About the Author:
John K. Akers is Special Assistant to Billy Graham. He has taught at Belhaven College and Montreat College, and was also Academic Dean of Montreat College until accepting his present position.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
This Gospel sets forth Jesus Christ as the living Savior, Master, Life, and Hope of all who put their trust in him. It tells us that the eternal destiny of all people depends on whether they are savingly related to Jesus Christ.
This Gospel is the only Gospel: there is no other; and to change its substance is to pervert and indeed destroy it. This Gospel is so simple that small children can understand it, and it is so profound that studies by the wisest theologians will never exhaust its riches.
We affirm that the Gospel entrusted to the church is, in the first instance, God’s Gospel (Mark 1:14; Rom. 1:1). God is its author, and he reveals it to us in and by his Word. Its authority and truth rest on him alone.
We deny that the truth or authority of the Gospel derives from any human insight or invention (Gal. 1:1–11). We also deny that the truth or authority of the Gospel rests on the authority of any particular church or human institution.
--The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration
DOES MY LIFE HAVE ANY MEANING?
The quest for meaning is as old as the hills. One of the most familiar stories in Greek mythology is that of Sisyphus. Poor Sisyphus reaped the displeasure of the gods when he disclosed to mere mortals secrets that were known only within celestial ranks. His sentence consisted in having to roll a massive stone to the top of a hill, watch it roll down again, and repeat the exercise endlessly. His was a life consigned to futility.
All kinds of intriguing suggestions have been made by philosophers to rescue Sisyphus. “If only Sisyphus could have changed the way he viewed his task, so that he enjoyed rolling stones,” opined one. “Could he not have rolled up a different stone each time, so that someone else could have built a monument with it?” asked another. In proposing such options, these thinkers not only miss the point of the predicament, but more seriously, they completely miss the very essence of meaninglessness.
We can readily discern the reason behind the futility that holds Sisyphus in its grasp. But as times have changed and possibilities abound, one would think we have come a long way from Sisyphus’s malady. Instead, we deal with the same problem, only now, not in mythological terms as much as in the stark reality of our busy and varied lives.
Life magazine some years ago published an entire book on how individuals have coped with this quest for meaning. The publication is a fascinating cross section of words and pictures--from philosophers to drug addicts, from painters to plumbers. Here is one from Josť Martinez, a taxi driver in New York, who provides the sound bite of despair:
We’re here to die, just live and die. I live driving a cab. I do some fishing, take my girl out, pay taxes, do a little reading, then get ready to drop dead. Life is a big fake! You’re rich or you’re poor. You’re here, you’re gone. You’re like the wind. After you’re gone, other people will come. It’s too late to make it better. Everyone’s fed up, can’t believe in nothing no more. People have no pride. People have no fear! People only care about one thing and that’s money. We’re gonna destroy ourselves, nothing we can do about it. The only cure for the world’s illness is nuclear war--wipe everything out and start over. We’ve become like a cornered animal, fighting for survival. Life is nothing.1
There is a haunting candor behind this man’s admission. But fearful of seeing ourselves reflected in his portrait, we rationalize his predicament: “Of course a man struggling to make a living, harried by those in control of his life, is bound to seem hopeless as well. If he were given unbridled freedom with no monetary constraints, meaninglessness would vanish.” We may not word it in such a way but quietly assume that it is so. As we unpack that assumption, we get to the core of what meaninglessness is all about and why it is endemic to the human situation.
No piece of ancient literature was more forthright and more penetrating of this struggle than the book of Ecclesiastes, credited to the pen of Solomon. His opening lines charge into his deduction--“Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” Then he takes a regressive journey, cataloguing his path to that cynicism--wisdom, pleasure, work, material gain, and much else. He comes away empty.
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my work,
and this was the reward for all my labor.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.
This was no Sisyphus speaking. At Solomon’s command, others rolled stones up steep hills so that he could build his stables, palaces, and temples. He was a man who boasted capacities of unparalleled intellect and imagination that made him the envy of many, and who presided over the most pompous court of his time. In the end, he groaned that “under the sun” there was a monotony, a circularity, and a fatality to all human endeavor.
This assessment by Solomon presents a most startling, almost fearsome reality: Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain but from being weary of pleasure. Solomon is not the only one surrounded with wealth and success who has talked of such disappointment at the end of the road. That refrain is repeated with constancy. A modern-day writer, Jack Higgins, was asked at the pinnacle of his success what he now knows that he wished he had known as a younger man. “I wish I had known that when you get to the top, there is nothing there.” So it is not the condemnation of Sisyphus that restricts meaninglessness to the ranks of the monotonous. The condition is universal and cuts across cultures, wealth, and generations.
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