Introduction: Facing the Questions

Who is that sitting on a small, rotating plan­et gliding through a large, cold universe? It’s you, of course. It really is. And where do you think you are going? You’re riding further out into space as the universe still expands. Some scientists say that when it loses its impetus it will collapse inward. By then, you will be in a grave somewhere. So let’s look there for a moment.

There’s someone sitting by your grave; some­one who loved you a lot. By now the flesh you nourished and protected has fallen off you. But years down the road, there will be no one sitting there. In time, no one will even be thinking about you. In the long history of the universe your life seems to have been no more than a flicker. And so you might wonder: did my life really matter?

Count yourself lucky if you got a decent burial. Human history is scarred all over by the slaughter and extermination of people in every era. Many whose lives were unjustly and brutally taken from them pleaded with God to save them. But God didn’t seem to hear.

Today we are more sophisticated. We have new ways of combating illness, but also new ways of killing people. Better technology and democratic processes haven’t stopped bad things from hap­pening. Yet good things are happening as well - wonderful things, beautiful things! But pause for a moment and consider these questions:

  • Do you sense that the bad experiences are not how things are meant to be, and that the good experiences say something about how things are meant to be?
  • Why does life seem to be like a promise that is not yet fulfilled? And why does it seem to promise what it can’t deliver?
  • Why do you instinctively try to make sense of your life? And can it really make sense if it doesn’t include a future?
  • Why is a child’s smile so wonderful if one day it will be wiped out forever? When you hug a child to assure the little one that all will be well, are you just taking part in a massive, terrible deception, if in the end all might not be well?
  • Why does your heart tell you that some things are meant to be forever? And how do you know if your heart is right?
  • Why is it that two people can still be discover­ing how wonderful the other is after a life-time together? Evidently, there’s much more to who they really are than what’s on their driver’s license or their curriculum vitae.
  • If there is much more to you than where you come from and what you do, what is this much more? Who are you really?

And further: is faith in God something extra that you can take or leave without it making any difference to who and what you are? Surely one can be a good person without religion. Then again, what would be the point of being good, since good people can suffer as much as bad people, and sometimes unjustly? If you want to make sense of that, what you are looking for is meaning. You don’t automatically have meaning just because you are a good person. Even good persons need to know their lives have meaning.

So where do we look for meaning? Is it something you can just decide for yourself, or is it bigger than that - something that links you with others? The deepest question in every human heart is: does my life ultimately matter?

Everything else about your life hinges on the answer to that question.

So what is a human being? Is a person whatever biotechnology might one day be able to produce? And produce to somebody else’s order?

You only have one shot at your life. So is it okay for your life to be determined mainly by other people’s preferences - their social ambitions, their economic priorities, their political agendas? Perhaps those who have power to limit your options believe that as individuals they have a right to do whatever they choose. Where does that leave you?

Do you have a value greater than your usefulness to others? And what about those who can’t be “useful” due to disability or illness or lack of opportunity? What is a person’s value based on?

In these pages I will invite you to look to where others have found meaning. Where others have been can be a vantage point from which to make your own discoveries. I hope the view will give you great joy in knowing who you really are and how much your life really matters.

What I shall share with you is what I have seen and heard and know. “This text was not born at the writing desk” (Martin Buber). At times I will be talking about “we” and “us”; that’s because we all face the same questions. When I refer to “you” and “your,” that’s because I am respecting your individuality and addressing the question: who are you - personally - really?

In this book we’ll cover a range of topics, touching on things you might have thought were unrelated to each other. What they have in common is that they all have something to do with who you are and how you can know this. Each later chapter builds on the earlier chapters, so they need to be taken in sequence - the way you read a story. It’s all about making connections.

At the end of each chapter, you’ll find brief exercises under the heading For Practice, as well as selected passages from the psalms, Scripture, and Christian writers to use for prayer. These are important to do because they will help you make your own discoveries about what is covered in each chapter, and find answers to some of the questions you have about life, meaning, and God.

There is someone waiting for you at the end of this journey - someone you will enjoy meeting.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding

For Practice

Which of the questions found here in the Introduction held particular interest for you? Reflect for a while on what this might say about where you are in your life right now.