Meaning of Life
There a God?
What is the meaning of life?
The Bible says that it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. What does this mean?
Too often, people are overwhelmed by the pain and poverty and evil and misery in the world. They say: I am just one person. What can I do? What difference could I possibly make in this huge world? Then they give up, all the time lamenting the fact that there is so much suffering, and generally blaming God for it.
But it is cursing God to blame Him for evil and suffering. He is the source of all that is good. All evil stems from our own human failings, our own free will choices of selfishness and ego over God’s Word, starting with our fall from Paradise.
How can we light one candle in a universe of darkness? By smiling at a stranger. By a pleasant greeting; perhaps by wishing them a blessed day. By purchasing food for a person who is hungry, perhaps just one meal for one person if that is all we can afford. By sharing what little we may have, even if, like the beggar woman in the Gospel, that is only giving one of our two small coins to another beggar who has none at all. This is how we show our love of God. “Whatsoever you do for the least of your brethren,” said Christ, “you do for Me.” That is the whole key to our personal relationship with God, in His own words. That is really everything.
"The Bible states that the only way to heaven is through Christ. We cannot merit heaven by our good works, only by believing in Him, isn't this right? "
The Way of Christ is like a great highway to heaven. Before He came, there was no road at all, there was no way that a person could fulfill their destiny as God's child and be united with Him forever. All the good works in the world were not enough. We could not atone for the unforgiveable sin of disobeying God.
By dying on the Cross, He made it possible for God to forgive us of our sins. There was now a road to heaven. Only through Christ will we be saved.
But while it is necessary to believe in Christ, superficial belief is not enough. God has no patience with those who say they believe, in the selfish hope of personal salvation, but who do not heed his commands to love everyone else as much as we love ourselves. Listen-- these are the actual words of Jesus Christ, and sounding like they were said almost in anger:
"It is not those who say to me, "Lord, Lord", who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who actually does the will (commands) of my Father in heaven. When the day comes, many will say to me, "Lord, did we not prophecy in your name, cast out demons in your name, work many miracles in your name?" Then I shall tell them to their faces: I have never known you; away from me you evil men!"
(Matthew 7: 21-24)
This was his closing statement to the Sermon on the Mount, his magnus opus about how we are commanded to lead our lives. In it, he went into great detail about how we are to love not just our friends, but our worst enemies, and also to give to anyone who asks, and how much the Father respects you for giving alms to the poor. The entire text is in St. Matthew.
It can be argued that it is impossible to believe in Christ and not do as He commands. How could anyone believe that He is truly GOD and still disobey His clear and direct commands? In this case, yes, belief in Him is both necessary and sufficient to open our hearts and accept God's saving grace.
Jesus said, clearly and plainly, that it is not enough to have faith in him; we also must obey his commandments. "Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ but do not do the things I command?" (Luke 6:46)
Christ talked at length about was what we personally had to do to achieve happiness forever in the Kingdom of Heaven.
After doing some soul searching, it appears that the "love your neighbor" command is the one that I am constantly breaking. But how far do we have to go with this?
A soldier goes off to war, to drop bombs on people he does not know. If he were the target himself, would he then approve the bomb drops? If not, then he loves himself more than he loves those other people.
Suppose two people are hungry, you and a complete stranger. You are both standing on the sidewalk downtown. You have enough money for one meal. How many people would go to a restaurant and buy a meal and eat it himself? A person who loves his neighbor as much as himself would share the one meal with the hungry person.
Suppose it is a cold night. You are out shopping. You can't wait to get home to your nice warm home. You see a person lying in a doorway, and you know that they will be there all night. What do you do? A person who loves his neighbor as much as himself would find shelter for the person in the doorway, with the same determination that he would show in finding shelter for himself.
That is what is meant. Those hungry and homeless people are every bit as much God's children as you are, and He loves them equally. You are here to see to it that they do not go hungry and homeless. Not God, you. He will take care of them in Eternity; you must take care of them now.
How difficult this is! Christ gives us mountains to climb, when even making it over small hills is all we think we can do. He always lays down a challenge for us, and tells us that it is best to be perfect. But He is God, and He knows us well. We are to set our sights high; but no matter what we attain, he knows exactly how hard we try. He simply wants us to do the best we can. If sometimes our efforts are not successful, if sometimes we get our love thrown back in our face, it does not matter. It is in how hard we try that our life will be judged.
"I worry that if I love my neighbor as myself only to get to heaven, God will think I am selfish."
Wow, how we humans can twist things around! God sees so much hatred and meanness and inhumanity to man, we are sure He will happily take anything good from you He can get, for whatever reason it is done!
