The Meaning of a Meaningless Life

In Shakespeare’s great tragedy, Macbeth, the title character speaks in response to the news that his wife has died:
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
“Meaningless” might be a one-word summary of Macbeth’s soliloquy. And it’s quite understandable from a worldly perspective, but what about the thoughts of a real-life, mature Christian man who loses his spouse? When the wife of C.S. Lewis died from cancer, he wrote this in his journal:
Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels — welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become.
If I were to lose my wife, I suspect I would respond in much the same way. But that’s life in this world. Even the Bible shares hopeless words when it comes to our life on earth. Solomon, the likely author of Ecclesiastes, was incredibly wise and wealthy and enjoyed all of the physical pleasures and comforts that anyone could possibly desire, and then some. He even said, “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure” (Eccl. 2:10). Despite all of this, he said, “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun” (Eccl. 2:10). With this realization in mind, by the end of Ecclesiastes, he says, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccl. 12:13).
I need God. Perhaps the most important reason I need Him is that He provides me with the only meaning in an otherwise meaningless world. Without God, death would be the end and life would signify nothing. Without God, anything and everything I do would amount to exactly zero. But for all that seems meaningless and hopeless, I’m learning to rest and trust in the fact that God will always be there and He wants me to join Him forever. I’m not sure I’ll ever understand the difficulties of this life, but I believe that someday it will all be worth it, just like it was for Jesus, who “for the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
Troy Burns