Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 17, 1970
NUMBER 19, PAGE 4-5a

What It's All About


"Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher; vanity of vanities, all is vanity." With these words the ancient Solomon set the tone of his dissertation on human existence. He was not the first, nor the last, to try his hand at finding sense and meaning in the few fleeting years of man's earthly life. Within our own times three of the greatest of modern scientists and philosophers have given their understanding of "what it's all about." Sigmund Freud judged the sexual drive to be the dominant and controlling force in all human behavior; Friedrich Neitzsche, the German philosopher, was certain that "the will to power" was the strongest hunger of the human soul. And now comes another great psychiatrist, perhaps the greatest of our day, with an entirely different point of view. And one that, to us at least, seems far more realistic. Dr. Victor E. Frankl, world renowned psychiatrist of the University of Vienna, says flatly: "Man's main concern is not to seek pleasure or to avoid pain, but rather to find a meaning to his life."

Dr. Frankl goes even further in clarifying his thesis. He says that clinical experience demonstrates very clearly that this "meaning" or "value" for which man seeks MUST be something above and beyond man himself; it cannot be mere social and ethical values of his own invention or proceeding from his own judgments and preferences. Our age has in it great multitudes of people who, for one reason or another, have omitted God from their lives. Some of them (very few, actually) have felt that belief in an omnipotent God has simply become impossible with our expanding knowledge of the universe; an immeasurably greater number have let the pressures and pleasures of contemporary life crowd God out of their thinking and consciousness. It is among these unhappy folk that Dr. Frankl finds the greatest incidence of mental breakdowns. "The patients crowding our clinics," he says "complain of an inner emptiness, a sense of total and ultimate meaninglessness of life." He describes this illness as "a new kind of neurosis. . . characterized by loss of interest and lack of initiative."

Perhaps no intellectual of our day was more articulate in expressing the "desolate solitude" of the non-believer than the late Bertrand Russell. In his Autobiography he speaks of "that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold, unfathomable lifeless abyss." It is the philosophy of despair. Solomon said it even better than Russell did, "For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other yea, they all have one breath; and man hath no preeminence above the beasts: for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are dust, and all turn to dust again." (Eccl. 3:19, 20.) For this type of non-believer life has no meaning, no purpose, no significance. It is indeed, "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing."

All too quickly life's brief candle flickers out. If the fleeting years of earthly consciousness tell the full story, then Solomon is right in judging that it were better never to have been born. For even the happiest and most completely fulfilled of men could never achieve very much earthly happiness if he lived daily in the conviction that it would all end at the grave. The human soul has hungers that no earthly reward can ever satisfy. There are unrest and discontent and unsatisfied longings which would turn the brightest and most cheerful life into gloom and despondency — IF it were believed that these hungers could never be met.

How thrilling the contrast between the gloom and pessimism of Solomon, surrounded by every kind of luxury and satisfaction even the most hedonistic of men could desire, and the radiant joy of Paul in chains in a Roman prison writing his love letter to the church at Philippi! Solomon felt the unutterable hopelessness of man without God; Paul knew the ineffable joy of companionship with the Infinite. That was the difference. Solomon's father, David, had expressed the hunger of the soul in poetic fashion, "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, So panteth my soul after thee, 0 God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God." (Psalm 42:1, 2) And the same David had expressed how deeply satisfying and fulfilling can be the companionship of man with God when that "thirst" is quenched by assurance of faith — "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want."

In the final analysis of human existence the only thing that matters at all is man's relationship to God. That is what life is all about. Hunger and thirst and famine, wars and bloodshed and violence, poverty and ignorance and injustice, earthquakes and hurricanes — these things are trivial and fleeting and meaningless. What could possibly be more insignificant than the manner of one's death, whether by an atomic bomb, by slow starvation, by an assassin's bullet, in the fiery crash of a jetliner, or in the still quietness of one's own bed. It is not how one dies that counts, it is how one has lived! The gloomy and depressing search of Solomon finally came up with the one thing that matters: "This is the end of the matter; all hash been heard: fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole of man." That is what life is all about.

— F. Y. T.