What is the meaning of life?


by Chaplain Kevin Russell Archdeacon to the Royal Australian Air Force

by Chaplain Kevin Russell
Archdeacon to the Royal Australian Air Force

Experiences like war can affect your spiritual fitness and shake up your beliefs and lead you to question your values. Some military people may feel more alone, or even abandoned or betrayed by God. New priorities may emerge, giving a new perspective on life, and less (or more) on what you once held sacred.

Most people believe that:

– They are safe and worthy of love and respect.
– Other people are trustworthy and basically kind.
– The world is meaningful.

If you are not sure, think of sometime when someone did something mean or unfair to you. Or think about a child killed in a drink driving accident. Or maybe you have heard of someone being unfaithful in a relationship. Were you surprised? Angered? Confused? Most people have strong feelings about those kinds of situation because they challenge deeply held beliefs. Deep down these beliefs reflect our spirituality. In short, bad experiences can cause us to ask the most basic of human questions such as – ‘What is the meaning of life?’

Christians have reasons for believing that people are worthy of love and respect, and that the world is meaningful. Often this belief gets shaken by events and experiences that seem to suggest that the world is meaningless, but then Christians can point to events and experiences that reassure us that God is active in our world.

I wish to explore this question, ‘What is the meaning of life?’ by looking at the first book in the Bible – the book of Genesis. Particularly, I will examine Genesis 1:1 to 2:3 – the story of creation.

Genesisstrecher

In ancient times, it was the custom to name books by their opening words, so originally this book was known as ‘In the Beginning.’ When the book was translated into Greek about 250BC, it was given the title ‘Genesis’, and this title was retained in the Latin and English translations. Genesis of course means ‘origin’.

From Genesis we have the origin of our understanding of humanity, showing us that from the beginning there was something marvellous about people – something that makes us different from animals and plants. Somehow people are marvellous, but also we gain an understanding of the dark side of humanity as well. We are both wonderful and awful as a species.

From Genesis we also have the origin of our understanding of God. We begin to gain an insight into the nature of God, and how God deals with us in a world that he created. We begin to understand how God intervenes in the world for our salvation.

We are reminded that we are created in the image of God. Because we are created in the image of God it means that we have privilege and potential.

Here is the how and why.

– As image bearers we have the capacity to hear God’s word.
– As image bearers, we have been given the capacity to take charge of the earth – to rule the earth.
– As image bearers we have the capacity for the possibility of an intimate spiritual relationship with the living God.
– Sin has not obliterated the fact that we are made in the image of God. – Our image may have been marred but it is not obliterated.

All this make us different to animals and plants.

Page One

Genesis 1:1 commences not unsurprisingly on page one! Genesis is Moses’ way of telling us about who we are. But Moses does not start with us, instead he starts with God – ‘In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1;1). So the beginning of the answer to the question ‘What is the meaning of life?’ from a Christian perspective does not start with us, instead the answer starts with God!

The sheer splendour of the created world has not been lost on other bible writers. Just read Job 38, Psalms 19, 33, 136 and Isaiah 45.Solomon-Islands-Memorial

[It would be easy to get side tracked at this point into a science verses creation debate. Christians have a variety of views on how God created the world and what constitutes a ‘day’ in the creation story. For the sake of not getting side-tracked my understanding of ‘day’ is that of ‘God’s day – how ever long God used for the task, noting of course that the traditional divider we use for day – Light – for night and day was not created until day four.]

It has been observed that the first three acts of creation are about God forming the earth (form from void, separation of waters and the creation of plant life.) and the second three acts of creation are about God filling the earth (light, animals and finally people).

Here lies our second clue as to what is the meaning of life from a Christian perspective.

Genesis 1:26-27, “Then God said, “let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fist of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

“So God created humankind in his image,
In the image of God he created them;
Male and female he created them.”

In these two short verses we see that our creation was a deliberate act of God. God had a conversation with himself [See our post on does the Anglican Church believe in the Trinity?] and chose to create us in God’s image.

What does it mean to be created in God’s image? Well the image of God means that we as God people have spiritual capacity in the following manner:

Hearers. As God’s creation we have the capacity to hear God. (See Genesis 1:18 where God speaks to us.)

Rulers. God call us to rule over all the earth (Genesis 1:26 and 28) God views his image-bearers as royal figures, his vice regents over creation (See Psalm 8 and especially verse 6 “You have given them dominion over the works of your hands..”)

Children of God. Elsewhere in the bible we see more about what distinguishes human life as made in the image of God. In Johns gospel (also chapter one –  which echo’s Genesis chapter one) we see that Jesus gives us the opportunity to become children of God.

The story Continues beyond page one

Experiences such as war illustrate this ideal picture, as God created us, is not our normal state of being. In the beginning, people were at peace with God and nature. As Genesis 1:31 puts it “God saw everything that he had made and indeed, it was very good. Christians still believe that people were created in the image of God and that we find meaning as we relate with God and God’s purposes. However, our hope is found in Jesus Christ. (Colossians 1:15, Romans 5:12)

The opening verses of Genesis chapter 2 complete the creation account. They tell us that God rested. There is no closure to the seventh day as there are in the first six day. The Genesis account leaves the concept of ‘rest’ open. For sure, God made this day holy. This blessing suggests the day, which is rest, has the power to stimulate, animate, enrich and give fullness to life. God had ‘finished’ the work of creation.

Deeper in the Bible, we read of Jesus crying out the words “It is finished” (John 19:30). These are the words that refer to Jesus creating the means of us renewing our relationship with our creator. Christians call this work, the work of salvation. Jesus died on a cross.

What is the meaning of life?

Deeply held beliefs can be challenged by the circumstances that we find ourselves in. Genesis, a book about origins, reminds us that we are created in the image of God. Sure, that image is marred, as our present circumstances demonstrate, but we still carry some of the characteristics that God intended for us. The meaning of life starts with God who created us.

Therefore we can say that:

– Most people are worthy of love and respect.
– The world is meaningful.

We are image bearers and are meant to live in a relationship with God. Jesus gives us the opportunity to become children of God and to rest in him (see Matthew 11:28-30)