Thursday, December 16, 2010

Experiencing Meaning without Knowing Meaning?

What is the substance of the meaning of our lives? Sean D. Kelly, chair of the department of philosophy at Harvard University, thinks that we can find it in the “small-scale commitments”:

• “…to find happiness and meaning, in other words, not in some universal religious account of the order of the universe that holds for everyone at all times, but rather in the local and small-scale commitments that animate a life well-lived. The meaning that one finds in a life dedicated to “the wife, the heart, the bed, the table, the saddle, the fire-side, the country,” these are genuine meanings. They are, in other words, completely sufficient to hold off the threat of nihilism, the threat that life will dissolve into a sequence of meaningless events.”

Kelly feels that life can be lived meaningfully by virtue of our day-to-day experiences without a contextualizing, unifying belief system. It’s like living in two-dimensional space – enjoying a sunset apart from seeing its relationship to purpose, truth, and the fullness of our relationships. It’s being left alone with feelings, which sometimes might raise us to lofty places, but more often confront us with fears, failures, and disappointments. From where do we derive a philosophy that can ennoble and meaningfully contextualize life’s downside? How can we find hope in the midst of brokenness and our inadequacies? How can we love our spouse, after we come to realize that he/she isn’t the answer we had envisioned?

There are certain higher truths that we need to know – God is our answer (Romans 8:31-32); He works all things for good, even our failures (Romans 8:28); We’ll be blissfully with Him forever (Psalm 73). Despite his many unanswered questions, King Solomon also came to a different conclusion than did Kelly:

• Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
(Eccles. 12:13)

We were made for this ultimate relationship. Rejecting it is to reject all hope of meaning.

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