"I donít know what the meaning or purpose of life is. But it looks exactly as if something were meant by it."
Iíve been on something of a journey of discovery over the past few years. Fuelled initially from the anticlimax I felt after entering the "real world" of work, and more recently by a worrying diagnosis given to a dear family member, the questions of What on Earth am I here for? and What happens next? have been ones that have been echoing in my mind for a very long time now.
Yet these questions, despite the huge importance they carry, and the interesting levels of debate that might be attached to them, seem have become taboo subjects within our society. Even amongst those people who I see on a daily basis, with whom I can discuss almost any other topic, and with my closest family members for whom I care most deeply, there seems to be some barrier.
Perhaps fear of causing offence, or perhaps fear of what unknown and scary conclusions might be drawn from a frank and open discussion, are the reasons for this. But whatever the explanation, I believe that, by avoiding a debate on the most important matters of life and death, all of our lives are the poorer for it. More seriously, given that there are people out there who - rightly or wrongly - claim that our actions and beliefs on Earth may carry eternal consequences, avoidance of drawing any conclusions at all seems to be gravely unwise.
And so, I simply want to state here some of the conclusions that I personally have drawn with regard to lifeís big questions. It isnít my wish to preachy or forceful in my views, as I have no greater claim to be correct than anyone else. Nor do I hope that people would agree with me so that I might gain some smug sense of satisfaction from providing a convincing argument. But it is my overwhelming desire to encourage debate. Iíd love to know more about my friendsí and family membersí philosophies on life, so that I could think about what they have to say, and hopefully understand things better myself; and this statement is my attempt to be open and honest about my perspective.
1. Itís possible to be profoundly, deeply, and sincerely wrong
Debate, however, is useful only in as much as it brings those engaged in it closer towards an understanding of what is actually true. I do not for one moment believe that all philosophies, religions and beliefs are equal - my concern is solely to determine what is correct and to disregard what is incorrect, and to fight as much as is humanly possible against the historical, cultural and emotional biases that have inevitable influence upon my thought processes.
The simple passion of oneís belief, or the deepness of oneís convictions are of no interest to me - a profound disbelief in gravity wonít save someoneís life when they fall off the top of a skyscraper; nor, I believe, will ignorance or apathy towards certain issues help us determine our purpose on Earth, or be any defence when it comes to our eternal destiny.
2. Thereís something bigger than me out there
I believe in what appears to be the common scientific view that life has not always existed on this planet, or indeed in this universe - when conditions were too harsh for it to be present, and when nothing more than a chemical soup, or lava, flowed on Earth.
I also believe in the second law of thermodynamics, stating that, in a closed system, all things tend toward entropy. That is, given a certain level of order (low entropy), things can only descend to disorder (high entropy): hot things cool down, complex structures fall apart, and so on.
In order to explain the apparent anomaly of a sea of chemicals turning into highly complex life forms, I therefore believe there has to be something within the system which is of higher order, higher complexity than both the soup and the life forms. Put simply, it seems improbable that evolution or creationism could have occurred without reference to a higher being which caused them to happen (and thatís what, initially, Iíll define as God).
3. We cannot define our own purpose or meaning
If we are seeking to understand our reason for being on Earth (should there be one), or what (if anything) might occur after death, we cannot look within ourselves for the answer.
Our own births and deaths are utterly inevitable, and utterly uncontrollable by ourselves, hence we must look for answers elsewhere.
"Unless you assume a God, the question of life's purpose is meaningless."
Bertrand Russel (Atheist)
4. Historical fact exists as well as scientific fact
In searching, then, outside of ourselves for answers to the big questions of life, there is an understandable tendency to disregard any facts that are not scientifically provable, i.e. those that are not testable and repeatable. My confidence in the scientific law of gravity is high because I can drop an apple every day and observe consistent results.
However, it would be naive to believe that no other facts are of significance. I cannot scientifically prove that JFK ever existed, nor can I scientifically prove that my mother loves me; yet, confronted with the information before me, I can draw fairly confident conclusions based upon the balance of evidence.
I have found no answers that are scientifically provable which relate to the reason for our existence or to what might happen to us after we die. It therefore seems reasonable to consult historical documents in an attempt to discover anything of significance - in order to discover whether God may have provided some hints in history as to our purpose or destiny.
5. Historical evidence is abundant; Historical fact is hard to find
Clearly, then, in a search through history, the road to discovery is fraught with hazards, because the humans that recorded it are inherently flawed. All historical accounts are - almost by definition - biased, incomplete and often written with ulterior motives. And many documents which pertain to the "big questions" of God and existence are often of unknown origin - rooted in myth and tradition.
