The Search for Meaning and Purpose

“The Parable of the Rich Fool” by Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Does Life Have Meaning?

What is the meaning of life? This a question each of us asks, sometimes without any awareness at all. The search for the meaning of life has filled books throughout history. At heart, we are all philosophers searching for meaning. At heart, we ought to love wisdom, but too often we play the fool.

The book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament is a literary example of man’s search for wisdom and meaning. But, no matter where the “Preacher” looks, no matter how he examines his life and accomplishments, he draws a negative conclusion. From the start he writes: “The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2)

The Preacher, like the rest of us, searches for meaning and purpose, but apparently finds none. Many today have drawn the same conclusion. They are nihilists who have concluded that the meaning of life is that life has no meaning.

What is the Answer to Life’s Most Important Question?

It has been my experience in working with professionals who seek to climb the corporate ladder, that the quest for more money, more status, more power and influence is a tempting distraction from seeking true answers to life’s most important questions. In the early stages of a professional or corporate career there is often the tendency to put out the current fire and get the job done. What must I do to advance replaces the question about meaning—it becomes the wrong answer. At this stage, we often have an erroneous definition of what being successful means. In my work with professionals who have attained a measure of success and some of its material and psychological rewards, I often hear them ask if there is not something more. But, it is also not uncommon to find others who have embraced the false Epicurean delight—eat, drink, and be merry! And too often, this latter group spends well beyond their means.

The point is that those who do not seek or who give up on the search for meaning will never find true happiness and fulfillment. They will die unsatisfied and lost.

In Luke 12, Jesus gives us the Parable of the Rich Man. Here is a man of means, a successful farmer and landowner whose harvest was plentiful. But, we learn that this person was unaware of his true purpose and the meaning of his life. Lacking in self-awareness, he was filled with self-deceipt. Without regard to those around him and their needs, without regard to those who likely helped him attain his success, we looked inward, only to increase his own worldly treasure, much like a dragon hordes his gold.

Here is how the rich man answered the question of life’s meaning. “And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.” (Luke 12:19)

Jesus does not think much of this philosophy. God’s response to the rich man is, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20)

None of us would ever want to hear God say that to us.

The Good News

Whether we have extensive wealth, moderate wealth or no wealth at all, attachment to wealth prevents us from finding meaning and satisfaction in life. In this world today, there is a strong attraction to material wealth and possessions. But, there is good news!

The answer to the question about the meaning of life is found in the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are not accidents of nature, we are God’s children who he made for Himself. There is something more.

He made each of us so that he could share his blessing and beatitude with us. He sent His Son to become one of us and to die for us so that we might live a meaningful life of love for others and not only self. And He has made it possible to live this life by grace through faith in Him. In this way we will find the meaning that seemed to escape the Preacher of Ecclesiastes, there is more to life, all is not a vanity, and it is found in God and those He places in our lives.

The readings from the bible for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) are: Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23; Psalms 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14, 1; Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11; Luke 12:13-21

Into the deep…


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About the Author

Deacon Mike Bickerstaff Editor-In-Chief, ICL

Deacon Michael Bickerstaff is the Editor in chief and co-founder of the The Integrated Catholic Life.™ A Catholic Deacon of the Roman Rite for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Deacon Bickerstaff is assigned to St. Peter Chanel Catholic Church where he is the Director of Adult Education and Evangelization.

He is also the Founder and President of Virtue@Work, where he provides Executive and Personal Coaching, Mentoring and Organizational Consulting. Deacon Mike has 30+ years management consulting experience in senior executive leadership positions providing organizational planning and implementation services with a focus on human resource strategy and tax qualified retirement plan design, administration and compliance.

He is a co-founder of the successful annual Atlanta Catholic Business Conference; the Chaplain of the Atlanta Chapter of the Woodstock Theological Center’s Business Conference; and Chaplain of the St. Peter Chanel Faith at Work Business Association and co-founder and Chaplain of the Marriages Are Covenants Ministry, both of which serve as models for similar parish-based ministries.

He and his wife have two married children and three grandchildren.

NB: The views I express on this site are my own. I am not an official spokesman for either my parish or diocese.

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