Rousseau’s atheism is well known. Also well known is the despair which clouded his later years. Evidence of this is found in this quotation.
“I now found myself, in the decline of life, a prey to tormenting maladies, and believing myself at the close of my career without having once tasted the sublime pleasures after which my heart panted. Why was it that, with a soul naturally expansive, whose very existence was benevolence, I never found one single friend with feelings like my own? A prey to the cravings of a heart which have never been satisfied, I perceived myself arrived at the confines of old age, and dying ere I had begun to live. I considered destiny as in my debt for promises which she had never realized. Why was I created with faculties so refined, yet which were never intended to be adequately employed? I felt my own value, and revenged myself of my fate by recollecting and shedding tears for its injustice.”
The search for meaningful existence is what Rousseau vainly strove to discover. His empty conclusion has been the lot of millions who tried to explain life’s meaning apart from God’s existence. This search for “meaning” has long plagued man.
In recent years the radical 60’s brought this into clear focus. Numerous “encounters” were suggested to a gullible generation as the means to discover meaning and purpose in life. Others retreated to groups who attempted to explain “meaning” in absurd terms (the “beatnicks” or the “hippies”). Still others tried psychedelia only finding a greater emptiness in their search for a reason of meaningful existence on Earth.
These futile efforts illustrate another tragic failure of Atheism – it leads to existence with no purpose or meaning! Atheism cannot tell us the meaning of life for it has rejected God who alone gives meaning to life. In the end Atheism offers a view of life which results in monotony, tediousness, and futility!
The tragic meaninglessness of Atheism is found in Lord Byron’s last poem, written three months before his
death. It is titled, “On This Day I Completed My Thirty‑Sixth Year.” His devotion to atheistic principles led him to despair of life at the young age of thirty‑six. Listen to his dispirited words,
My days are in the yellow leaf; The flowers and fruits of Love are gone;
The worm, the canker, and the grief Are mine alone!
However man does not have to face the gloom of Byron and Rosseau as life on Earth is lived. There is another option which gives life meaning and makes it rich, rewarding, and pleasurable. It is a belief that there is a God in heaven. It is a life lived with assurance in the Almighty’s existence, sovereignty, and lovingkindness.
Consider these two options as one considers the question of life’s meaning. Common sense will dictate the foolishness of Atheism and the promise of Theism.
The Futile Option ‑ ATHEISM!
First, we are told to change our attitudes and meaning will be found in life!
The old cliche orders us, “If life gives you a lemon, make lemonade!” This is the only prescription offered by Atheism. It suggests that our thought process will change everything that is uncomfortable in life. We are told that our inner‑vision can lift us above life’s petty ills. But there is a big problem with this counsel – changing one’s attitude does not erase the haunting question, “Why am I here?” A change of attitude does not replace aimless existence with a defined agenda for living. The monotony and pointlessness of life remains no matter how successful we become at ignoring this real question!
Trying to find meaning to life without God by changing your attitude makes about as much sense as changing the deck chairs on the Titanic! Man needs more than an adjusted attitude to make life meaningful. He needs more than a change in scenery to tranquilize his cancerous boredom!
Second, it is suggested that we avoid questioning life’s meaning.
This approach encourages us to ignore the issue. Atheism claims that real “meaning” in life is subjective and cannot be measured with objectivity. But then how can Atheism contend that some lives are not “worth” living (i.e. those born impaired, the aged, the incurable, or others that Atheism justifies as subjects for euthanasia)? How can Atheism contend that some lives are “worth” living while others are “worthless” if we cannot ask for meaning? Again, ignoring this issue does not give life meaning and value. Ignoring the question requires humans to live as unthinking robots. Voltaire’s remark reveals the absurdity of Atheism trying to ignore the question of life’s meaning. “Man is a stranger to his own research. He knows not whence he comes, nor whither he goes. Tormented atoms in a bed of mud, devoured by death, a mockery of fate.” (Quoted by Zacharias, p. 81). Trying to answer the question of life’s meaning by ignoring it only brings great despair!
Third, pursuing pleasure will give meaning to life.
We are told that the panacea of all trials, futility, tediousness, and frustration is pleasure. But this answer is lacking satisfaction. Some will party through life and find compounded emptiness. Pleasure alone cannot free us from the agony of meaningless existence. Our modern society has access to all that should make life pleasurable – labors are lightened, medical advances are astonishing, and entertainment is abundant. Modern man is freed from the thousands of tyrannies that once spoiled happiness. You would think that those living in our modern age would be the most contented of all civilizations. But even with access to these wonderful advancements, modern man finds greater apathy, terrifying fears, and agonizing emptiness. His chains of meaningless existence have not been broken! Why? “When the pleasure button is repeatedly pressed and can no longer deliver or sustain, the emptiness that results is terrifying” [Zacharias, p. 86]. While Atheism advises us that when we find pleasure we will find meaning, the tragic reality is that meaningful existence is never found!
Fourth, success in life brings meaning.
It is suggested that once we “have made it” then life will have meaning. But this is another of Atheism’s lies. Millions of lives testify to the fact that success in business, riches in material goods, fame and glory do not bring meaning to life. The best illustration of this is found in the acclaimed film “Chariots Of Fire” which chronicled the British 1924 Olympic Track team. Two men (Eric Liddle and H.S. Abrahams) provided and amazing contrast. Liddle, later a missionary to China, had purpose and meaning in life. He ran to bring God the glory. But Abrahams had no real purpose or meaning in life. He struggled with the nagging question of existence. In the movie he confessed, just before winning the gold, “I have ten seconds to prove the reason for my existence, and even then, I’m not sure I will.” He won the gold. He became the “world’s fastest man.” But his meaning for existence was no clearer!
