Is life worth it?
Any reading of the book of Ecclesiastes re-opens the question of meaning. I do carry a particular fancy for Ecclesiastes. The initial fancy for the book was influenced by my own fancy for Pink Floyd. In my estimate, the band had powerfully re-phrased ‘vanity of vanities’ with the same shade, if not with a darker shade of despair and poetic grandeur. I have read Ecclesiastes at various times through life and I have drawn different lessons each time. With each passing year and growing faith you begin to see-hear and feel differently, as you are able to look through the prism of experience. But, I must admit that reading the book of Ecclesiastes has never been a pleasant experience, and I am sure it never will be.
The book presents a grim picture of life, and despair stares at you all the way through. Its detailed analysis of life, questions every possible answer we may offer to the question of life’s meaning and purpose. The author nearly exhausts all possibilities for meaning through his many failed experiments. On the final analysis, life is meaningless even if you try and ‘make’ meaning for yourself. Most of us find it ‘disturbing’, since you least expect a religious text to endorse such a view. Believe me, the book smacks of a contagious pessimism, and if you aren’t careful you could be living its question: What’s the point? Every thing is a chasing after the wind.
Well…you don’t have to always see the cup half empty. You could see it half the cup full and that for me is the value of Ecclesiastes for our times. It does not blatantly declare life is meaninglessness but rather it only declares as meaninglessness all human pursuits for pleasure, power and possessions. It is a powerful reminder that there is something more to life than the pursuit of fame, fortune and entertainment.When despair and meaninglessness stares at your face what do we do? Sometimes, we tend to give up. And this has been captured powerfully in the movie Spiderman- II.
In Spiderman-2, Peter Parker quits being Spiderman. He quits, not because he loses his powers, but because he loses his resolve. Being Spiderman is meaningless, after all he loses his girlfriend MJ, feels miserable for his friend, whose dad was killed by Spiderman and feels responsible for the death of Uncle Ben. He dumps his suit in a trashcan and returns to be just Peter Parker – not the friendly neighborhood Spiderman who swings through New York City fighting crime. He is dwarfed by the question, “Life! What’s the point?” However, Peter Parker has his moment of truth. Suddenly, he is grasped by a concern that gives meaning, goal, direction and purpose. Note, he doesn’t grasp life, but rather he is grasped by a concern. It was, to borrow Tillich’s phrase, ‘an ultimate concern’. Peter Parker is grasped by the need to save New York City. In He was willing to let go MJ, and all his dreams. Now, he was willing to live for it, and more importantly die for it.
What makes the difference? What makes us see beyond ourselves? There is a need for a hero – courageous self-sacrificing ones, setting examples for all. I think Peter Parker’s moment of truth dawns when he is told: “I believe there is a hero in all of us, that keeps us honest, gives us strength and makes us noble, and finally allows us to die with pride even though we have to give up the things we want the most, even our dreams.” Paul Tillich calls this “courage” – the courage to be.
When we are grasped by the gospel, we are grasped by meaning and purpose in life. Our context requires/demands heroes and heroines of faith – courageous self-sacrificing people setting examples. The gospel keeps us honest, gives us strength and makes us noble and finally allows us to die with pride, even though we have to give up things we want the most, even our dreams. It is by living the power of the gospel that we find answers to the question of meaning in life. Not coincidently Jesus said, “The one who finds life will lose it; and the one who loses life for my sake will find it” (Mt. 10:39). This till day remains the key to understanding the meaning and purpose of life. Life! What’s the point? If we are grasped by the power of the gospel, we have a jumpstart. Isn’t it reassuring to know that we don’t have to ‘hang up’ or ‘just hang in there’ we can live and live it ‘meaningfully’.
Read other Spiderman articles at wisdomtree: ” He came, He spun and He conquered” available at https://wisdomtree.wordpress.com/2007/06/16/the-web-of-life-lessons-from-spiderman-film-series/