One of the challenges of living in our technological and bureaucratic world is that we get reduced to a series of numbers and letters – our social insurance number, our health card number, our driver’s license, and all those passwords for different web sites.
I remember a news report about a college that tried a more personal touch in communicating with its students. Each quarter the administration sent out a card to check the student’s schedule. The accompanying letter began something like this: “Dear 344-28-0430: We have a personal interest in you.”
Here is a crucial issue for each of us in the 21st century: Do I matter? Does my life have any ultimate meaning or purpose? Does it have any lasting, permanent value? Or am I merely a number in someone’s computer – or worse – a random coincidence, adrift in a cosmic accident, meaning nothing, going nowhere?
Who am I? The chemist tells me I am composed mostly of water, and contain quantities of carbon, calcium, and salt. The DNA in every cell in my body contains all the information needed to make an exact replica of me – enough, if it were written out in English, that a typical memory stick would not be able to contain it all. But I am more than this. Who am I?
Where am I? The astronomer tells me that I am a speck on the face of a medium-sized planet spinning round a middle-aged star. That star, our sun, is just one of four billion suns in the Milky Way, and it’s only a single galaxy, the one in which our planet happens to reside. But there are apparently billions of galaxies spaced about a million light years apart. Within the range of existing telescopes there are at least one hundred million galaxies such as our own Milky Way. When I think of the immensity of the universe, I feel small. I feel lonely. Where am I?
Why am I? Philosophers dispute why human beings exist at all. They can’t agree if there’s a purpose to life – a reason for living – or if life is absurd, as the French philosopher Jean Paul Satre claimed.
Why am I? Who am I? Where am I? Why am I? These are the questions that stalk us – that press themselves upon us with urgency. We can’t answer these questions until we answer a still more basic question: Is there a God? You see: the human predicament is this: If there is no God, then there is no ultimate meaning to life and we have no purpose for our existence.
It is important to see the logical implications of a universe without God. How could I be fair or unfair, just or unjust in a godless world? If human beings are simply freaks of chance, then why be concerned about political or social issues at all? Why indeed be concerned if there is no justice, if there are no rights and wrongs, and if there are no safeguards of any kind? If Karl Marx’s dictum is true that, “the material world to which we belong is the only reality,” then all human values –love, caring, sharing, compassion, justice and friendship – are at bottom empty pursuits in a meaningless world.
“Help, I need somebody,” once sang the Beatles. Yes, we do need somebody because we need God. We can speculate about the existence of God. There are, in fact, many good reasons for believing in God. But it is in fact impossible to prove that God exists – or that God doesn’t exist – for that matter. Good people disagree on whether the world is creation or accident. Both standpoints require faith. It may take a lot of faith that God created the universe, but perhaps it takes even more to believe that the whole of existence – the intricacy of life, the harmony of nature, the beauty of the world, even the Big Bang itself – are all meaningless chance.
A nineteenth century child’s book titled The Chance World describes an imaginary planet where everything happens unpredictably. For example, the sun might rise one day or it might not, and it might appear at any hour. Some days the moon might come up in its place. One day you might jump up and not come down, and the next day find gravity so strong you can’t even lift your feet.
We laugh at such a nonsense world because things, we know, don’t happen by chance. With a book the words don’t fly through the air and happen to land in the right order. Someone has to put it all together to make sense. So a book must have an author – someone to write it. A painting must have an artist – someone to paint it. A building must have an architect – someone to plan it. Could we not say the same thing about the world? That it didn’t happen by chance. Someone had to plan it, put it together, and organize it. This great Planner, Designer, Architect, Creator, we call God.
Christians believe God created the world, but God didn’t simply go away and leave everything to its own devices. God is involved in the world. God holds it together. God keeps it going. God cares about it. So if there is a God who made us and cares about us, it stands to reason that God wouldn’t leave us in the dark about himself – or even to grope our way to him. Christians believe that God has shown us who he is in Jesus Christ. In T.S. Eliot’s memorable phrase, Jesus shows us the God who is “the still point of the turning world.”
