What is the meaning of life? How can purpose, fulfillment, and satisfaction in life be found? How can something of lasting significance be achieved? Many people have never stopped to consider these important questions. They look back years later and wonder why their relationships have fallen apart and why they feel so empty, even though they may have achieved what they set out to accomplish. As the book of Ecclesiastes points out, many goals reveal their emptiness only after years have been wasted in their pursuit (Ecclesiastes 1—2).
In our humanistic culture, people easily lose sight of the meaning of life. They pursue many things, thinking that in them they will find meaning and purpose. Some of these pursuits include business success, wealth, good relationships, sex, entertainment, and doing good to others. People have testified that, while they achieved their goals of wealth, relationships, and pleasure, there was still a deep void inside, a feeling of emptiness that nothing seemed to fill.
The author of the book of Ecclesiastes looked for the meaning of life in many vain pursuits. He describes the feeling of emptiness he felt: “Meaningless! Meaningless! . . . Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). King Solomon, the writer of Ecclesiastes, had wealth beyond measure, wisdom beyond any man of his time or ours, hundreds of women, palaces and gardens that were the envy of kingdoms, the best food and wine, and every form of entertainment available. He said at one point that anything his heart wanted, he pursued (Ecclesiastes 2:10). Yet he summed up life “under the sun”—life lived as though all there is to life is what we can see with our eyes and experience with our senses—as meaningless. What explains this void? God created us for something beyond what we can experience in the here-and-now. Solomon said of God, “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). In our hearts we are aware that the “here-and-now” is not all there is.
In the book of Genesis, we find a clue to the meaning of life in that God created mankind in His image (Genesis 1:26). We were specially made by God, and that gives us intrinsic value; nothing can give us greater value. Made to reflect His image, we have a purpose: to glorify God; nothing can give us greater satisfaction.
Before mankind fell and the curse of sin came upon the earth, the following things were true:
1) God made man a social creature (Genesis 2:18–25)
2) God gave man work (Genesis 2:15)
3) God had fellowship with man (Genesis 3:8)
4) God gave man dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:26).
These facts have significance related to the meaning of life. God intended mankind to have fulfillment in life, but our condition (especially touching our fellowship with God) was adversely affected by the fall into sin and the resulting curse upon the earth (Genesis 3).
The book of Revelation shows that God is concerned with restoring the meaning of life to us. God will destroy this present creation and create a new heaven and a new earth. At that time, He will restore full fellowship with redeemed mankind, while the unredeemed will have been judged and cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11–15). The curse of sin will be done away with; there will be no more sin, sorrow, sickness, death, or pain (Revelation 21:4). God will dwell with mankind, and they shall be His children (Revelation 21:7). Thus, we come full circle: God created us to have fellowship with Him; man sinned, breaking that fellowship; God restores that fellowship in the eternal state. To go through life achieving everything we set out to achieve only to die separated from God for eternity would be unthinkably tragic! But God has made a way to make eternal bliss possible (Luke 23:43) and life on earth satisfying and meaningful. How is this eternal bliss and “heaven on earth” obtained?
The meaning of life restored through Jesus Christ
The real meaning of life, both now and in eternity, is found in the restoration of our relationship with God. This restoration is only possible through God’s Son, Jesus Christ, who reconciles us to God (Romans 5:10; Acts 4:12; John 1:12; 14:6). Salvation and eternal life are the gift of God when we trust in Jesus Christ as Savior. Once salvation is received by grace through faith, Christ makes us new creations, and we begin the journey of growing closer to Him and learning to rely on Him.
God wants us to know the meaning of life. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). A “full” life is one that is meaningful and devoid of aimless wandering.
The meaning of life is wrapped up in the glory of God. In calling His elect, God says, “Bring all who claim me as their God, for I have made them for my glory. It was I who created them” (Isaiah 43:7, NLT). The reason we were made is for God’s glory. Any time we substitute our own glory for God’s, we become idolators and miss the meaning of life. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24–25). And we have this promise: “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).