“’I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for prosperity and not for disaster, to give you a future and hope. Then you will call me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.’”
— Jeremiah 29:11-12
In the span of a single day last week, I stumbled across two radically different approaches to the meaning of life.
The first glimpse came from a somber book review in The Wall Street Journal discussing noted MIT philosopher Kieran Setiya’s new book. Life is tough: how philosophy can help us find our way. Reviewer Jennifer Frey’s article was titled “Happily Suffering.”
The second outlook came from a friend of mine who is staring into the reality of his mortality in the final stages of Parkinson’s disease.
What a difference between the two views…
1. Life is hopeless and no one is in charge
In her journal review, Frey, a philosophy professor at the University of South Carolina, writes:
“A committed atheist, Mr. Setiya begins with a nod to the unfortunate reality of the human condition: we are born to suffer in complex and multifaceted ways. Unlike Lady Philosophy, he offers his readers no cure. There is simply no way to spin that straw into gold, no way to find true happiness out of our worries.
“Indeed, Mr. Setiya advises, we should reject happiness as a goal altogether and instead reflect on what it means to ‘live well’ in our suffering.”
“Lord Setiya’s way avoids the easy answers. It does not say that everything happens for a reason (it doesn’t) or that virtue ensures a good life (it could not be) and certainly not that we can know that the cosmos is directed by a loving, providential hand (we cannot).
“Rather, the comfort it offers is ‘a handbook of needs,’ a guide to navigating life’s challenges. His analysis combines philosophical arguments and personal reflections on his own experience. He offers this in the hope that it will help readers better understand their own suffering and perhaps lighten the weight of it.
“The result is a deeply personal exploration of six forms of human suffering – frailty, loneliness, grief, failure, injustice and absurdity…”
Christians are unaware of the fact that we live in a broken, largely dysfunctional world because of sin’s entry into God’s otherwise magnificent creation.
But – as noted in Romans 8:19-21 – that is to change in the future: “For the eagerly waiting creation waits for the revelation of the sons and daughters of God…creation itself too shall be delivered from its slavery to corruption into liberty the glory of the children of God.”
2. Life is infinitely hopeful and in the hands of a loving God
My friend (formerly identified as late-stage Parkinson’s) is a prominent retired attorney who came to faith in Christ midlife and has been a shining light in our community ever since.
The following are his words to me in a personal email. I have his permission to share them with you:
“As my years progress and my illnesses take their inevitable toll, I find myself right now in a time and place when I have never been happier or more peaceful or closer to God. For I have learned, believe and happily accepted that:
Everything in life on this present earth is temporary except the love of God.
It was never God’s plan that this present earth should be our real, final home. Our present earthly bodies are ephemeral, temporary and not meant to last forever, so physical death is inevitable on this present earth.
As the gospel teaches, the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus accomplishes God’s plan of salvation for all creation, and death is defeated.
In heaven with God we will eventually become what He intended us to be.”
Facing approaching death has a way of focusing the mind. My friend’s testimony is not suffused with sorrowful melancholy and desolation, but brimming with irrepressible anticipation of glory—not loss, but gain.
The death of a believer is a death of eternal glory. The apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21-22:
“For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, that is fruitful work for me; and I don’t know what to choose.”
Our inner beliefs about our world and our place in it are not the intellectual playthings we think they are. Our true beliefs are literally the unconscious “rails” that our life travels on – they are what make us “tick” spiritually.
Beware of what you admit into the inner sanctum of your heart where your true beliefs reside. Your fate depends on it.
— DC Collier is a Bible teacher, discipleship mentor, and author specializing in Christian apologetics. A mechanical engineer and Internet entrepreneur, he is the author of My Origin, My Destiny, a book that focuses on the fundamental “value proposition” of Christianity. Click here for more information or contact him at [email protected] Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.