Seminary Viewpoints

The Meaning of Life: God, Nothing or Stardust?

Bill Lovegrove | December 1, 2022
Theology Thursday

Humans have an instinctive desire to find purpose and meaning in life. As far as we know, dogs do not sit around pondering why they exist; philosophy is uniquely the realm of humans.

Philosophers widely recognize that a few “ultimate questions” shape our overall view of life. Those ultimate questions are expressed in various forms, but one common set of questions are those of origin, purpose and destiny. How did we get here? Why are we here? And what is our future?

The Christian Answer

For a Christian, the answers to all three are centered on God. He created us, He has a purpose for our lives and He has a plan for our future. Consider:

  • “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1).
  • “All things work together for good, to them who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
  • “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life” (John 3:36).

There you have the meaning of life in a nutshell: our origin, purpose and destiny.

The Atheistic Answer

However, for an atheist, answers must be found elsewhere. In a materialistic universe, the origin is something out of nothing. There is no obvious purpose. And there is no destiny beyond death.

One of the premiere voices for this viewpoint was Stephen Hawking, the University of Cambridge physicist who was one of the giants of early 21st-century science before he passed away in 2018.

His 1988 book A Brief History of Time popularized modern cosmology and made him famous, but his later writings became increasingly philosophical. Although his 2010 book The Grand Design declared “philosophy is dead,” his writings increasingly explored not just the science of cosmology but the philosophy of life.

His final book was titled Brief Answers to the Big Questions. In that book he wrote, “No one created the universe and no one directs our fate … . There is probably no heaven and afterlife either.” There they are, the three ultimate questions. And for Stephen Hawking, the answers are all no. No creator, no purpose, no destiny.

What a disappointing and empty view of life! How discouraging to live a life empty of meaning. The words of Ecclesiastes come to mind, “All is vanity.” Such is the conclusion of life as viewed “under the sun,” from a material perspective.

Meaning in Stardust?

Carl Sagan, one of the most popular scientists of the late 20th century, articulated a similar worldview. He, like Stephen Hawking, is famous for pursuing the philosophical implications of his cosmology. His writings are as much philosophy and poetry as they are science. A committed materialist, he famously said, “The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be.”

But he found a sense of connection to the universe. He said, “The very matter that makes us up was generated long ago and far away in red giant stars. A blade of grass, as Walt Whitman said, is the journeywork of the stars.” Many atheists seem to find comfort in the poetic idea that we came from stardust and might return to stardust after we die.

Then, in surprisingly religious language, Sagan said, “Our ancestors worshipped the Sun, and they were far from foolish. It makes good sense to revere the Sun and the stars because we are their children.”

Do you see his longing for purpose and meaning in life? For an origin rooted in something bigger and more meaningful than himself?

But sons of the Sun? No, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God” (1 John 3:1). There is your origin, purpose and destiny. There is the meaning of life.

As discussed by Bill Lovegrove on The Steve Noble Show on December 1