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I love my wife so much. Three months ago she broke her shoulder. I work 125 miles away. During these three months I have been so busy at work my wife feels I have ignored her. She feels so bitter and angry towards me that yesterday she left me. Where do I go from here?
There is an old saying in marketing, “No one wants a drill. They want a hole. So to sell drills, talk about holes.”
Well, no one wants a “job.” They want happiness. They figure that a job is a means to that end, bringing in money, which will in turn buy happiness.
Your job has not brought you happiness, so it is worse than useless.
If you read my website, you know that you cannot make yourself happy by anything that you do for yourself. It has to come as a consequence of how happy we make other people. In your case, you are responsible for your wife. Your prime directive is to make her happy. Regardless. Regardless of anything and everything concerning yourself.
I’m sure your wife still loves you, which is all-important now. She cannot understand why you haven’t figured life out yet. Well, everything you need to know about life is in that last paragraph (except for one thing.)
Talk to her, and tell her that you finally have it straight, and that you are willing to do anything and go anywhere for her. Change jobs, move your house, anything. Ask her for her opinion. You two have to work as a team! Tell her that. A team! Do whatever she thinks would make her happy. If she wants to live in a cardboard carton, do it. Forget about career and everything else. Hopefully, if she is brought in on the decision at the start, you two can arrive at a good solution together. But you have to be willing to do whatever it takes, whatever she wants, and then really follow through.
Then you will be happy.
That one other thing? All this advice will be tough to do, just like so much in life. You will not be able to do it alone. Always rely on God’s help. Talk to Him, often. Like a dad. He wants to hear from you and be in on things. You will get the help you need.
I am divorced, and I remarried almost 25 years ago. I have two wonderful sons and a truly marvelous wife. We love each other deeply, and I cannot now put right the mistakes I made so long ago. How do I reconcile this and have peace of mind? Am I living in sin continually, and how does God see me now?
God sees you as His beloved child. He always will.
I wish you were Catholic, I would tell you simply to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation and you would know positively that you are forgiven of all former sins, and have the entire slate cleaned. "Whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven them," said Christ to His first disciples.
But He did not say that no one else could be forgiven. The Church believes that Christ died for the sins of all mankind, and if we are repentant and ask for forgiveness, it will be given. Every time. You are expected to be truly sorry, and to vow not to do that again. I believe you have both those bases covered.
Catholics are also asked to do some small penance in thanksgiving for God's mercy. I would suggest that when you pray and ask God for forgiveness, that you tell Him that in return, you will be extra loving and patient with your wife, and try your hardest never to make her unhappy. Treat her like a queen. Never raise your voice, and bring her little gifts that say "I love you."
Do not worry. We are all human. God knows this; He knows all about us. He is an indulgent Father, as all fathers are, and his mercy is infinite.
Go on from here. It will be just fine.
I can’t seem to really enjoy life. I’m like a spectator, and wonder why I can’t find a connection with life. I wouldn’t even care if I died fairly young.
The connection we have with life is the love and care we give to others.
Sometimes when I am on a vacation, I look at the nice buildings, or the beautiful fields or lakes or gardens or houses, and I feel sad, like here I am and there they are, and I am not a part of them and they are not a part of me, so what should I care about them? What do they mean to me? As you say, I am only a spectator. Instead of looking at a lovely wild field, I want to lie in it, smell it, see and hear the bees buzzing busily on the flowers, feel the sunshine on my skin. But even that is not enough. I want to be a real part of it. But I cannot be. It is almost like driving along in a car with the windows up, looking at scenery. What is the difference between that and watching a travelogue on TV? None. Both are unsatisfying and meaningless.
We humans have a deep desire to immerse ourselves in the world, to share our existence with others, to make a difference in the world and in other lives. We are trapped inside our own minds and bodies, though, and there seems to be no escape.
But there is. In eternity, we expect to be united with God, and through Him to be united with our brethren in humanity. We won’t be alone or unconnected ever again. But in this world, there is a way to experience something of this feeling too, and to be truly happy. It is as simple as following God’s great command. This should not surprise anyone. Who should know better than God how we can be happy on this earth? He is God, after all. He loves us, and wants us to be happy.
His great command is to love our brethren as much as we love ourselves. To the extent that we do that, we will be satisfied and happy. We must feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, comfort the sorrowful. We must be a beacon of hope and good cheer in the world. We must put other people’s happiness above our own.
