“If you could ask God one question, what would it be?” is a question I’ve been asking young professionals across Birmingham. The most common reply? (even for those who don’t believe in God) “What do you want me to do?” or “Am I doing the right thing?”
Regardless of our belief system, we are hardwired for a meaningful life. We want to have impact on our world. We want to make a difference. We hope to maximize our strengths and abilities. We long to matter. Admittedly, poverty, wealth, or psychological disorders may skew these desires.
Yet in some form, people from all socioeconomic, cultures, and psychological disposition share this DNA.
Does the desire spring from a Darwinian “survival of the fittest?” Perhaps, but ultimately this involves someone else experiencing loss. Does a desire for impact flow from a belief that this is all there is, so make your mark while alive? Maybe, but logically, this could also lead to hedonism.
Does this desire for a meaningful life result from a presupposition of the basic goodness of mankind? Partly, but it does not sufficiently account for our flaws.
Why do we long for a meaningful life?
Another explanation is – we are made in God’s image. Obviously, this begins with a big presupposition – there is a God. Yet, just as I invite atheists to presuppose God’s existence when I ask him or her to offer a question to God; so I ask you to explore an understanding of our desire for a meaningful life in the context of a belief in God as Maker and Creator. Another big presupposition to lean into, if you are willing, is the Bible reveals God’s story.
The story line of the Bible begins with God as Maker and Creator of all realms of the physical world – light, darkness, sky, sea, and land. No matter how long or what process this creative work took form, God demonstrates his dignity, power, and glory. Half-way through this narrative, God fills these domains – luminaries for light and darkness, birds for the sky, fish for the sea, vegetation, animal life, and human life for the land.
In the midst of God creatively making and ordering realms of the world and filling each of these domains, the crowning work of his filling these realms is humankind. The narrative expresses the nature and purpose of humans. Men and women are created in God’s image – with dignity, power, and glory. And God commissions mankind to be fruitful and multiply – to fill all the realms of the physical world so all things might flourish.
In Narnia language, all sons of Adam and daughters of Eve have dignity, power, and glory because the Maker fashioned us. As an artist imparts her imagination and inner-self into her artwork, so an infinite God imparts inner-self qualities into finite women and men. God’s imagination is evident in the realms of creation and the filling of these realms, but only mankind possesses a design patterned after God’s likeness.
Now since we critiqued the “basic goodness of man” theory as not accounting for our flaws, the Biblical story accounts for mankind’s flaws in what many describe as the Fall. After the glory of image-bearers flourishing the garden and a man and woman experiencing intimacy without shame, the first couple power grabs for God’s glory and, consequently, fall from the glory into a flaw-infected creation and fractured intimacy and impact on their world.
As a Christian hymn reflects, mankind is “weak and wounded by the Fall.” Yet the starting point in God’s story is women and men created in God’s likeness for glory, weightiness, impact, and meaning.
Whatever your explanation might be for mankind’s desire for a meaningful life, would you consider the explanation from God’s story? Which explanation is most romantic? Which appeals to your deepest longings. Which view makes more sense if you are honest intellectually and experientially?