Sunday, May 21, 2006

GRII Retreat 2006 Session 3 - Is There Meaning in Life?

This is my personal summary of Rev.Stephen Tong's sharing on Session 3 of "Seeking and working out your calling in God's big picture" in GRII Singapore Retreat on 11-13 May 2006

One of the most important lessons in life is the knowledge of self. Socrates said there is no use in accumulating so much wealth if your own children were spoilt. Karl Barth also said that there is no use for a person to explore every knowledge but not knowing himself.

Knowing oneself is the foundation of knowledge. It is the starting point of knowing everything else. Indonesian language frequently uses the phrase “tidak tahu diri” (literal translation: not knowing one’s identity) as a severe criticism for people who live and act as they ought not to. It is true that a person who does not know himself can do a lot of things that are contrary to his identity, i.e. his proper position.

Are all who have acquired high status in society people who have truly known themselves? Not necessarily. And there are also many people who can criticize others, especially leaders, very severely, but when they become leaders they do worse things. This is the crisis that results from not knowing oneself.

We need to examine ourselves frequently and present ourselves honestly before God. The Scriptures give profound revelation on who God is and who man is.

Augustine said, “If you ask me what I want to know in my whole life, I will answer, only two things. It is to know God and to know my own soul. If you ask, is that all and nothing more? My answer is, yes, absolutely no more.”

Calvin's writing is inspired by Augustine. In the Institute of Christian Religion, he expounded on the knowledge of God and the knowledge of oneself as the foundation of knowledge. Which one comes first? It is difficult to say which one comes first because both have very tight relation with each other.

Within a human soul, there is already the knowledge of God because His image is stamped on us. So the true knowledge of oneself is related to the knowledge of God too. As Augustine said, “I want to seek God outside of my life. Then I find that God is inside of me. And I find God much deeper than the deepest part of myself.”

God is the foundation of all existence. Therefore a person who returns to God has returned to his real self. When we stand on the promises of God, we are actually standing on the right foundation of ourselves in Him.

Now that we know we exist, the next question is, is there meaning in life? If there is meaning in life, why is it that so many people live without direction, without essence, without meaning? Why is it that so many people live as though so long they have money they are happy?

If life has no meaning, why are we always asking about meaning of things? This concept of meaning is embedded very deeply in our heart. We are meaning-connected beings.

If there is meaning in life, why is it that I search high and low but still cannot find it? If there is meaning in life, is it outside or inside myself? If the meaning is inside , why do I keep going outside to find it? If it is outside, why is there relentless search for meaning inside?

If there is meaning in life, where does meaning lie? How can I find where it is?

It is very beautiful for a person to grasp all these concepts from his youth – of his existence, of his gift of freedom, of the meaning of life. A person who knows this will be very stable no matter what happens. But we are often so anxious about job, marriage and future, but not about the meaning of life.

Most books have no proper center point. Therefore, bestsellers today will be swept away later on. A lot of people have big potential and great opportunities, but no clear center in life therefore their lives are off balanced and topple very easily. It is like a wheel with wrong location of center point so it is unable to turn properly. It is like a book that topples quickly because it is supported with one finger that is not located at the correct center of gravity.

The center point is the will of God. With that center, we will never lose stability in life.

If we know the meaning of life, with the potential and opportunities we can achieve what we should. We should not be satisfied with what we have already gained, but we should be conscious and sad of what we have missed that we could have gained. This judgment is not based on our personal dreams.

This leads to the issue of value judgment. How to valuate values is a very important lesson we must learn.

The meaning of life exists but is not widely accepted. Our society is a market-oriented society that moves and is driven by market forces. But who set the meaning of life for you? Who should set the target for our life? Who are we trying to please in our lives?

There is meaning in life, hence humans ask about meaning of life and interpret the meaning of life. There are many interpretations of the meaning of life but they might not be correct.

1. Life is for fun
Therefore we should just go to nightclub, gamble, do speeding, etc. Life is a playing field. This is the subconscious interpretation of majority. Many people have this idea but they do not play as much because they do not have the money to play. We need to be careful about this kind of people because we can simply be another toy. The term for this interpretation is hedonism. This is the most shallow but also the most popular interpretation of life.

2. Life is a product of chance
We do not choose to be human beings, we do not choose our gender, our race, and many more. It is all by chance. Therefore we live by luck and chances. This kind of thinking traps many immature thinkers never to progress.

3. Life is a torture from mystic world
To live is to suffer. Jean-Paul Sartre said, “Others’ existence is hell”. The higher the level of life, the higher the torture. So human beings suffer the most. Arthur Schopenhauer is one such person who lived in bitterness and jealousy all his life and saw life as torture and disaster. This pessimistic view of life is similar to Buddhism (Buddhism teaches 4 sources of sufferings: birth, old age, sickness and death). His famous book, “The World as Will and Representation” influenced Friedrich Nietzsche, who later on influenced Adolf Hitler.

4. Life is determined by fate
Those who believe in closed system believe that everything is determined by nature. Those who believe in open system believe that everything is determined by God.

How about Christianity? Does it teach fatalistic view of life? Hebrews 11:30-36 gave examples of people who overcome themselves and their circumstances by faith. Faith is the first basic essence of Christianity of the three, faith, hope and love.

5. Life is a duty
There are those who take everything as a matter of responsibility.
They study, find a job, marry, have children and go through all their lives because they think it is their responsibility to do so. They think all those things are a ‘must’ that cannot be compromised. But the question is, ‘responsibility to whom’? Most people do not know. So we do our duty blindly as we do not know before whom we are doing our duty.

6. Life is war
Fight in emotions, fight in school, fight in work, everything. People who believe this do not care what principles they live by so long as they get what they want. This is very dangerous. A fighting spirit in itself is very important. In our economic era especially, we need to have this or else we will be left behind. But we need to realize that this is not the only battle in life, and is not even among the most important ones. We are created between good and evil. Only when we understand our status in this crisis, will our fighting spirit be directed differently. We begin asking questions like, is it eternal? Is it good? With what morality do we war? How do we fight with faith? Directed in this way, the actualization of our fights will be according to the will of God.

8. Life is to be a representative of God (the correct one)
This is the correct interpretation of the meaning of life. We are to reflect the glory of God as beings made His image. How do we express our life? How much of His image do we shine forth in this dark world? Because of this meaning, we work very hard and are willing to suffer. The unseen God becomes visible through us. Have our lives made such impact? If not, we are still living like a ship without a compass and a house without foundation that drown when swept by waters.


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