Sisyphus And Religious Faith

As I labor to work myself out of the current economic hole that my own decisions along with the economy has gotten me into, I reflected on the motivation for my hard work. After contemplating my condition for a while I come smack up against Sisyphus and the Apostle Paul. Interesting juxtaposition you say. Let me explain.

The root of the Sisyphean myth is punishment for not conforming to the will of the gods. Because of his offenses and his equally problematic disdaining of the gods, Sisyphus was given an unspeakable penalty in which the whole of his being was exerted toward accomplishing nothing; he was condemned to roll a massive rock up a hill in the underworld only to have it roll back down forcing him to start over. Both his toil and existence had no ultimate meaning. I have, after long years of arguing with myself decided that all those who pursue materialism and unbelief are like Sisyphus, toiling and striving to no meaning.

Alright you say, but how does Paul fit into this? Well, I think the Apostle reflected the essence of Sisyphus in 1 Corinthians 15:14 when he said “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” As an old, now passed, radio preacher, Dr. J. Vernon Magee used to say, “That’s where the rubber meets the road.” If Jesus is not who he said he was, then all our toil and striving has no meaning; we are not really Christian, we are Sisyphean.

So why do I toil so earnestly? Because I have faith. I do not believe my toil and striving have no meaning. I believe it all has a purpose in God’s eternal plan. I also believe that Jesus has been truly raised. The skeptics among you may counter with “What if you are wrong and your belief is all an illusion?” Then I am left with a wager, one made famous by an earlier scientist/philosopher, Blasé Pascal.

There is no way short of dying for me know if my belief is an illusion or not, so I, like all those living, must wager on the future. All my experiences of faith, my various visions, and all my other “spiritual” events could all be delusions or wishful thinking. What then? Nothing changes. I still must choose what course to run, that of faith or not faith. That choice is the essence of the wager of all life: faith or not faith.

As a result, I see the fundamental question as which course (faith or not faith), if proven true, would give the best result? Well without a doubt, faith. With faith life has meaning and every choice grows from responsibility and results in vindication. Well you say, what if faith is false and you lose your wager? Well then, my life has had meaning and purpose, however transient, that it would never have had if I rejected faith.

What then, you ask, what if I had wagered on not faith? I would have chosen from the outset a course that has no meaning, a course where my toil and striving is of no ultimate purpose, essentially a Sisyphean path. True, it may contain certain pleasures, moments of ecstasy, but all the while those moments would be mitigated by the cloud of overarching meaninglessness.

So, what is the moral to this little story? When I get tired of the grind, I remember Sisyphus and Paul and of course Jesus. Then I remake my wager and continue at the appointed task. I make this wager on a continuing basis, each and every day, sometimes each and every hour. So do you, whether you realize it or not, for you are always chosing faith or not faith. See you on the other side.

  3 comments for “Sisyphus And Religious Faith

  1. La Shawn
    July 21, 2004 at 3:57 pm

    Amen to all of that! I toil away on a 9-5. I dream of writing for a living instead of going through day after day of pretending to care about someone else’s stuff. But I know the Lord has placed me here for His purpose (s) and I tried to keep my spiritual eyes and ears open.

  2. July 21, 2004 at 7:29 pm

    I also dream of writing for a living, even though I guess technically I do it as a technical writer (pun alert!). However, I would rather write novels, which I am currently trying to do while I await my next assignment. Who knows? Well, God knows…

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