Life + Culture
Why Things Often Don’t Make Sense
We humans have an irrepressible need to make sense of the world and our experience in it.
Meaninglessness Is an Illusion
Darwinian naturalists believe that we adapted this need for meaning in order to secure food and pass along our genes. Nonsense. Such a belief implies that the kind of meaning that means the most to us is an illusion. And the ironic result, if we really embrace the belief that there is no meaning beyond calories and copulation, is that we neither want to eat nor pass along our genes. Meaninglessness robs us of our appetites. It makes us hate the life that our genes allegedly want above all to preserve (Ecclesiastes 2:17).
No, we hunger for meaning because meaning exists, just like we hunger for food because food exists. Meaning is not the illusion; meaninglessness is the illusion.
The Dispelling of the Illusion
However, it is a powerful illusion. The world and our experience in it frequently do not make sense to us. Events unfold in ways that often look wrong to us and feel confusing. They can appear random. They can appear contrary to God’s character and promises and more like the grinding gears of an indifferent cosmos. And not being able to make sense of them is very hard for us to bear and tempts us toward cynical unbelief.
But the Bible is given to us for the express purpose of dispelling this illusion. In it God reveals the great meaning that is infused into all things (Colossians 1:16), the meaning that our souls hunger for and need in order to live, just like our bodies need food to live. For we do “not live by bread alone, but from every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Meaning comes from God and we receive it through his word.
The Most Meaningful Story
What the Bible reveals to us is that we all have the incredible privilege (what superlative can suffice?) of being chosen to play a role in the greatest epic story ever conceived by the greatest Author that exists. It is the story of the glory of God (Romans 11:36). And it is being told on such a grand scale that God must give us strength to comprehend it (Ephesians 3:18). Everything in the material universe, from the most massive galaxy to the tiniest molecular particle is involved and is itself telling a part of the story (Psalm 19:1). And there are worlds unseen to us and dimensions unknown to us that are part of this story (Colossians 1:16). Every immaterial thought we have is part of the story (2 Corinthians 10:5).
And this is the most real story that exists, for this story is reality. All the characters involved are real. All the tragedies and comedies are real. The cosmic war is as real as it gets. The stakes are real, the risks are real, the dangers are real, the punishments are real and the rewards are real. The story is so creative that it is by definition creation; it is so imaginative that its images are real. All our stories, all our artistic endeavors are merely copies and shadows, pointers to or distortions of the Great Story, the Great Composition.
Why Things Appear Senseless
Is it then any wonder why things we see or experience don’t make sense to us? At any given time we are only seeing a tiny, tiny fraction of the story. And the truth is, our sinful pride often leads us to a selfish myopic reading of it. We end up foolishly putting more faith in tiny bit that we see rather than the immense things God, the Author, says.
But doesn’t the Bible give us example after example after example of saints whose experience for a while — perhaps much or even all of their lives — looked wrong and yet turned out to be part of a story far larger and more meaningful than they previously imagined?
Didn’t infertility look wrong to Abraham and Sarah for decades?
Don’t you think that to Moses, whose life began with so much promise and apparent significance, shepherding another man’s livestock for 40 years in the Midian wilderness must have felt like a wasted life?
Didn’t Elimelech’s and Mahlon’s and Chilion’s deaths in Moab look horrible and hopeless to Naomi (Ruth 1)?
Didn’t it look, both to himself and to everyone else, like the man born blind in John 9 had been cursed God?
Didn’t Mary grieve over Jesus’s apparent unresponsiveness to Lazarus’s life-threatening illness?
There are dozens and dozens of such accounts in the Bible. And they all testify to this: how things appear to us as characters in the story is an unreliable conveyor of meaning; we must trust the Author’s perspective.
Trust the Author
The Author is telling the story and the Author gives each of us characters and each event more meaning than we could have imagined. What might make no sense to us today is in fact so shot through with meaning that we would be struck speechless in worshipful awe if we knew all that God was doing. And someday we will know and will worship.
The naturalistic prophets are telling you a story of meaningless despair. Do not believe their nonsense. That’s what it is. You have a need for meaning because meaning exists. Meaninglessness is an illusion; it’s a deception.
Therefore do not give in to the temptation to cynicism because you cannot yet make sense of events occurring in the world or in your own life. That is the common experience of a character in a larger story. Trust the Author with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. If in all your ways you acknowledge him, he will direct you in living out most fully and fruitfully the amazing role he has given you to in this most real of all stories (Proverbs 3:5–6). And someday the Author will tell you the Story in full. You will be blown away.
The Essence of the Unwasted Life (seminar)
Don’t Waste Your Life (book)