By Philip McCarty
By Philip McCarty
Philip retired from Shelter Insurance and has a Masters in Christian Thought (which is Christian apologetics) from Bethel Seminary. For over twenty years he has taught the Bible and theology at Woodcrest Chapel in Columbia, MO and, now that he is retired, he is looking forward to spending more time teaching and writing.
I read an article in CNN from May 7, 2020 that was presented by The School of Life, a group of philosophers who are “helping people to find perspective and resilience in the face of life’s challenges.” The article was titled “Another way to think about death.” The theme of the article is that, if we step outside ourselves and into the big picture, we will find that death, particularly our death, is not such a big deal after all. How do they come to this conclusion? The same way many people can come to it. We are nothing but a cosmic accident, living in a small world in an immense universe of galaxies; we are less than a grain of sand on a beach. Nothing we say or do really has any impact on the universe or importance within the universe. The universe does not care whether we live or die. We do not matter. The writers of the article seemed to take comfort in this fact, that our death is not a big deal because our life does not really hold any significance. I came away feeling depressed and defeated. Granted, this is coming from a group of philosophers, but at the base, they are reflecting the thoughts and ideas of many people.
In fact, they seem to be reflecting the thoughts of the writer of Ecclesiastes who said in chapter 1 verse 2, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly Meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” The author then goes on to describe how everything just keeps going whether we are here or not. Arguments are then made for the meaninglessness of wisdom, pleasure, folly and work. Nothing matters because we are so small and the universe just keeps on going. In chapter 3 verses 18 through 21 the writer laments that we are no better than the animals who live and die. Moving on in chapter 4 the writer of Ecclesiastes begins to look at the consequences of this thinking. People are oppressed by others, their labor is meaningless because it springs from envy of others, and people are alone and isolated without real connections to others. The whole book of Ecclesiastes is really depressing, until you get to chapter 12 and realize what the writer has been doing. He has been looking at things without God in the picture. Every once in a while the writer will throw in that God is going to judge, but then continues to look at things as if God is not there. But, in chapter 12 this changes. The focus is more on God. There is coming a time of judgment from God for our actions on earth, which means there is the possibility of reward or punishment. Our actions are not really meaningless or insignificant in the eyes of God. Our duty as created beings is to keep God and His ways in our hearts and minds. Everything is meaningless without God, as the writers of the CNN article and the writer of Ecclesiastes showed. But, if there is a God, especially the God of the Bible, then everything has meaning and we have value.
Jesus brings this up in Matthew 6 during His Sermon on the Mount. Verses 25 through 34 relate Jesus’s thoughts on worry and anxiety. We may get so caught up in this message that we miss verse 26. Jesus says that God takes care of the birds of the air, but then He asks, “Are you not much more valuable than they?” The answer is a resounding “YES!” God may be taking care of the birds, but God did not love the birds enough to become one of them and die for them. Our life has purpose and meaning and value because God created us and loves us.
Value, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. I can look at a painting and say it looks like someone just cleaned their brushes on the canvas, and then not place any value on it. Another person may look at the same painting and feel an emotional connection and pay millions of dollars for it because it speaks to them in a profound way. When we discuss the value of humans we need to understand that the universe is not the one assigning the value, neither are we able to assign value to ourselves. It is God who assigns value to humans, to you and me, and God has decided that we are the most valuable aspect of this universe. Birds and flowers may be taken care of and be beautiful, but they pale in comparison to the value God assigns to us.
The Apostle Paul also tells us that our work is not in vain, it is not meaningless or useless. However, the labor Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 15:58 is not just any labor. Meaningful labor is work that we do for God through God’s leading. This is in line with the teaching of Jesus that we see in Matthew concerning the Kingdom of God. As we do things in alignment with the way God designed things to be, and as we allow God to be the ruler of our life guiding our actions, we bring about actions that are beneficial to others and bring glory to God.
So, don’t let anyone tell you that you are nothing in the cosmic scheme of things, that your life and death do not matter, that your work is meaningless. The God of the Bible paints a very different portrait of you. God loves you, and you are above all things most valuable.