Pastor Steve shares these articles to stimulate some Thursday Thoughts…
Ask Yourself This: What Burdens Is That Other Person Carrying?
Carl Richards for the New York Times
I was in the airport when I found out that the mother of one of my best friends had just died quite suddenly. She was at dinner with a friend, felt sick and was dead within a few hours.
I learned this through a message from my mom, who heard about it on the local news.
I called my friend. Imagine this scene for a second: There I am in Terminal 2 of the San Diego airport, calling someone whose mother had just died.
He answered. He was crushed. We cried.
His mom was one of the few people who always saw past my stupid behavior in high school. She always loved and accepted me, despite my being quite unlovable at the time. She gently influenced me to be better by not trying to influence me at all.
She was amazing.
My friend knew that better than anyone. He told me about her last moments in the hospital. He told me about begging the doctor to do more.
Life. Is. Heavy. And then I boarded a plane.
I thought about everyone else on the plane. I wondered if the airline employee scanning my boarding pass could see that I had been crying. Were my eyes red? Swollen? I wondered if there would be room for my bag in the overhead bin. If the person next to me would be nice.
In that moment, I couldn’t help but think about how odd the situation felt. All around me were strangers. I knew no one. And as far as I knew, no one had any idea what I was dealing with.
I thought about the airline employee who had just checked my boarding pass, the man sitting next to me, the woman across the aisle. Did they have a sick child, or a friend in the hospital? Were they on that plane in a race against time? What about the person who had been yelling at the gate agent or, for that matter, those who were yelling on Twitter while I checked it standing in line?
As I turned away and stared at the Pacific Ocean through the little window from my seat on the plane, I was left with a bunch of grief and two big questions.
What burdens are all the people on this plane carrying? And how would I treat them differently if I knew?
Assigned Meaning vs Inherent Meaning
Tom Pattison for GoThereFor.com
“You have your meaning, and I have mine.”
“I’m glad that your faith gives you meaning, but that’s not my meaning.”
“You are free to make your meaning and I’m free to make mine.”
Have you come across these thoughts before, when trying to discuss Jesus with your friends?
How do you respond?
The key secular idea here is what Tim Keller calls ‘assigned meaning’: each person needs to self-assign their own meaning and purpose in life. Each individual is entitled to her own meaning and raison d’être. It is therefore a waste of time to apply one person’s source of meaning to another: just because it works for one person doesn’t mean it will work for someone else.
Assigned meaning is one of at least four common approaches to meaning in life:
1) I’ve just never thought about meaning.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Many people have simply never considered meaning and purpose in any deep sense. When suffering comes, however, or major life decisions need to be made, humans do tend to at least subconsciously form opinions on meaning.
2) There is no meaning.
This sentiment is captured by this absurd story from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: a super machine is constructed to discover the meaning of life, the universe and everything. After much suspense, the computer-generated answer is revealed: 42. With comedic genius, the author Douglas Adams is expressing the impossibility of finding any kind of real meaning in our lives. Problematically for Douglas Adams, however, humans are meaning-demanding beings. It is simply unliveable to go on without any meaning. So what options are we left with? Rather than abandoning the quest for meaning, many people simply assign their own meanings.
3) I create my own meaning (assigned meaning).
In this framework, my role is to assign or discover my own meaning. I define a meaning that works for me. I may discover my meaning by going travelling, doing some soul searching, or perhaps just bumbling along until it falls into my lap. This meaning could most commonly be to cultivate a fulfilling career, create great relationships, align myself with a worthy cause, or perhaps a mixture of multiple meaning-sources. But there is at least one more option.
4) Meaning exists independently of me (inherent meaning).
This is closest to the Christian framework. Since God exists independently from us, we align ourselves with him, who gives us objective purpose. Humans all have one inherent meaning in common. Meaning in life is fixed and consistent across all people. Specifically, in Isaiah 43:7 we find that the meaning of humanity is to glorify God. When John 1 speaks about “the Word”, John is employing a Greek philosophical framework (in the original language, logos) to identify Jesus himself as the meaning of life. Ultimately, this meaning is not a far-off concept but actually a person.
