Why Work? Why School? Why Do Anything?
“My question— that which at the age of fifty brought me to the verge of suicide— was the simplest of questions, lying in the soul of every man… a question without an answer to which one cannot live. It was: “What will come of what I am doing today or tomorrow? What will come of my whole life? Why should I live, why wish for anything, or do anything?” It can also be expressed thus: Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?” —Leo Tolstoy, A Confession
“That’s depressing”, you say. “It may be a problem for him but it’s not a problem for me because I do not think about it.” In his Confession Tolstoy would go on to say that the only way a person can live this life is if he remains “intoxicated with life”. By that he meant that a person can only live with the reality of this life if he does not think about it. Once he sobers up and thinks, which all of us eventually have to do, Tolstoy says we cannot live long. Life is too meaningless.
So is it all meaningless? This is the question for this post.
Let’s sober up for a second and ask Tolstoy’s question: At the end of our lives what difference will it make why we do anything? What difference will it make if we do good? What difference will it make if we do bad? If eventually this ship is going to sink and take all of us with it then what difference will it make if we go down hugging someone or mugging someone? If drowning is our inevitable end then shouldn’t we should just eat, drink and be merry for in 100 years we won’t be remembered for good or ill anyway?
If we are a Darwinist then yes; we all got here by accident anyway so it does not matter how we live just as long as we are merry while doing it. New Age thinking also falls into this same inevitability. In New Age belief everything will eventually return to be one again (we are all undifferentiated matter in the end). Whether you were good matter or bad matter ultimately makes no difference- the important thing was that you were happy matter while you lived. But although these are widely accepted theories no one actually believes them or successfully lives by them. No one actually believes everyone should just eat, drink and be merry nor do we agree with those who try to live that way. We get angry at people who do just whatever they want. We get angry at Politicians for it. We get angry at our friends for it. We get angry at ourselves for it and regret some of the things we’ve done. So although we say we should eat, drink and be merry we do not actually believe it. We believe something else should guide our life actions.
So why do anything? Why not just eat, drink and be merry? What answer does Christianity give and is that answer any better than the alternatives? I think so.
In Luke 12 Jesus told a parable about a guy who had an abundant harvest one year and said to himself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19). This was a guy who thought life should be lived for oneself. He thought each person should have the freedom to eat, drink and be merry before they die. In America we much agree. We feel we should have the right to do with our resources whatever we desire. But Jesus says differently.
The God of the Bible calls Himself the ultimate Giver of all gifts (see James 1:17). He is the One with an unlimited storehouse of resources (see Malachi 3:10). If God were to take the approach of this ancient farmer then God should just eat, drink and be merry and dis-concern Himself with the world below. He need not give to it. He need not help it. He need not care how what He does affects the world below. But the amazing thing about this parable is that God Himself is speaking it!
- Jesus stands before a crowd of farmers, so to speak, as the One who chose to give up the merriness of Heaven to make a way for the eternal merriness of man.
- Jesus was the Universe’s richest farmer Who spent all of His riches to purchase us with His life.
- Jesus was perfectly justified in living alone with His riches but instead chose to give up His riches in order that mankind might partake of His riches with Him in Heaven.
With this Gospel in mind Jesus’ harsh words to the farmer make sense: “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Luke 12:20). If I am in the process of giving up my possessions (Jesus gave up Heaven and His very life) in order to give all of what I had to others, and I witness those others living for themselves, I am mad. In my anger I would probably stop my world-saving mission and go home. I would say, “I’m not going to give up everything for people who live only for themselves.” But after this encounter, though He was rightfully angry at the selfishness of the people, Jesus still goes to the cross. He does not stop His world-saving mission just because we are selfish. Our selfishness, sinfulness, after all, was what He was coming to save us from!
Christianity gives us a “why” for life that satisfies. It says we work to serve mankind just as Jesus worked to serve mankind. It says we go to school to learn how to serve mankind, just as Jesus came down to instruct mankind on what it meant to serve. In the Biblical view all of life fits into two commandments: love God and love neighbor. Any activity that is not done to love God and to love people is meaningless activity. It is done foolishly and the proceeds from such selfish living will be given to others. But any activity that is done to love God and to love people is seen by the Father and blessed.
But we must remember in this that even the desire to do good is a gift given us by God. We cannot say, “Well as long as I do enough good God will take me to Heaven.” No, we must first see that we have no ability on our own to do good. All of our good is tainted by our selfishness. Until we see this we are not truly ready to follow Jesus. Jesus does not just call us to do good. Jesus calls us to first give up any claim of goodness, see our need for mercy and grace, ask forgiveness for our inner darkness, and rely on Him for any good endeavor. The Christian conversion experience must first happen, a process of believing and being baptized.
The Gospel is the only narrative for life that results in the well-being of all. Are you living by the narrative of the Gospel or are you living by the eat, drink and be merry narrative? Do you think you are pretty good and that you deserve all you have, or do you see everything you have as a gift? Do you see your need for mercy or do you think you will fare pretty well without it?
In excitement for sharing the Gospel of Jesus every week in Laconia! Shaun