Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Talk Overview: Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory (1 of 4)

The age old question of the meaning of life is almost a cliché these days. We know it's a question asked more than any other but for some reason it's one that's hard to take too seriously. Yet we're faced with the reality that we often don't know what the meaning of life is; or at least how to find it.

The meaning of life is simple enough to define. Why do we desire the things we want like money, power, and even God? We desire them because we think they will make us happy. Consider all of your desires, if one were to be fulfilled right now; wouldn't you be happy about that? Why do we make the choices we make? How do we decide if we would rather have $5 or a Starbuck's coffee? The choices we make are decided by what we think will make us happier. Name one choice you've made that you didn't think would make you happier. Even the choices we grudgingly make because "we have to" are a choice for personal happiness; we know if we don't meet our responsibilities we will be less happy in the long run.

We're faced with a cruel dilemma, however. Happiness is the one thing we seek—there's nothing we want more—but holding onto it is nearly impossible. Sources of happiness, once found, seem to wither and fade before our eyes. Sources of happiness are like an apple tree; the fruit is easy to find and reach in the beginning but the more often we go back the less fruit is available and the more we have to work to get it. Why is this?

I believe the cause of diminishing happiness from familiar sources can be found by identifying where happiness comes from. Happiness is not caused by events and/or people that lead to happiness. Instead it is caused by the fulfillment of our desires. If you give an expensive dollhouse to a little girl she will likely be ecstatic. Give the same dollhouse to a little boy and he'll probably run away from you! Why, what's the difference? The only difference is that the girl desired the dollhouse and receiving it satisfied her desires. The boy obviously did not want a dollhouse, or anything of the kind, so receiving it made him very unhappy. It's a subtle difference; but significant when we consider what our desires are really for.

Our desires come in two varieties; natural and unnatural. Natural desires are common to the human race and include things like desire for food, rest, meaningful relationships, etc. These are part of our human makeup, we were made with them, they are natural. Unnatural desires include a desire for a bigger house or wanting to flap your arms and fly. They aren't common to all humans and come from our environment. When we look at our natural desires we find that each has a natural satisfaction—I am hungry and there is food, I am tired and there is sleep—except one. There is one desire we can't seem to satisfy, one itch we can't seem to scratch. We can't even articulate what it is other than some unnamed happiness. This is why we wonder what the meaning of life is; we know we desire happiness but we can't figure out what the true source is.

Christians believe in a God who is both loving and intelligent. He created us with our desires for a reason and that reason is always for our benefit (imagine a world where no one felt hungry; people would die of starvation simply from forgetting to eat). But what's the purpose of this desire for happiness that we can't seem to fill? The only reasonable answer is that it is a desire for God himself. We can't quite articulate the desire because we can't perfectly articulate God. We can't quite satisfy our desire (now) because we can't quite attain God (now).

This longing in ourselves is a factory-installed homing beacon for God. Just as our desire to eat drives us on to find food, eat it, and live our longing for God drives us to seek him, find him, and live. This is why sources of happiness diminish over time; we are trying to satisfy a hunger for God with imitations of him and they just can't cut it. The longer we go back to these sources the more obvious it becomes that they simply aren't what we're looking for.

While in certain ways we can satisfy our hunger for God here; it cannot be perfectly satisfied until we can be perfectly incorporated into him; which is the definition of heaven. We'll talk more about that very soon.

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