The Search for Meaning
by Os Guinness
Do you have a mind that is always seeking to make sense of things? Does your heart have a deep longing for a sense of order and belonging? Have you ever experienced a sense of wonder that thrills to the beauty of the world and the mystery of existence? Or are you uninterested in questions like these? For those who are willing to pursue an examined life, there is a sure path to exploring such desires. Come and let’s consider the questions themselves and the great quest for faith and meaning that they spur. The prize offered by such a quest is nothing less than a life that is worthy of life.
Compared with most people in most previous times, many in today’s generation are not only disinterested but unschooled in knowing how to search for the meaning of life. The situation is as confusing and chaotic as it is over sure paths to lasting relationships. Many of today’s elites dismiss the very idea of the meaning of life as meaningless itself. As a result, the paths for the search are cordoned off, overgrown, and increasingly uncharted and unexplored. For any who are still determined to break with the crowd and set off by themselves, the quest is often haphazard and ad hoc—a matter of everyone for themselves.
But is our generation really so incurious that we no longer wonder about the meaning of life? What does it say of us and our view of our own existence that we are content to assume there is no more to life than muddling along as best as we can? Why are we here? What can we know? What is a good life? What should be our relationship to the cosmos in which we live? Are we to be content with cliches and consensus thinking? If the mounting incidence of suicide opens our eyes to the fact that far too many people do not want to go on existing, then the collapsing birth rate across the modern world raises a similar question at a different level: What will it take for humanity to desire to go on existing fruitfully?
The truth is that the urgent need of our times is a fresh seriousness about human existence and a renewed openness to ultimate questions. Answers to ultimate questions are not only vital to each of us as individuals but to whole societies and civilizations. Indeed, there are no great societies or civilizations without confident answers to ultimate questions, and such answers need to become vital again in our schools, our universities, and our public discussion as well as in our families. “Man” cannot live on cynicism alone. Knowing what life is about is essential for finding happiness in life. The gap between the reality of a human being and the ideal of being human is now alarmingly wide, and we are closer to C. S. Lewis’s warning of a master generation that, through its genetic and psychological engineering, is capable of deciding the course of all future generations—and all without their consent.
The essential first step for us all is to explore what we believe is the meaning of life and, in light of it, to learn to live well together, even with others who have very different views of what life is about.