Does life have meaning? (Romans 11:23-26)

As with last summer, we realize that many of you may be following along from the beach or from your boat.  Our format is designed to give you a question or two to think about and possibly discuss with your kids or your neighbors. Here is the first one:


  • Does life have meaning? How do you explain the meaning of life?

It’s not hard to imagine two people who don’t agree on the meaning of life.  But in a nation that prizes “individualism,” it’s become hard to find two people who even agree that life has meaning at all.  “There is not one big cosmic meaning for all,” writes international novelist Anais Nin.  “There is only the meaning we give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.” [1]

On the surface this sounds like the ideal for a society whose greatest value is personal freedom.  But for many people this just isn’t enough.  In his recent book Present Shock, NPR’s Douglas Rushkoff writes of a young women who felt that the events of 9/11 had “disconnected her generation from a sense of history and that they ‘needed to connect with people from before that break in the story to get back on track.” [2]

This doesn’t sound that different from Paul’s description of life without Jesus.  He tells a group of new believers that before they found Jesus, they didn’t share the privileges of ethnic Jews.  “Remember,” he tells them, “you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:12)

Meaning must have seemed far away.

Today it’s hard to feel grounded and rooted in a world of touch screens and Netflix binges.  Every piece of technology we own promises greater connection but only leaves us feeling more and more adrift in a digital sea.  What we need is a story, a master plot that helps us bring our seemingly random experiences together into something that makes sense.

For Paul, it was his own experience with Jesus and the gospel.  As he writes the letter to the Romans, Paul spells out God’s plan of salvation, his desire to transform hearts into something that resembles his Son Jesus.  And after describing God’s sovereign influence over human history, Paul’s words veer quite near poetry

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

Life is sourced in God.  It comes through God, and finally, it exists for God.

It’s like the old story of the carpenter who loses his hammer.  He removes his pocket-watch and uses it to drive a nail.  The nail goes in halfway before the watch falls to pieces.  “Huh,” he says, scowling.  “What a lousy watch.”  And of course that’s silly, because that’s not what a watch is designed for.

Maybe it’s a silly illustration, but don’t you see?  You can never judge your life as good or bad unless you know your purpose.  Christianity says that man’s purpose isn’t just an idea; it’s a Person.  Without God our lives seem chaotic at best and miserable at worst.  But when we begin to understand that our purpose is to know God, then our lives will begin to take on new meaning.

  • Additional question(s) to share and consider:
    • Have you ever felt unhappy because life seemed meaningless?
    • If you are a Christian, how has knowing God given meaning to your life?  Explain.



[1] Anaias Nin, The Diary of Anaias Nin: Volume 1 (1931-1934) (New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1966), vii.

[2] Rushkoff, 18.

1 thought on “Does life have meaning? (Romans 11:23-26)

  1. “Additional question(s) to share and consider:
    Have you ever felt unhappy because life seemed meaningless?
    If you are a Christian, how has knowing God given meaning to your life? Explain.”

    Good questions. Peter urged us to be ready to give an answer to anyone asks about the hope they see that drives us. (1 Peter 3:15) Same idea as “meaning to your life” that you mentioned.

    Peter also mentioned that in our prior life we had an “empty way of life” that was handed to us from our ancestors. (1Peter 1:18)

    Good thoughts. And by quoting Romans, you are increasing my interest to get deeper into its meaning.

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