But is inherent meaning actually any better than assigned meaning? After all, assigned meaning allows me choice and also allows my meaning to develop as my life progresses. That being said, there are at least two factors to recommend inherent over assigned meaning, even to someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus.
1) Assigned meaning can become narcissistic
Doesn’t the quest to live out a personally-assigned meaning end up with us gazing at our own belly buttons? Doesn’t the infatuation with subjective purpose have the potential to leave us self-absorbed? One of the great contributions of Western science is the investigation of a universe beyond this world—people are not the centre of the universe and I am not the centre of this planet. But don’t we abandon that wonderful outward-looking focus when we turn inward for meaning?
2) Assigned meaning stumbles in the presence of suffering
Imagine you are playing make-believe games with a child; you are playing pirates or princesses or dragons or pretending to cook. You take on identities, knowing fully that you’re not actually a pirate or a princess, but happy to be that identity for the sake of fun. So you’re waving cutlasses and putting on glass high heels and prancing through the house—until someone falls or bangs their toe or accidentally whacks the other one too hard. At that point, the entire assigned meaning falls down. The bubble is broken and it can’t, nor should it, endure when reality kicks in.
It’s enjoyable to play in the shallows, but the depth of reality is unavoidable. And at that point, our assigned meanings, our subjective meanings, our created meanings need to be left to the side so we can put a bandage on the toe or an icepack on the arm. Assigned meanings tend to work best when it’s playtime. But we all need an inherent meaning to deal with the real world. We all need an objective meaning when life hurts.
Understanding assigned and inherent meaning could be helpful next time a friend offers you one of the lines from the beginning of this article. Rather than feeling like you have encountered a roadblock, you could help your friend see that their approach to meaning is only one of at least four. Additionally, you could gently point them to the two problems with assigned meaning.
Although the gospel is the main topic we would love to discuss, pushing through the meaning roadblock is a good first step.
For further reading on this, I recommend that you read chapter 3 of Tim Keller’s Making Sense of God, which I’ve greatly relied on.
Faith Grows Amid Storms
streams in the desert by l.b. cowman
He hath acquainted himself with my beaten path. When he hath searched me out, I shall come out shining (Job 23:10, free translation).
“Faith grows amid storms” — just four words, but oh, how full of import to the soul who has been in the storms!
Faith is that God-given faculty which, when exercised, brings the unseen into plain view, and by which the impossible things are made possible. It deals with supernaturals. But it “grows amid storms”; that is, where there are disturbances in the spiritual atmosphere. Storms are caused by the conflicts of elements; and the storms of the spiritual world are conflicts with hostile elements. In such an atmosphere faith finds its most productive soil; in such an element it comes more quickly to full fruition.
The staunchest tree is not found in the shelter of the forest, but out in the open where the winds from every quarter beat upon it, and bend and twist it until it becomes a giant in stature this is the tree which the mechanic wants his tools made of, and the wagon-maker seeks.
So in the spiritual world, when you see a giant, remember the road you must travel to come up to his side is not along the sunny lane where wild flowers ever bloom; but a steep, rocky, narrow pathway where the blasts of hell will almost blow you off your feet; where the sharp rocks cut the flesh, where the projecting thorns scratch the brow, and the venomous beasts hiss on every side.
It is a pathway of sorrow and joy, of suffering and healing balm, of tears and smiles, of trials and victories, of conflicts and triumphs, of hardships and perils and buffetings, of persecutions and misunderstandings, of troubles and distress; through all of which we are made more than conquerors through Him who loves us.
“Amid storms.” Right in the midst where it is fiercest. You may shrink back from the ordeal of a fierce storm of trial…but go in! God is there to meet you in the center of all your trials, and to whisper His secrets which will make you come forth with a shining face and an indomitable faith that all the demons of hell shall never afterwards cause to waver. –E. A. Kilbourne