am

    Biebs, ek het al gister-aand hier gelees, en dit het gevoel of ek raas kry 😆
    Dis is ‘n baie “powerfull” inskrywing, baie goed gedoen!

    Na iemand hierdie inskrywing gelees het, kan en sal hulle nie meer wonder oor die doel van die lewe nie!

    Lekker week!

  2. 2 BB
    September 22, 2008 at 6:07 am

    Oh Wippie 😳 – ek wonder dan nou éérs… :mrgreen:

  3. 3 Jaco
    September 22, 2008 at 10:19 am

    Eish! My head hurts. Dit voel dan half vir my of ek iewers iets mis? Maar ek sal weer terugkom en weer kom lees.

  4. 4 BB
    September 22, 2008 at 10:26 am

    Iewers iets mis Narcie??!! 😯
    As ek daai laaste sin van my weer lees: “Might something only seem to be missing because you’re expecting much more?” dan worry ek nou….
    You were expecting MORE??!!! 🙄


  5. 5 BB
    September 22, 2008 at 10:28 am

    /me sal in die vervolg meer profound questions of life met haarself uitbaklei… julle kan nie imagine hoe ‘diep’ Helge wroeg as ek hom peper met sulke vraagstukke Sondagoggende served sprankelend met sy eerste koppie koffie ini bed :mrgreen:
    Condolences may be submitted to “The Man” via my website’s contact form 😉

  6. September 22, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    Sjoe. Ek dink die “Meaning of Life” is ‘n aanhoudende proses van self-ondersoek. Elke individu moet sy eie betekenis vind.

    Ek wonder steeds oor die God-ding – beteken dit nou as ek nie in God glo nie, my lewe sonder betekenis is?

    Vir my is die wonder van die lewe juis opgesluit in hierdie weersprekendheid. Sommige mense kan natuurlik in hulle geloof hul lewens betekenis gee. Ander, aan die anderkant, vind betekenis in ander dinge. Vir my is dit die leef van die lewe wat betekenis gee. Dit is ‘n unieke ervaring – betekenis word gedefinieer deur wat ek van die lewe maak – en deur my verhouding met ander mense.

    Is “meaning” en “purpose” dieselfde?

  7. 7 Jaco
    September 22, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    Wat jy eintlik hier sê is dat die meaning of life eintlik nie relevant is nie, en dat die vraag wat ons eerder moet vra is “what is the purpose of life”. Want sonder purpose kan daar nie meaning wees nie?

  8. 8 BB
    September 22, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    Nee Emil – ek dink juis nie die dieselfde nie. dis soos jy self sê – die meaning is IN die proses – die purpose is die doel…
    Vir my as Christen/gelowige is die antwoord op jou vraag of my lewe sonder geloof in God sonder betekenis sou wees maklik: Ja! As ek glo dat ek geskep is, moet ek noodwendig glo dat ek vir ‘n doel geskape is – as ek ‘n dier was, sou my ‘doel’ in die ‘food chain’ begin en geeindig het – only a Creator can decide on His creation’s purpose – if I where but a coincidence (in other words a mere nageslag van ‘n voortplantingsinstink soos met diere die geval is – for the purpose of a species’ survival and or feeding another one’s survival) then what??
    Do you think even the higher intelligence species (apes, dolphins… ag daar’s seker nog baie – olifante come to mind – hulle hou tog afterall begrafnis) wonder ooit oor die nut en betekenis van hulle bestaan?
    Thanks vir jou comment, though!! Ek waardeer soos altyd!

  9. September 22, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    Hierdie is nie ‘n “tag” nie, dis sommer ‘n vraag wat ek op ‘n paar blogs loslaat om te sien wat julle deesdae in SA drink. My idee is die volgende: ek wil ‘n minibar (so groot soos ‘n coolbag) saamtrek op ons reis deur SA en dan wil ek oral waar ons uitspan langs die swembad, my vroutjie verras met classy long drinks, wat mooi lyk en lekker (s)maak.

    Ek soek nie cocktails nie, want dan loop ek my dood tussen kombuis en swembad. Ook nie te sterk drankies wat mens na twee doppe laat slinger nie.

    Wat is jou gunsteling long drink en hoe maak ek dit?

  10. 10 BB
    September 22, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    If I answered your question here, I would make a complete farce of this blog entry…
    Eerstens: ek waardeer dit as jy by my blog inval om jou eier te lê – al is dit ‘n gebakte, gekookte, sunny-side up, scrambled kinda eier – MAAR om sommer net in te val, NIE my inskrywing te lees nie (nie eens die eerste paragraaf nie, nie eens ‘n witty comment te los oor jou rede vir die ‘in die rede val’ – m.a.w. in hierdie geval “alkohol” in which case I’m sure you could’ve come up with something remotely funny like : “Alcohol is the meaning – hangover is the purpose” en dán jou vraag te plak, sou jy by my ‘n hele rits reseppies gekry het, wat die mens als met Vodka kan vermag…. maar so??? Nee!! U-uh!
    Now here’s a bit of advice: If I need attention or visitors or a contribution of any kind to my blog – I go read others; leave carefully structured, amusing and sympathetic but always sincere comments – after which I am quite sure, most of the blog-owners where I’ve been, will visit mine – THEN I’ll post my question on my own blog, for which I’m sure I’ll get hordes of responses – and make a whole bunch of new friends in the process.
    Try it – it works, plus it’s fun and people will see that you appreciate them as human beings with feelings and concerns and interests and not some means of feeding your ‘need’ :mrgreen:

  11. 11 Jaco
    September 22, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    Ek sal dan eerder later terugkom.
    /me tiptoes out and gently closes the door. Do NOT go in there!

