“‘I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for prosperity and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon 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 encountered two radically different approaches to the meaning of life.
The first outlook came from a gloomy book review in Tthe Wall Street Journal discussing well-known MIT philosopher Kieran Setiya’s new book, Life Is Hard: How Philosophy Can Help Us Find Our Way. The headline on reviewer Jennifer Frey’s piece was, “Suffering Gladly.”
The second outlook came from a friend of mine who is staring into the reality of his mortality in the latter 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 unhappy reality of the human condition: We are born to suffer, in complex and multiform ways. Unlike Lady Philosophy, he offers his readers no cure. There is simply no way to spin this straw into gold, no path to true happiness out of our sorrows.
“In fact, Mr. Setiya counsels, we should reject happiness as a goal altogether, and instead think about what it means to ‘live well’ in our suffering.”
“Mr. Setiya’s path avoids the easy answers. He does not say that everything happens for a reason (it does not) or that virtue secures a good life (it might not) and certainly not that we can know the cosmos is guided by a loving, providential hand (we cannot).
“Rather, the consolation he provides is ‘a handbook of hardships,’ a guide to navigating through 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 ease the weight of it.
“The result is a deeply personal exploration of six forms of human suffering — infirmity, loneliness, grief, failure, injustice and absurdity …”
Christians aren’t blind to the fact that we live in a broken, largely dysfunctional world due to the entrance of sin into God’s otherwise magnificent creation.
But — as noted in Romans 8:19-21 — that is scheduled to change in the future, “For the eagerly awaiting creation waits for the revealing of the sons and daughters of God … the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
2. Life Is Infinitely Hopeful, and In the Hands of a Loving God
My friend (referred to earlier as having late-stage Parkinson’s) is a prominent retired attorney who came to faith in Christ midlife, and he 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 advance and my diseases take their inevitable toll, I find myself at a time and place right now where I have never been happier, or more at peace, or closer to God. For I have learned, believe, and accepted joyfully that:
Everything in life on this present Earth is temporary, except for the love of God.
It was never God’s plan for this present Earth to be our real, final home. Our present earthly bodies are perishable, temporary and not designed to last forever, so a physical death on this present earth is inevitable.
As the Gospel teaches, the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus accomplishes God’s redemptive plan for all of His creation, and death is defeated.
In heaven with God, we finally become everything he intended us to be.”
Facing one’s approaching demise has a way of focusing the mind. My friend’s testimony is not shot through with woeful melancholia and disconsolation, but sparkles with an irrepressible anticipation of glory — not loss but gain ahead.
“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose.”
How About You?
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 subconscious “rails” our lives run on — they are what make us “tick” spiritually.
Beware what you admit into the inner sanctum of your heart, where your true beliefs reside. Your destiny depends on it.
— D.C. Collier is a Bible teacher, discipleship mentor and writer focused on Christian apologetics. A mechanical engineer and internet entrepreneur, he is the author of My Origin, My Destiny, a book focused on Christianity’s basic “value proposition.” Click here for more information, or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.