But it would be stupid to conclude that nothing ever happened in the past because we are unable to provide unquestionable evidence for each eventís occurrence. Instead, given the balance of evidence, the origin and perceived accuracy of the sources, we have to draw conclusions as to the most probable course of events.
6. The Christian gospels represent sound historical texts
The analysis of all historical documents which lay claim upon an explanation of God or our existence would obviously take many lifetimes. It therefore seemed reasonable that if God did wish to define some purpose, make requirements of us, or explain something as to our origins or destiny, the information would likely be made reasonably accessible by that God. And so, I limited my research to the major world religions, and the basis upon which they were formed.
My discovery, and my belief, is that the Christian Gospels and various books of the New Testament do stand up to significant historical scrutiny, and - to date - these are the only texts which provide some detail of genuine historic events in which something of God was revealed to humankind.
Defence and criticism of these texts, and indeed others such as those within the Torah and Qur'an, are clearly beyond the realms of this document and my abilities as an author. But itís amazing the number of misconceptions that are held with regard to their origins, content and structure. The New Testament comprises a number of books, of differing authors, many of which are based upon original texts written well within the lifetimes of those who would have been around at the time of Christ. And the fact that a great deal of Jesusís followers died for the beliefs they held following their encounters with him lends further weight to the significance of his message.
Yes, the Gospels were written by humans; yes, horrendous atrocities have been carried out in the name of the religion that was created based upon them. But that doesnít alter the fact that they stand out as containing seemingly accurate historical information relating to our "big questions".
7. The statements of Jesus have major implications for our life and eternity
Again, this is not a suitable place for me to provide a summary of what, I believe, is Godís message to us on Earth - as documented in the Bible. If I havenít made the point clearly enough already, I do believe that anyone who hasnít yet read and questioned the New Testament very much needs to do so. It doesnít just provide an explanation of What am I here for? but it also claims that the decisions and beliefs we hold here on Earth will have eternal consequences.
Quite clearly, some of the claims and recorded actions of Jesus seem incredibly unlikely. God taking on human form, walking the Earth, and then recovering from what was one of historyís most gruesome means of execution are not all everyday occurrences. But if we are to assume the existence of a greater being than ourselves, then it is not in the least bit surprising that things outside our limited comprehension or expectation might be used as a means of revealing something significant to us.
Ultimately, Christ tells us that love is pretty much what itís all about. The most important of all Godís commands is to love him with all of our mind, all of our heart and all of our strength. Incredible though it sounds, God appears to want a relationship with us! But because everyone has selfishly sought to serve himself instead of God, the only way we can gain forgiveness and enter into that relationship is by means of the sacrifice that Jesus made of his own life, on the behalf of those who choose to accept it.
Choosing to accept Christís sacrifice and enter into a relationship with God is what both provides us with a purpose here on Earth and secures an eternity in "Heaven" with God. Failing to accept that sacrifice would appear to leave us pretty directionless and meaningless on Earth, and will result in an eternity in "Hell", separated from God. And so a decision needs to be made: and I believe itís the most important that one will ever make.
All of the above may sound like a preposterous explanation or conclusion. And perhaps thatís not surprising, since any proposed answer to the question of why weíre alive is bound to be pretty mindblowing for our limited human brains.
Personally, understanding more about my purpose and destiny has been very exciting and liberating. And, whilst having a "relationship" with God is something thatís fairly hard to explain, especially in this rather scientific and logical document, I can attest to multiple times when Iíve prayed to God and he has responded very specifically and clearly - in ways which would otherwise have been incredibly unlikely coincidences.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."
And so Iíd like to ask you, as a reader of my site, for your comments on what Iíve said here. Ultimately, my conclusions are based on what I genuinely believe to be true and accurate - historically, logically and scientifically. And if Iím wrong, or if I am in fact insane, I want to know about it!
An understandable level of hostility often tends to be held against any forms of "religious evangelism", which is a shame because - in most cases - itís carried out due to a genuine belief that ignorance of certain things will leave someone worse off or in danger. And so, because I too feel that anyone who has not accepted Christís sacrifice both loses out in this world, and is in significant danger with regard to eternity, I would urge everyone to look into the matter carefully... and would ask them to let me know their conclusions!
Iíd particularly like to recommend two books - one of particular importance; the other which Iíve recently found very interesting:
The Bible (New Revised Standard Edition), which I believe to be one of the most accurate translations of the original Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic documents.
I look forward to hearing your comments!