But every now and then - over a cup of coffee or while lying awake in bed - we find ourselves asking the really
At the core of these questions is actually another question:
Our response to this question ultimately determines our purpose and meaning.
What are the options?
Here are two possible answers.
This worldview is called naturalism and says all of reality is composed of the physical.
We are survival machines - robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.
The Selfish Gene
What are the implications of this worldview?
Half a century before Dawkins, atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell spelled out the ramifications—
That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins [...] Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”
Free Man's Worship
As an atheist, Russell took his naturalistic worldview to its logical conclusion: life might seem to be full of transcendent meaning and value - but if naturalism is true, we should face the cold hard reality that it really isn't.
If this worldview is true, then it follows that we are no more than animated flesh. "We" are just our bodies.
Any sense of self we may have that transcends our bodies is illusory.
The Bible tells a story of a man whose view of life was surprisingly similar to this modern outlook. The following is an adaptation from Luke 12:15-20.
And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself,
‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’
And he said, ‘I will do this:
I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.
And I will say to my soul,
You have ample goods laid up for many years;
relax, eat, drink, be merry.
But God said to him,
“Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
In the same way that the rich man in the story thought his “soul” fed on “grain”, maybe the highest good we can find for man is to feed the appetites, to minimize pain and maximize pleasure.
If we are just our bodies, then the notion that life is supposed to be about more - that we are more than our bodies, that there are real, transcendent values beyond satisfying our appetites - are these notions just unreal fluff?
Danish philosopher Kierkegaard pondered whether man's life is like a smooth stone thrown across the surface of a river:
In other words, since we all die anyway, no matter what we try to construct out of our short lives, it is ultimately
This doesn't seem to match our intuitive sense that there's more to life than just food and pleasure. Yet, better answers seem hard to find under an atheistic, naturalistic worldview. This is because of the claim that there is no truth other than scientific truth, and there is therefore nothing real other than what science can detect (i.e., atoms).
In addition to being a bleak view, naturalism artificially reduces what we are allowed to consider in answering the most fundamental of questions.
Is there a perspective where human nature, worth, and meaning find their place?
The Bible claims that we have been
created by God with
that long for something much more than a mere biological existence.
If God, himself a spiritual being, made us to be more than our bodies, then it follows that we would have such a thing as
that no amount of food or pleasures can satisfy.
I find in me a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation of which is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.
From the first pages of the Bible, we are told that man’s identity is that he is more than an “accidental collocation of atoms.”
So let’s dive into the question of origin and see what the Bible says about man’s identity and purpose.
Many people looking into Christianity often get stuck in the first few pages of the Bible because of a misreading of the Genesis creation account.
Imagine a person, upon reading a chemistry lab manual, exclaiming, “This book has no plot!” Such a person is misunderstanding the genre of what he's reading. A lab manual is only meant to describe how to run experiments.
Similarly, people may read the creation account in Genesis like a lab manual and expect answers that it wasn't meant to provide.
So what is the genre of Genesis chapter 1 and how should we read it?
The creation account of Genesis is a theological narrative that is not concerned with the question of how but with the questions of why and who—
The Bible doesn't attempt to persuade the reader of the existence of God (though there are many arguments for it).
Rather, from its very first pages, the Bible declares the activity of God. In the creation account in
we see the repeated phrases:
Through Genesis 1, we see a portrait of God that seems contrary to these common views of God:
Genesis 1 shows something very different:
That's because man holds a special place in the creation narrative.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the LORD God had planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed.
A special Hebrew verb is used in the creation account when God creates man.
We see God taking a pause, almost taking a deep breath, deliberating, and “forming” man.
We read that the other animals were created “according to their kinds,” but the Bible declares that God created man
The Bible says God breathed the
into us, highlighting the special relationship between mankind and God. According to the Bible, part of the reason for this special relationship is that we are
and not merely physical creatures.
God prepared a good world for humanity, much like an anticipating parent would lovingly prepare a room for their future child.
It’s a portrait of a simple but amazing idea:
From majestic mountains to beautiful meadows, rivers, and trees — these are all prepared for mankind.
What are your perceptions of God?
If it’s really the case that there’s no God, then we need to be clear about the implications of that worldview, such as rejecting notions of value and meaning. We would need to align our lives in accordance with the belief that life is ultimately
Without God the universe is the result of a cosmic accident, a chance explosion. There is no reason for which it exists.
As for man, he is a freak of nature – a blind product of matter plus time plus chance. Man is just a lump of slime that evolved into rationality.
There is no more purpose in life for the human race than for a species of insect; for both are the result of the blind interaction of chance and necessity.
On the other hand, if the Bible is true in its claim that the God who
created us is a
that means we are more than mere molecules. We are more than our bodies. It means that our longing for something higher is not a futile desire, but it arises out of the very core of who we are as transcendent beings.
For further reading, a PDF version of Chapter One can be found here. For more, please see below for stories of people on how they came to understand more about God.