A lot of people are searching for purpose and meaning in life. This article discusses some Biblical advice.
Where not to seek for meaning
Let’s start with some potential sources of meaning that do not provide lasting fulfillment:
A life of luxury and abundance
The book of Ecclesiastes is mainly devoted to the search for meaning in life. The author describes an experiment he did:
“I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine – my heart still guiding me with wisdom – and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man. So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2:3-11).
All the luxury of the world did not bring this man lasting joy. Many people will agree with him: they spend most of their lives working hard to reach a certain level of luxury so they need not be concerned about their daily needs anymore, but once they reach this goal, it does not satisfy their inner unrest.
Philosophies and world views
A second option to find meaning in life, may be to search for a world view that makes sense out of the apparent chaos of life. Many people believe there must be a reason for their existence, something greater than their day to day life, a common goal of humanity. The writer of Ecclesiastes tried this, too. His conclusion is sobering:
“I said in my heart, I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge. And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind.” (Ecclesiastes 1:16-17).
The apostle Paul also warns us:
“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).
It is good to search for wisdom. The Bible highly values that. But no human philosophy or world view can offer you ultimate meaning apart from God.
Serving other gods
All over the world and throughout history, people have been worshiping and serving gods (compare Revelation 9:20). But the Bible is absolutely clear that there is only one true God. See for example 1 Corinthians 8:4, “We know that an idol has no real existence, and that there is no God but one.” In Isaiah 44:9-20, the prophet Isaiah ridicules people who cut down a block of wood, make an idol out of it and then worship it as a god. This is absolutely useless, since idols are not real. There is only one real God.
Outward religion, or an adapted Gospel
Some people call themselves Christians and outwardly live like Christians, but it’s just fake. They don’t really accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Jesus met such people and said their religion was meaningless: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:8-9). God does not want outward devotion alone. He wants “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).
Others say they believe in God, but they make some adaptations to the Gospel to meet their needs or to make it match their world view. Some don’t believe that Jesus was truly God, for example. They have respect for Him as a great teacher, but they don’t think He was more than that. Others consider the physical resurrection from the dead frankly impossible, so they just ignore that doctrine. But no, the Bible says, you can’t cut out these fundamental elements! They are at the core of God’s salvation plan. As the apostle Paul exclaims, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14, compare 2 John 1:7). You can’t find purpose in a Gospel of your own making. It’s ultimately meaningless.
Where to seek for meaning
There is only one source of ultimate meaning in life: the Lord God. Barnabas and Paul told the people: “We bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them” (Acts 14:15). And this message still holds.
Jesus invites you to come to Him and find rest for your soul (Matthew 11:28-29). Give up searching elsewhere. In Him, you find everything you need, since He is the only way to God the Father. If you believe in Him, you receive an eternal, joyful and meaningful life. You were created by God to have a personal relationship with Him, and if this relationship is restored, it gives you life purpose and direction. You become part of the worldwide church and are incorporated in God’s temple as a living stone (1 Peter 2:4-5).
The bigger picture
Many people claim you need to find your personal purpose in life, since this is as unique to you as your fingerprint. I understand this claim, since you are different from any other person on earth. But your life purpose is not mainly found at the individual level. It’s the fact that you are a human, created and loved by God, that gives your life value and meaning. He already knew you before you were born (Psalm 139:13-17), He knows your deepest thoughts (Psalm 139:1-6), and you are part of the bigger plan He has for this world – a world created for His glory. In this bigger picture, He has a role for you to play. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
God is at the center of your life
The Bible tells you where you come from: you were created by God.
The Bible tells you what’s your purpose as a human: you were created for God’s glory.
The Bible tells you where to find lasting joy: in God’s presence (Psalm 16:11).
The writer of Ecclesiastes agrees with this: “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
Have you found your destiny in God?