In Jesus Christ we know God not just as Creator but also as Father – the personal, powerful source of life and love. In Jesus Christ we know God as Savior – because God gives us life, fullness of life, abundant life, life after life: a life we could not give ourselves but which is given to us as gift. In Jesus Christ we know God as Spirit – because the God who made us is also in us and with us: always and everywhere. In Jesus Christ we discover who God is, and therefore what life is all about. The purpose of life is communion with God.
To believe in the God of Jesus is to know that I am meant to be. Because I believe in a God who created the world and all that is in it; and because I believe this God is working out his purposes – I know that I matter. I’m not an accident. There is a purpose for my existence.
To believe in the God of Jesus is to know that I am loved. We cannot read the Bible and miss this fact. God didn’t make the world and forget about it. Making me is a sign that God cares about me – God cares about me so much that he gave his only Son to die in my place. All this shouts at us that God is love!
To believe in the God of Jesus is to know there really are such things as right and wrong, good and evil, truth and falsehood. Life can be very confusing if we don’t have standards to guide us and norms to uphold us. Worse than that – it can become chaos. But God has shown us where he stands and what he wants from us in the way we live. I find this a great comfort – because in a world of myriad choices, not all of them good, true happiness can only be found by living according to God’s way.
To believe in the God of Jesus is to be a good steward of the earth. Ecology is the science that recognizes the world as a delicate, precision system that needs looking after. But I learn this from the opening pages of the Bible: “In the beginning God created…” – created not a garbage-dump but a garden. I have a responsibility to preserve the earth, which in its turn preserves me!
To believe in the God of Jesus is to have confidence that what is right will win in the end. The eternal God made a good world and a just God is working in that world now.
I know… there is a lot of madness in the world right now. People do evil things. Tragedies happen, as we saw this week with the downing of an Egyptian airplane. Still, as a Christian I have to believe that what is good and right will eventually triumph over what is evil and wrong. The end of the world will not end on a note of tragedy but on one of triumph. So I’m not too depressed at the many terrible things I see around me (and in me). Rather, I affirm in the words of the old hymn:
This is my Father’s world,
Oh let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the Ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world,
The battle is not done,
Jesus, who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and heaven be one.
The purpose of life is communion with God. Do you believe this? Do you believe that God has drawn close to you? That in spite of so much suffering and tragedy in the world, God is good and life is meant to be good? That in spite of our failures and shortcomings, there is hope, because God never gives up on us, even when we give up on ourselves? That in spite of so much ugliness, the world is meant to be – and can be – beautiful, because beauty resides in God’s very nature?
On the Trinity Sunday, will you accept this faith as a way of life, live it as if your whole life depended on it? I tell you, it is not too hard to believe, just too good to believe, we being strangers to such goodness.
My favorite play, one that I read and re-read many times, is: Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. It’s a magnificent presentation of the drama of everyday life. It expresses the basic idea that if we live with the proper perspective, then every moment of living is sacred. Seen from an over-arching view, all of life can be lifted from the ordinary to the extraordinary, from the sight of the commonplace to the scene of creation, from the secular to the sacred.
Nothing sums up this philosophy better than a scene in Our Town in which a letter is sent to a Grover’s Corners girl by a minister who’s a humorist and, probably unknowingly, the profoundest person in the world. The letter is addressed as follows: “June Crofut, the Crofut Farm, Grover’s Corners, Sultan County, New Hampshire, United States of America, Western Hemisphere, the Earth, the Solar System, the Universe, the Mind of God.”
Yes, you and I are in the mind of God. And so, we come back to the big questions. Who am I? I am God’s child. Where am I? I am in God’s world. Why am I? I have been made by God to know and enjoy God forever. Is there a God? Yes! Jesus his Son has shown me who he is, and by the power of the Holy Spirit I believe in him.
Dr. Gary Nicolosi
May 22, 2016
Text: Psalm 8
Trinity Sunday, C