  12. 12 BB
    September 22, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    Jou PIT!!! Come back here!!! I wasn’t talking to you!!! :mrgreen:

  13. September 22, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    BB: ek kan verstaan hoe jy voel hier, want jou post was regtig diep-ernstig en jy het emosies gedeel hier.
    Die meaning of life, wat ‘n gelaaide vraag vriendin. Sal mens ooit die vraag beantwoord kry? Wie weet, maar dink daaroor, soos jy hier doen is so belangrik.

  14. 14 Jaco
    September 22, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    Ek weet ja. Maar in jou current frame of mind gaat ek in elk geval nie antwoorde kry nie.

  15. 15 BB
    September 22, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    Current??? 👿 CURRENT???
    Narcie, jy wéét ek is een van die mees vredeliewenste, easiest people to get along with oppie hele aardbol!! Vra vir Helge!! LOL!!

  16. 16 Jaco
    September 22, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    Ek weet mos jy is all sweetness en light! 😉 Net dat jy jouselwers dalkies effe opgeruk het so flussies. Ek weet ek het. I would love to continue the original conversation over a bottle of red someday

  17. September 23, 2008 at 5:40 am

    Ag crap..daar is my comment weg.
    Elk geval, dit is snaaks dat ek juis vandag hierop afkom. Ek het hard geleer, tyd is net geleen en dit kan baie kort wees. Nooit mag mens ophou nuwe dinge probeer nie, die paadjie na jou doel lê moontlik nog iewers opgesluit. Elke dag ten volle, probeer alles ten minste een keer, leer uit jou foute, maar wees nooit spyt dat jy probeer het nie. “What is grass all about” Easy – smoking…en dan moet jy die mense hoor filosofeer.

  18. September 23, 2008 at 11:11 am

    Machiel, what were you thinking Dude ?? Wrong place wrong time – My raad aan jou is – kyk, dink en oorleef !!

  19. September 23, 2008 at 11:26 am

    Ja-nee, machiel maak nie nice nie, om sommer so holderstebolder met die deur in die huis te val. Hy het nou mooi die vloei van my gedagte vir ‘n uiters skerp antwoord op jou antwoord onderbreek.

    Hey BB, ek het ‘n klomp vrae, seker soos baie ander mense. Nooit is die vraag gemik om krities te staan teenoor iemand anders se ervarings nie.

  20. 20 BB
    September 23, 2008 at 11:57 am

    Ek weet Emil, ek weet! 😉 I don’t measure your worth by your personal opinion – I measure it by the trust I have in your honesty and your respect for your own view and beliefs and that of other people – whether we agree or not…

  21. September 23, 2008 at 2:59 pm

    😳 jy stel dit so mooi! Thanks.

  22. 22 skoembs
    September 24, 2008 at 8:19 pm

    Baie cool inskrywing, dit het my nou aan die dink gesit. Hoe weet jy as jy jou ‘purpose’ ontdek het? Is daar net een ‘purpose’ vir ‘n spesifieke persoon, of is die purpose wat jy vind maar ‘n samevloeiing van omstandighede en bydraende faktore? Flous jy jouself dalk deur jouself wys te maak dat DIT jou ‘purpose’ is en mis jy daardeur dalk ander geleenthede of ervaringe wat meer waarde sou hê?

    Is dit genoeg om bloot te gaan waar die golwe jou uitspoel of moet jy weet waar jou bestemming lê?

  23. 23 BB
    September 25, 2008 at 5:57 am

    Heita Skoembs! Welkom hier, nê 😉
    Nee, daar is beslis nie net een purpose vir ‘n mens nie – maar ek dink so daaroor: You get one talent, one special gift… you find it, you use it, you ‘grow’ (experience, develop and cultivate it). Die feit dat jy daardie talent toepas, maak ‘n volgende spreekwoordelike deur oop vir ‘n ‘nuwe’ onontdekte, onontginde talent, wat jy soos die vorige een moet nastrewe.
    Dis soos om die ABC in Gr 1 te leer en elke jaar iets by te leer… behalwe die akademie ook praktiese en tegniese blootstelling op skool elke jaar – it’s supposed to help you find your talents (and therefor ultimately your purposes). (dit – very very kortliks…)
    Jou vraag of jy jouself ‘flous deur jouself wys te maak’… nee wat skat, you may be able to bullsh!t a lot of people throughout your life – but there’s no way you’ll EVER be able to bullsh!t yourself – unless jy in ‘n state of utter depression is, some major health concerns het of enigiets anders (sielkundig, emosioneel of fisies) onderlede het, wat jou wysmaak dat jy óf geen doel het nie, óf jou enigste doel tans moontlik as volg uitleef: (which is get up, get dressed, go to work, get home, cook supper, go to bed, get up, get dressed…. ad nauseum…) en jouself wysmaak dat dit vir jou meaningful is…
    Ek het geen issue met ‘gaan waar die golwe jou uitspoel nie’ – solank jy so gou moontlik die sand uit jou broek en jou hare uitspoel en behoorlik begin rondkyk om dit wat voor of om jou lê jou bestemming te ‘maak’.

  24. September 25, 2008 at 6:08 am

    😆 Daai golwe uitspoel stukkie is so goed gedoen…

  25. 25 skoembs
    September 25, 2008 at 10:16 am

    :)Demoerin, ek dink my lewensuitkyk is soos ‘n ‘message-in-a-bottle’ effek… jy weet dalk nie waar jy gaan uitkom of waarheen jy op pad is nie, maar deur op die ou end iewers uit te spoel kan jy ‘n verskil maak.
    BB, ek hou baie van hoe jy dink… stem saam dat jy nie jouself sommer kan ‘fool’ nie, nie sonder some serious brainwashing nie. 🙂

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September 2008


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