Lent 2008: Day 2 – Death, Purpose & Why Should I?

Continuing with the theme expressed in yesterday’s Ash Wednesday posting, the inevitability of death, I thought it might be interesting to think about how our eventual demise influences how we see the purpose of our life and why we should do anything we do.

Much ado has been given in recent years to the surge of militant atheism, with books written by people like Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins becoming best sellers. Despite their current popularity, they do not posit any new arguments against God and faith that haven’t been presented since the 1700’s. However, when all of the who, what, when, and where are distilled, only one issue is important, at least as far as I can see, and that is why?

Everything turns on why. With the Atheists’ view of life as a happy accident of evolution there is no meaning to why; everything just is. Accept their premise and it all boils down to a quickly passing hedonism (sensual pleasure and experience), since from their perspective there is nothing before or after, only the enjoyable now, sprinkled with memories of the enjoyable past (we can forget or blot out the bad times). There is no why, no ultimate purpose, no meaning beyond the moment, unless you want to construct that for yourself, but then that is your meaning, itself fleeting and soon forgotten.

For me, that is where godlessness breaks down into its eventual heap of sad worthlessness. Death, the same inexorable death we are made to face by the words of Ash Wednesday, “to dust you shall return,” is the inescapable referee, the arbiter of why. If this is all there is, then nothing means anything. It is all a passing synapse on the background radiation of the universe, lost in the mass of diminishing noise until the din itself fades into nothingness and dies in the coldness of nonbeing.

With death as all there is, there is no a why, there is no purpose to anything, other than fleeting moments of passing pleasure, no reason to do or be or to become anything. Without God, and destiny, and an eternal purpose before us, we are left with the sad words of the writer of Ecclesiastes:

I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. Ecclesiastes 1:24

The wind, a fleeting brush against our face and then it is gone. What a depressing view of existence.

On the other hand, the beginning words of Ash Wednesday say and mean more than mere death because the phrase hearkens back to its source in Genesis.

…till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return. Genesis 3:19b

For out it, the dust, we were taken by the hand of God.

then the LORD God
formed the man of dust
from the ground
and breathed into his nostrils
the breath of life,
and the man became
a living creature. Genesis 2:7

We were purposely, willfully created by the sovereign act of God. There is meaning, there is a why.

When Joshua stood on the bank of the Jordon river, the wilderness behind him, the promised land across the water, he questioned the Israelites about the fundamental decision: “Choose this day whom you will serve.”

We all have the same choice, the same decision about who will be our God. For the atheist, those who claim no God, they are a god unto themselves, since they are the final arbiters of all meaning (or should we say ultimate lack there of?). For Joshua and the uncounted others who have followed in his footsteps, service is given to the one who took dust and formed us, who breathed into us the breath of life, the breath of meaning and why.

In Him, everything has meaning, everything has purpose, the center holds and all things find their place. Like Joshua, I choose to serve the Lord and Lent is about rededicating that choice, making it ever more real in my life.

In closing, I ask you about the same decision that Joshua brought to the fore: who will you serve, a hedonistic passing moment, or the eternal purpose of the Most High God? Choose.

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