In this video, Prof. Ben Holloway, Instructor of Philosophy and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, explores the meaning of life by interacting with Albert Camus, Søren Kierkegaard, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Read a transcript below.
Albert Camus, a famous philosopher, wrote in 1955 that “there is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.” His question was not about whether one should kill oneself, but about whether there is any point or meaning in life. In history, we have seen essentially three kinds of answers to this question [of] what is the purpose or point of my life? And I have three titles for these views.
One is called “some-thing-ism.” Something exists…
The other is “no-thing-ism.” There is no meaning in the universe and I can’t experience meaning in my personal life.
And then the final one which existentialists often provide us is “my-thing-ism.” Kierkegaard remarks, “The thing is to find a truth which is true for me to, to find the idea for which I can live and die.” The existentialists offer the sort of middle ground. They say there is no meaning in the universe, but “my-thing-ists” claim that you can find something and treat it as if it is meaningful in your life.
In the 20th century, of course, the two World Wars are somewhat the consequence of another way of thinking about something existing in the world that would give me meaning if I participate rightly within it. And it come really from the previous century from a thinker called Hegel who proposed that human progress is an inevitable series of changes brought about by conflicting ideas and thereby there is something in the universe that is objectively real. It’s the progress of human beings. And I can be rightly related to it by participating in it.
Now, for Hegel this meant participating in the state. So this a view where the state becomes rather like God, an objective being that is the means by which you achieve human progress and therefore purpose in life. This of course led to the growth of great and rather terrible political systems in Europe which caused much strife — of course Communism on the one hand, and the fascists on the other side, the Nazi Party… who believed that the state could bring about a new master race. These were both ideas of human progress. Of course, this resulted in terrible destruction in Europe and horrendous wars and awful treatment of other human beings. But that came from believing you get meaning and purpose by participating as a political activist, being part of the state.
Of course the Christian is not just different by degree. It’s not just the best way to have meaning in life. It’s not the best thing to choose as “my thing,” for example. But it is of a different order. Your life is meaningful in that there is an objective purpose for you. You were created intentionally by a designer, by God himself, by the Creator. You are not an accident. You are not just an afterthought, and you were intentionally placed here by God, no matter what’s occurred in your life. You could have all that you love, all the things you’ve chosen to be “my things,” and yet still know that your life has purpose. Why? Because God exists, and being rightly related to him bestows purpose on your life.
It’s objectively true that you have purpose in life. It is also subjectively felt when you use your life, whatever he has given you, to worship him with your life. And this is to enjoy God.