That might mean having a family and taking good care of them. That definitely means sharing what we have with all those in the world who have less. Christ tells the story of the beggar woman who had a mere two small coins in all the world. She gave one of them to a woman who had none. Christ assured us that the generous woman would spend eternity in paradise with God. That is how we are to live our lives.
It does seem that to be happy, one should try to make oneself happy. But no. Life is a paradox.
I am still young, but I now have to make decisions that will affect the rest of my life. I am very confused, and am going back and forth on what I want to do with my life. Do I want to try and make a real positive difference in the world, or do I just want to make a living and have a family?
It is perfectly OK to make a living and raise a family. You can be an enormous influence for good in the world just by leading a good life. One good example is worth a hundred sermons.
We all have talents. God expects us to work hard to utilize them fully. Stay in school as long as possible, aim for a profession like doctor or engineer or architect or whatever interests you. A degree in Art History, for example, would be excellent if you wanted to be the director of an art gallery. Just take general courses until you decide where your talents and interests lie.
When you get your degree, there is still plenty of time to decide if you want to actually go to a seminary or divinity school, to perhaps be a priest or minister. But life is full of opportunities to help people. You cannot feed people or shelter or clothe them unless you can buy the food and clothes and housing, and that takes money, and money must be earned. It is very noble to work hard and earn lots of money, and spend it on poor and starving people all over the world. It is also extremely important to raise kids to be good people and good Christians. There are far too few in the world.
Isn’t it safe to say that you have to make yourself happy before you can make others happy? I feel like I deserve the same respect I give others.
You are confused because you are still thinking how you can make yourself happy. This should never be our goal. Your words “I deserve” are very telling. What you should hope to deserve is eternal happiness, and the satisfied and happy feeling throughout life that you are doing your best to love God. Forgive everyone everything. Hold no grudges. Always be cheerful and pleasant. See that no one goes hungry. Wow, is all that difficult, or what? No one said it would be easy. And you won’t be perfect, no matter how hard you try. But it is in exactly how hard you try that your life will be measured at the moment of your death.
If there is no importance in anything we do besides praise God and be sure to love and cherish him, then why do we bother with the rest? (Such as career) I know that I really want to figure out how to be closer to God and be a better person all around. But if I just concentrate on making money and generally pass the time as comfortably as possible until I die...well, it seems hollow. How do I regain the substance I used to have in myself?
Loving God isn't something we do all by itself, while sitting around. We show our love for God by how we live our lives. God wants us to fully participate in this world, and help build it. He also wants us to fully enjoy it, and the only way we can do this is by living our lives in Him. Only by following His commands and our own conscience can we achieve the peace and joy that this life is capable of bringing to us.
In the Gospels, Christ mentioned that if one is a soldier, then be a good, honest soldier and fulfill your duties properly and with mercy. If one is a tax collector (the most reviled people of all) then be a good tax collector and do not cheat or extort anyone. God realizes that this is a big, complex world that He made and it takes many people laboring at many jobs to make it all work.
He also gives each of us unique talents and aptitudes. Some, like His father Joseph, are happy doing carpentry. Some have the ability to be a doctor, or a corporate manager. We are expected to find out what jobs would suit us best and then work hard to develop our talents as much as possible. To waste the gift of talent is to insult the gift-giver.
One of the most important messages of Christianity is that if we earn more than is necessary for our own essential needs, then we are expected to share our income with those of God's children who have not been given as many gifts as we have, or perhaps have had unfortunate circumstances of life that left them in need. There are billions of these people. At last count there were over 6 billion, 400 million of us, and more than half live in third world countries where there is constant hunger and little shelter.
These people, these children of God, need you. Your life will not be at all hollow if you live for everyone, through Christ, and not just for yourself.
I don't know if what I'm seeking is God. I used to have faith growing up, but I don't think it was genuine. I can't seem to really love God, even though I know I should. I don't really LOVE giving things up for him. Even though I know that relationships and money and respect aren't what I really need, they are all I'm comfortable with. I don't want to do without them.
Don't think that what you are feeling is uncommon. The fact is, we live in this world, and so "worldly" things actually matter pretty much to all of us.
To have no desire for comfort and praise and human love is unnatural. God did not say we were not to enjoy as best we can this wondrously beautiful earth. What He did say was that we are to live here by His rules, not our rules. If we live by His rules, we can expect the earth to give us all the pleasure and joy that is possible for us.
Usually, this is counter-intuitive. Therein lies our moral dilemma. In our own opinion, we would be happier living by our own rules. Wouldn't we be happier buying that new sports car rather than feeding people down at the mission? It seems so obvious. But it comes down to this: we trust in God. We trust Him to know better than we do. On blind faith? No. Because deep down in our hearts and souls we know the Truth. It is part of who we are, fight it as we will.
