Confusion clouds this question today. Few people have any clue as to why they are here or what they are here for. Instead of thinking much about this, most people just go on with their lives, trying to find some meaning in their jobs, families, friends or recreation. But people cannot escape the feeling of emptiness that haunts them day by day.
Many find their jobs drudgery and meaningless beyond a paycheck. Retirement will improve things, they believe. But failing health, loneliness and boredom often kill the pleasure they had hoped to find.
Even family and friends disappoint. Spouses die or leave. Children move away. Friends are unfaithful. Often people turn to recreation to find satisfaction. But there, too, the emptiness remains. When the television is shut off, the trip is over or the ballgame ends, emptiness returns. And in the end the ultimate emptiness awaits us all: death.
With the breakdown of our communities and families people often think that emptiness is a modern problem. But though emptiness is more obvious today, it is really an age-old problem.
Long ago a very wise man wrote a book called Ecclesiastes. He, too, had been hounded by emptiness. He built houses and had great gardens, pools, herds and flocks. He collected huge treasures of gold and silver, musical instruments and every prized possession imaginable. He had many wives, and attained great power and honor. He wrote wise sayings, grieved over oppression, and saw that death eventually takes everyone. After experiencing everything a person could want, he summed up his feeling with these startling words: “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). The word “vanity” has a wide range of meaning. It often means wind or emptiness. But a more basic meaning is “not the way it ought to be.” Emptiness comes from things being out of whack. Nothing under the sun could give this man meaning in his life. Things are just not the way they should be.
Why? What causes this emptiness? According to God’s Word, the absence of God in our lives, due to our sin, is what has caused life to be full of injustice, frustration and emptiness. So, all that goes on “under the sun” is displeasing to God. Ecclesiastes concludes with the only solution to this problem: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
Unfortunately, ever since the first man, Adam, chose to find his meaning and purpose without God, every one of us seeks to do the same. But originally we were created to have a living relationship with him. God alone is the source of meaning in life. He alone can fill the emptiness and right the injustices. He alone can bring genuine fulfillment to our work and relationships. He alone can make things right, the way they ought to be. But how can this be achieved?
Because of our quest to live and find meaning without God, he had to visit us to turn us from our folly. That is why he sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, to earth. By dying on the cross and being forsaken by God, he experienced the emptiness of life and death without God, in our place. The Bible describes hell as “outer darkness.” This is the emptiness of eternity without God. This is where our injustice, which is at the root of all that is wrong with the world, is dealt with. On the cross Jesus took the punishment due to sinners upon himself so that whoever believes in him will be considered righteous in the eyes of God.
As the Bread of Life Jesus Christ came to give us abundant life by restoring our relationship to God. If you come honestly to him and admit that your emptiness is entirely due to your sinfulness, he promises to fill you with his presence and restore meaning and purpose to your empty life.
What are people for? What are you for? You are for God. You are his creature. You were made to find meaning in every aspect of your life through him.
But the great question you must answer is: “Will I continue to seek meaning in my life without God?” If you answer yes, you will one day enter the unspeakable horror of “outer darkness” and eternal emptiness, because this is your way of life now. If you answer no and turn away from your sin to your Creator through Jesus Christ the God-man, you will have a life full of meaning that will last forever.
What is your answer?
The title of this tract comes from Wendell Berry’s book by the same title: What Are People For? New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990.
© 2014 Gregory Edward Reynolds
© 2023 The Orthodox Presbyterian Church