Why God Matters: What Gives Meaning to Life?
Whether you believe in God or not, we all have to ask ourselves the question: is there a meaning to life?
Why is it so difficult to write about God? One would think that with monotheism being the mainstay of Judaism, this topic would be a shoo-in, but it’s a real challenge to talk about an abstract Infinite Being in a way that resonates with Jews from all walks of life. God is not a trending topic. The fact that we’re stuck in a finite world means we can’t fully understand the nature of Infinity, so the conversation can get frustrating.
Nevertheless, I will try. After all, monotheism was the revolutionary discovery Abraham brought to the world that paved the way for the covenant relationship between God and his offspring.
Knowing that God exists is the first of the ten commandments. As Maimonides writes in the first chapter of Mishne Torahhis codification of Jewish law, “The foundation of all foundations and the pillar of all wisdom is the knowledge that there is a Primary Being who created all existence. All beings of the heavens, the earth and that which between them came into existence only from the truth of his being… Knowledge of this concept is a positive commandment, such as (implied by Exodus 20:2): “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of slavery. ..”
What real difference is God making in my life?
What is the significance of the existence of God? What difference does it actually make in my life?
A complete answer to this question would require a book. This article will present one consequence, and it is the one that compelled me to leave my non-religious upbringing in Toronto and go to Israel to explore the question of the existence of God.
Everyone needs meaning in life. Meaning is what gets us out of bed and through the challenges of the day. As Nietzsche succinctly put it, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how”.
This was one of the main conclusions of Viktor Frankl, the author of Man’s quest for meaning and founder of Logotherapy. As an inmate in a Nazi concentration camp, he witnessed those who survived clinging to some type of purpose to keep living. Whether it is to testify, to publish a manuscript, to find their family, their thirst for meaning has enabled them to survive. Those who lost all hope and meaning were more likely to perish.
If life is meaningless, there are only a limited number of parties, distractions, and escapes a person can use to numb existential pain and suffering before they decide it doesn’t matter. not worth it and chooses to withdraw completely. After all, if life is indeed absolutely meaningless, what difference does it ultimately make to be dead or alive?
But is there a meaning to life? How can this basic need be met?
This is a question that all human beings, whether you believe in God or not, have to wrestle with. The need for a goal is so great that it demands to be appeased, either by genuine satiety or flight and stupor.
If there is no God, what creates meaning?
According to this worldview, life is a random accident. There is no purpose in existence. The formation of life from atoms and electrons hurtling through space for millennia was without design or intent.
So what quenches man’s thirst for meaning? In a nutshell, existential thought says that we create our meaning. As Jean Paul Sartre said, “So there is no human nature, because there is no God to have a conception of it. Man is simply… man is nothing but what he makes of himself. This is the first principle of existentialism.”
We create our meaning.
Finding meaning in something that objectively does not exist does not make it meaningful. This is called delirium.
But there is a fundamental problem with this solution. Finding meaning in something that objectively does not exist does not make it meaningful. This is called delirium.
For example, someone calls their mother and she sounds different, more passionate and lively. “Mom, you speak differently today.”
“Oh I am, honey! I woke up today and I’m Angelina Jolie! I’m rich, famous and beautiful! Life has never been better!”
If this were to happen to you, how would you react? Would you be happy for your mother who never seemed so happy, or would her delusions and hallucinations be a devastating blow?
The illusion, the belief in a meaning that does not exist, functions as an escape, bypassing the existentialist’s suicide riddle, but do not confuse it with real meaning. The harsh reality in a world where there is no God is that all of life is a meaningless accident.
The existence of God resolves the question of meaning. Life was created, by design, with purpose and intention. Meaning is not imaginary; it’s true.
A profound consequence of the existence of God is that the meaning and purpose we seek in life are very real.
The one thing I knew when I was a young man in search of meaning before becoming an observant Jew was that the moments of meaning I had experienced and longed for with all my being were not illusions. . Quite the contrary: these are the moments when I felt the most connected to what is truly real.
I think most people have that intuition. Do you think the meaning you derive from your marriage, parenting, job, and acts of kindness are just illusions we use to fool ourselves, or something deep and real?
A profound consequence of the existence of God is that the meaning and purpose we seek in life are very real. We don’t need to resort to false substitutes to bide our time before falling into oblivion. The meaning is real, and we have a limited time in this world to reach it.
Explore these questions further in Rabbi Coopersmith’s course, Who Is God and Why Should I Care? Click here for more information.