From Jim O'Brien
April 07, 2017

Hi Friend,

Man's Need for Meaning

Stopping for lunch on a trip to Michigan we were served by a waitress with an unusual nametag which I thought may have revealed an international background. I asked her if it was a family name or did it have some special meaning. "No," she replied "my mom just liked the sound."

Parents often search books of names that show family derivations of define meanings. It intrigued me that her mother chose a name that had no meaning. Her child's name was just a pleasant sound. No doubt the mother loved her daughter. I expect she found meaning in the experience of childbirth. One would think such a significant experience would be memorialized by a sound with meaning.

In his book "Man's Search for Meaning" author Viktor Frankl examined his horrific experiences enslaved in German prison camps during the Holocaust and sought to draw meaning about life. Every human being has a deep need for meaning which often goes unexpressed until some event occurs to challenge our "raison d'etre".

I have a friend whose husband was killed in a freak accident about 15 years ago when a plane crashed near the site where he was working. It was so close, in fact, that he was severely burned by the resulting fire. He lived for a few days before succumbing to the wounds. Almost 10 years later the sister of this same lady was killed in the WTC when terrorists struck it on September 11, 2001. Two such random tragedies left her with the feeling that life just doesn't make sense.

She is ethnically Jewish but her parents never put much effort into religious training. The meaning of life for her is determined by genetics more than faith. The long history of God working with her ancestors is all but lost. The catastrophes in her life have left her completely dependent on medication.

A presidential candidate once chided his opponent by saying that "words have meaning." Yes, they do! That's what was so odd to me that our waitress was given a name with no connection to family history, no ethnicity, no meaning. Just a sound. Even our Scottish Terrier was named MacTavish because of his Scottish origin.

Somehow, this waitress seems descriptive of 21st century religious life.

Imagine a language where the words have no meaning. Sounds must mean something or there's no reason for the language. As the Apostle Paul admonished the Corinthian congregation, "In the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding...than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue." (1 Corinthians 14:19) If a stranger should come to church and hear you speaking in unintelligible sounds, he continued, "will they not say that ye are mad?" (vs 23)

One of the great qualities of the Christian faith is the wealth and depth of meaning. Everything God has directed man to do is filled with meaning. We observe the Sabbath because God commanded it, but He commanded it because of its intrinsic value. To no other day of the week has God attached such meaning.

It is the most profound tragedy then, when man rejects the very landmarks that direct him to meaning and then flounders when events take place that demand deeper insight into our existence.

As words demand meaning, worship demands meaning. Why do we do what we do? Why does God direct us to observe this day or that? Is it, as the ancients sometimes thought, to appease the gods? No! As Jesus said, "in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." (Matthew 15:9) Christianity has meaning! Neither colored eggs nor a jolly man in a red suit coming down the chimney can replace the sacrificial lamb slain from the foundation of the world for the sins of man.

When the children of Israel came out of Egypt God told Moses to institute a memorial evening, a Night to Be Observed. "When your children shall say unto you, 'What mean ye by this service?' That ye shall say, 'It is the sacrifice of the Lord's Passover..." (Exodus 12:26-27)

It is this great season of Passover that brings us face to face with God. For Jesus Christ is the Passover Lamb "slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8) that makes a relationship to God possible. This relationship gives meaning to life.

Until next time,

Jim O'Brien