Wall Street and Hollywood are filled with illustrations of how success does not bring meaning to life. Again Atheism fails to answer the pressing issue. Atheism thus tells us that life’s meaning can be found in an attitude change, pleasure, success, or creativity. But these things only bring feelings of greater futility! Meaning and purpose in life cannot be found in these phantoms of hope. Our society is wandering aimlessly and drowning in despair because it has followed the piping of Atheism.
The Other Option ‑ GOD!
Thankfully we are not left with the futility of Atheism to explain life’s meaning. Belief in God is able to offer meaning and purpose to life. The Book of Ecclesiastes holds the explanation to the pressing question of life’s meaning.
Ecclesiastes is a book about life that was written by a realist. Solomon is the author and he discusses all aspects of life in an effort to explain the purpose and meaning for living. Throughout this marvelous book one will find discussions about life’s frustrations, pseudo‑success, sexuality, jobs, justice, friends, religion, joy, suffering, and emptiness. We are told that some people will find earthly life void of meaning and they become cynical. Others will view life as refreshing and fulfilling. What is the difference between these two groups? How can some see the same existence in such diverse ways? The difference is in one’s view of God. Those who have a belief in God are drastically different from those who reject God’s existence. This difference is especially visible as the two groups look at life’s meaning.
Those who reject God will find life empty. Such will live selfishly and never find satisfaction. Solomon portrays this group in tragic terms.
(1) They utter a groan of abject futility ‑”Futility of futilities! All is futility” (1:2). They find no meaning, only despair.
(2) Their lives are unable to find meaning in success. In 2:1‑11 Solomon describes how success was impotent. He had it all ‑ “all that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure” (2:10). After he had immersed himself in all desires; after his success had brought him to the pinnacle of fame, “I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was futility and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun” (2:11).
(3) They rest upon knowledge and wisdom to bring meaning but it too fails them (2:12‑17). After Solomon experienced the emptiness of materialism he sought to find meaning through wisdom (2:17). But that too failed. “So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind” (2:17).
(4) The utter ruin of a meaningless existence awaited for those who rejected God. “Therefore I completely despaired of all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun” (2:20; cf 5:15).
This is how Ecclesiastes depicts those who live by Atheism’s tenets. They will find no joy in life and have no hope in death. Such an existence is pointless. No wonder Solomon emphatically pronounced it as “Futility!
Ecclesiastes emphatically states that life has meaning. But meaning is only possible when one believes in God. 12:13 announces this joyful news. “Duty” has been added to our English text to fill the sentence. Literally the verses reads, “This is every man;” “This is the whole of man.” Thus Solomon is saying that fearing God and obeying the Sovereign’s will “is that which makes man whole, complete, or full.” No one is complete, whole, full without a proper relationship with God. This relationship comes only by fearing God and keeping His commands.
According to Ecclesiastes, if you live life without God, then it is not worth living! Life without God is filled with monotony, vain wisdom, future wrath, and certain death! Those who live life with God find a very different end. Living in fear and obedience to God makes earthly existence valuable and rich! (cf 2:24,25; 3:12,13,22; 5:19; 8:15; 9:7‑9; 11:9). The key to finding meaning and purpose in life is to fear God and keep His commands. Solomon’s investigation found this to be “the conclusion.” There is not other answer.
A most interesting fact emerges from Ecclesiastes. Everything that increases the emptiness of Atheism’s philosophy, adds joy to those who believe and obey God. Remember we are told that Atheism urges us to change our attitudes to find meaning in life, but a change of attitude does not answer the issue of existence. But when God is factored into the question we are told that attitude changes will bring great joy! (cf 11:5,8; 7:16,17,21). We are told to ignore the question of life’s meaning by Atheism only to discover that it cannot be ignored. But when God is factored into the question we discover that life’s meaning can be found ‑ “this is the whole of man” (12:13b). We were told by Atheism that pleasure pursued will bring meaning only to discover that pleasure pursued brings emptiness. But when God is factored into the issue pleasure enhances earthly joy (9:7‑9). Atheism told us that success would bring meaning to life. But success brought only grief and despair. However when God is factored into the question, success compounds joy and purpose (11:1).
What makes human existence meaningful? According to William Glasser, “There are two qualities which add meaning to life: the need to love and be loved and, the need to feel that we are worthwhile to ourselves and others.” (Reality Therapy. New York: Harper & Row Pub., 1965, p. 9). Solomon told us this long ago in Ecclesiastes 12:13,14!
A life that has meaning in existence also possesses great value. This is possible because of the following points. First, a fear of God brings one into a proper relationship with Him. This “fear” is an awe and reverence. This “fear” puts God in a proper place of authority for guiding earthly life. Second, keeping His commands reveals a consistent lifestyle and assures of great joy (cf Ps 119:97). Third, life will be lived with a view to God’s Judgement. Every deed will be judged by the Holy Father. This reveals that God is concerned enough about me to inspect all of my life. His concern about every aspect of my life underscores the fact that my life has meaning and value!
Those who ignore and reject God will face earthly existence with a fear that life holds neither value or meaning. Honesty compels them to view themselves as “Tormented atoms in a bed of mud, devoured by death, a mockery of fate.” The Atheist must face “The Conclusion” of Ecclesiastes 12:13. The choice for all is clear – it is either Ecclesiastes 1:2 or Ecclesiates 12:13. What is your purpose and meaning for earthly existence?