We live a joyful, full life. We spread cheer and comfort wherever we go, trying to be a light in the darkness of people's sorrow. We do our best to share the rewards of God's gifts to us with the less fortunate, but we also take the time to live a full and rich life ourselves. We are fully aware that the end of this life is the beginning of the next, and so we do a little prudent planning. We do not worry about that journey, because we are already familiar with Who will greet us at the station.
No one loves God the way they can love other people. It just isn't possible, or expected. But suppose you were only a baby when your father was listed as killed in action in the army. Now at the age of twenty, imagine how you would feel if your mom ran up to you one day with a telegram in her hand and said that he had been found alive, that he had been in a prisoner of war camp all this time, and that he was coming home.
You would be overwhelmed with joy and love. For a man whom you had never known! Why? Because he is your father.
God is your father too.
I can't seem to help holding grudges, no matter how hard I try to let go. If I just pretend to like certain people and pretend to want the best for them (but not really) and love them, is God mad at me?
No. There is a huge difference between thinking of doing mean or bad things, and actually doing them. If we were all so good and loving and forgiving that we never wished bad things on certain other people, we would be angels. Thoughts like this are part of our nature, the part we have to rise above. Can we be happy even though we still get tempted by thoughts like this? Absolutely. It is by our deeds that we will be judged, not by our temptations. Temptation is not sin. We can be happy in the knowledge that we have made the difficult choice not to give in to our temptation, but instead to fight it.
Something nice happens, though, as we go through life fighting temptation and bad thoughts and doing what is good. The bad thoughts become less and less strong and frequent. And we still get full credit, because it was our free choice to make them less strong and frequent.
Forgiveness is so difficult that just the outer appearances of it sometimes have to do for a while. If we smile cheerfully and help people, even though we still harbor grudges and resentment toward them, this is good. And just as above, we can expect to truly forgive them sometime in the future. For now, it is what we do that is all important.
I pray for God to show me my life's work, but the silence of heaven is deafening! Why did He create me? Why am I here? How does He expect me to find my way, if He will not show me clearly and in a way that I can know beyond a shadow of doubt that it's Him speaking?
In the Gospels, Christ very clearly tells us what the meaning of life is, and He was speaking to you and to everyone. He said that it was to love God with your whole heart, and to love everyone else as much as yourself. What could be more clear?
Naturally we cannot love God in the same way we love other people. We show our love for God in a special way, by caring for His children, our fellow human beings. We can enlighten their minds by being a teacher. We can heal their sicknesses and wounds by being a doctor. We can bring the Word of God to them by being a priest or preacher or poor website writer. We can visit the elderly and shut-ins and bring cheer to their lives. We can develop any talents and aptitudes God has given us and become engineers or lawyers or carpenters, and earn as much money as we can and give what we do not need for ourselves to charity to feed hungry people and shelter the homeless. Life is so full of ways we can serve God and show our love for Him!
He has told us not to worry at all about the things of this world, just concentrate on loving Him and He will take care of everything else. So do not worry about not getting signs. Make every decision in your life based on how it will best serve other people and show love for God. He will see to it that everything in your life will be perfect, just exactly according to His plan that He has for you. There may be pain, there may be sorrow, but it will be His will. Accept that, and expect a very high place with Him forever.
I work for a large company in a predominantly Hindu country. I want to evangelize, but I don’t know what approach would be effective.
We believe that the best approach for you is to make it known that you are Christian, and then to lead an exemplary Christian life yourself. Be friendly to all. Organize drives to raise money for hungry people around the world, especially in the home countries of a large number of your fellow employees. Fifteen thousand children die a horribly painful death by starvation every day around the world. That is to mankind’s everlasting shame. You should openly try to save some of these children. Saving a starving Hindu child will mean much to a Hindu, far more than any words ever could.
Do not ever tell someone that they are wrong. Emphasize the positive. Tell them that you are their brother, because there is only One God, and Christians and Muslims and Hindus and everyone are His children. When you are with them, treat them just as you would treat Jesus Himself. Make every person feel special and loved and welcome into your world. Do not scold them about their religion, or lecture them.
Actions speak far louder than words. For now, just let everyone see how a follower of Jesus (God) leads his life. Above all, do not be obnoxious. People often enjoy listening to a different viewpoint, but only when they request it themselves, and they never like to be told that they and their parents and ancestors are wrong; they will just disappear into a shell. Don’t forget, you are not in this alone. Let God do His part.
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For more about what it means to be a Christian, read our page "Being a Christian."
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