Thursday, October 1, 2015

The meaningful life. . .

I got a piece of email recently that said Jesus wants you to live a meaningful life.  Hmmmm.  Does He?  I guess you will have to ask Him.  And you might want to define meaningful also!  Off the top of my head I am tempted to say that Jesus does not want any such thing -- at least and because of the way most of us define meaningful.  Now that does not mean that Jesus wants us to live aimless and unpurposed lives, either.  The problem lies with the word meaningful.  It is not a word used by Jesus or even found in Scripture.  It is a vastly modern word that even our ancestors a generation or two back would not have recognized or used.  But today it is a word used as if it has always been part of the vocabulary of the faith and the chief goal of the faithful.

I looked it up.  Meaningful is an adjective.  It means having meaning."meaningful elements in a language;" its synonyms include: significant, relevant, important, consequential, telling, material, valid, worthwhile. . .It implies having a serious, important, or useful quality or purpose.  So a meaningful life is a life that fulfills all of these qualities.  Surely we all want such a life.  But does Jesus want it for us?  It is significant that the word meaningful which has so filled our minds and vocabularies does not relate to the word faithful.  I am pretty sure that Jesus wants us to live a faithful life (faithful to our baptismal vocation, faithful to His Word, faithful to Him, faithful to His Church, and faithful to His work).  But I will go out on a limb here and suggest that while we all want to live a meaningful life, we are not so sure we want to live a faithful one.  Why not?  A faithful life has no guarantees of personal reward or satisfaction -- the kind inherent in a judgment of a meaningful life.  The hitch is that we tend to be the ones who define meaningful and we are the ones who decide whether or not our lives live up to that term.  Therein lies the problem.

If we get to define what is meaningful (consider the synonyms -- significant, relevant, important, consequential, telling, material, valid, worthwhile), then the single most important criterion is NOT Jesus or our new life in Him but what we think about it all.  Because of original sin, this is a problem for us.  What we deem to be significant, relevant, important, consequential, telling, material, valid, and worthwhile is defined against a distinctly personal standard.  Jesus defines all of this against Him and His Word.  So it is entirely possible, some might say essential, that what we and the world finds to be meaningful lies in conflict and opposition with the judgment of our Lord.  Let me go further to say that most everyone outside of the Kingdom believes the Gospel, Jesus, and the work of the Kingdom to be distinctly unmeaningful, insignificant, irrelevant, unimportant, inconsequential, etc...

I think it is a lie to tell people that Jesus wants you to live a meaningful life.  The truth is that we are all called to live in faithfulness to Christ where God has placed us.  Husbands and wives are to live in faithfulness to each other when marriage no longer is meaningful, satisfying or fun.  Parents are to live in faithfulness to the children God has placed in their care when caring for them is intrusive, demanding, and sacrificial.  We do not get to choose when to be faithful.  We have only to be faithful.  Anything less is sin.  Any unfaithfulness to your spouse is sin.  Any unfaithfulness to the responsibility you have to your children is a sin.  Any unfaithfulness to the work that God has called us to do is sin (yes, even going to church and supporting the church with the offerings of money and time).  Meaningful means we do them because we find them significant, relevant, important, and we do them wantingly and cheerfully.  But you do not get the choice of not doing what you don't feel like or find meaningful just because it is a burden.  That is NOT your call.  You are to live faithfully -- in faithfulness to the voice of the Law and in faithfulness to the gift of the Gospel.

You do not get to be husband to your wife only when it is meaningful to you.  In fact, the nature of love revealed by God is the faithfulness that endures the humdrum and ordinary things that accompany your marriage.  The same is true for the wife to her husband.  You do not get to act like a parent when it fits you, suits you, or is meaningful to you.  You are a parent for the down and dirty of changing diapers, helping with homework, attending your children's school and sports and musical events (ad nauseam), and for the unpleasant and life wrenching moments when you stand with them unable to fix what is wrong for them.

The most eloquent endeavors of the Christian life are usually not the ones we find meaningful but the ones in which we demonstrate to others the selfless and sacrificial character of God's service to us.  I think it is high time we got rid of that word meaningful from our vocabulary.  It has ruined too many things.  We want worship to be meaningful but discard the presence of God and His gifts in Word and Sacrament as yesterday's news.  We sigh at the mundane and routine things that we do to and for our spouses as if these had little to do with real love.  We struggle to find meaning and purpose in significant lives as if the places where we are are too ordinary and beneath us.  It is Eden all over again.  There is nothing less meaningful than a life of obedience in which the innocent dies for the guilty. But the Spirit teaches us that this is the greatest thing of all.  We want to be noticed by others and we want to think we are great (or at least thought great by others).  In the midst of it all, we have not escaped God's notice and while we were yet sinners and His enemies, Christ died for us.  In the midst of it all, we discover by the aid of the Spirit that God loves us sinful and unclean people enough to declare us righteous, clothe us with Christ's holiness, and restore to us what our ancestors once willingly abandoned.  I do not need to find meaning in my life nor do I need to find a meaningful life.  Christ is all the meaning I need and the most meaningful thing I can do is to live my life faithfully in response to Him.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the good word Pastor,

As a hardened bachelor I fall into this trap all the time. I am not the center of meaning, but Christ is. In Him all things now have meaning. An idea that helps a simple man like me make my way through the world.

A friend in Wyoming