People sometimes ask, “Is life worth living?” I recently read a police report of a young man standing on the ledge of a very tall building threatening to jump. He finally said to the police officer who was trying to talk him down, “Can you convince me that life is worth living?” The officer hesitated, not knowing how to answer that question, and the young man jumped. An interesting fact about life on planet Earth is that only humans can commit suicide. (There is a false story that lemmings commit suicide, but we have dealt with that before.)
The year 2020 gave everyone reasons to question the value of life. Disease, loss of loved ones, abuse, political chaos, sexual issues, and various mental issues have combined to cause people to desire a life worth living. One argument for faith is that it provides a reason to live, even when life’s traumas make it difficult.
What does atheism offer to make life worth living when things turn bad? When I was a child, singer Peggy Lee had a song titled “Is That All There Is?” She sang about wanting something very badly, but the result was never as good as what she imagined. It is like buying an expensive new car you have wanted to own for a very long time. Then after having it for a while, wondering why you spent that much money. Everything in life is like that. Even marriage has the familiar half-life. In courtship and engagement, you have the belief that your potential mate is that person with whom you want to spend your life. But once the newness wears off, marriage becomes something that takes effort to keep it working.
What I have described so far applies to all of us. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon, a man with great wealth and power, expressed his struggle with what the world offers. As you read through the book, you see that he does it all and has it all, but he finds it is all meaningless. The Bible is full of stories about men who had opportunities to be very successful. Moses had it made as the adopted son of the Pharaoh’s daughter. Then Hebrews 11:24-27 tells us that he “forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of Pharaoh to see Him who is invisible.” Paul was trained by Gamaliel, a well-known scholar, and was on his way to becoming a leader of Judaism (Acts 22:3). But, like Moses, he found something better.
So atheists and Christians face similar problems in keeping an active life worth living. What makes Christianity different, and why does it lead to an optimistic, upbeat feeling about life, even when things go wrong? The answer is that Christians have a purpose for our lives. Solomon wrote as a conclusion to his discussion of life’s meaninglessness: “I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men, yet they cannot fathom what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That every man may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil–this is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 3:9-13).
Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:8-11 that God had a purpose for his life and an eternal purpose which was accomplished in Christ. In Acts 9:10-19, God tells Ananias about Saul and says that “this man is my chosen instrument.” Having that purpose for his life drove Saul to become Paul and leave his leadership in Judaism to suffer abuse as a Christian.
We are all chosen instruments. Our skills and talents may not be as spectacular as Paul’s, but God created every one of us to do something unique. We must choose whether or not to accept the purpose for which God created us. But having a purpose and fulfilling that purpose makes life worth living, meaningful, and worthwhile. Not only do we find fulfillment in doing what God created us to do, but having purpose means being able to face the problems of life and use those things to accomplishing our purpose.
Being a Christian does not mean we will be immune to the problems that everyone faces. If that were the case, people would become Christians for the wrong reason to escape their problems. Instead, what Christians have is the promise of God that there will be a way of escape from those problems (1 Corinthians 10:13). Furthermore, the problems, including death, will be used as part of our service to God.
The heartbreak of having a child born with multiple handicaps and later losing my wife have given me unique opportunities and satisfaction in my efforts as a Christian. There is a life worth living when you have a purpose for existing, and you can see that the purpose extends beyond your existence on Earth.
— John N. Clayton © 2021