The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:
says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless.”
- Ecclesiastes 1:1-2
For who knows what is good for a person in life, during the few and meaningless days they pass through like a shadow? Who can tell them what will happen under the sun after they are gone?
- Ecclesiastes 6:12
Then too, I saw the wicked buried—those who used to come and go from the holy place and receive praise in the city where they did this. This too is meaningless.
- Ecclesiastes 8:10
For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group.
- Titus 1:10
“Some people believe that philosophy’s task is to search for the meaning of life. But the French philosopher and novelist Albert Camus thought that philosophy should recognize instead that life is inherently meaningless. While at ﬁrst this seems a depressing view, Camus believes that only by embracing this idea are we capable of living as fully as possible.
“Camus’ idea appears in his essay The Myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus was a Greek king who fell out of favor with the gods, and so was sentenced to a terrible fate in the Underworld. His task was to roll an enormous rock to the top of a hill, only to watch it roll back to the bottom. Sisyphus then had to trudge down the hill to begin the task again, repeating this for all eternity. Camus was fascinated by this myth, because it seemed to him to encapsulate something of the meaninglessness and absurdity of our lives. He sees life as an endless struggle to perform tasks that are essentially meaningless.
“Camus recognizes that much of what we do certainly seems meaningful, but what he is suggesting is quite subtle. On the one hand, we are conscious beings who cannot help living our lives as if they are meaningful. On the other hand, these meanings do not reside out there in the universe; they reside only in our minds. The universe as a whole has no meaning and no purpose; it just is. But because, unlike other living things, we have consciousness, we are the kinds of beings who ﬁnd meaning and purpose everywhere.
“The absurd, for Camus, is the feeling that we have when we recognize that the meanings we give to life do not exist beyond our own consciousness. It is the result of a contradiction between our own sense of life’s meaning, and our knowledge that nevertheless the universe as a whole is meaningless.
“Camus explores what it might mean to live in the light of this contradiction. He claims that it is only once we can accept the fact that life is meaningless and absurd that we are in a position to live fully. In embracing the absurd, our lives become a constant revolt against the meaninglessness of the universe, and we can live freely.
“This idea was further developed by the philosopher Thomas Nagel, who said that the absurdity of life lies in the nature of consciousness, because however seriously we take life, we always know that there is some perspective from which this seriousness can be questioned.’
- Sam Atkinson (senior editor), The Philosophy Book, Big Ideas Simply Explained
Albert Camus (1913-1960) is onto something. Okay, he is onto something like a dog is onto something when he finds something disgusting. The dog looks at you. Then the dog looks at the disgusting thing. Then the dog sniffs the disgusting thing. Then the dog looks back at you and seems to say, “Come sniff this thing. It’s the most disgusting thing I have ever smelled. You need to try it!!!!” that is, if the dog could talk. And some little marble rolling around in my head makes me think that is a variation of an old Cheech and Chong routine, but I digress.
Sisyphus is condemned to roll a rock up a hill just to watch the rock roll down the hill. “Hey, Sisyphus, we had that problem in our day with cars and trucks and airplanes. We chocked the tires. You know, a piece of wood or maybe a smaller rock. Something! Use your head for something other than a hat holder.”
King Solomon was onto something also. Everything is meaningless, except. The except is the big difference between believers who are going to be with God forever and those who do not believe and won’t.
When it comes to the divide – and we have far too many divides these days – between believer and non-believer, the non-believers have this wishful thinking that the believers are wrong. The believers know that there is meaning on this earth. Everything points to Jesus. Everything has meaning in Him. Even our miserable lives that seem to not have meaning are meaningful, if only in Him.
But for the non-believer, they cling to their beliefs of evolution and millions of years of the age of the earth, because those concepts were the fantasy dreams of people who could find no meaning in life. When the non-believer hears the Christian point to something and say that they see Jesus in that thing, all the non-believer sees is a meaningless thing. They see voids everywhere for they have rejected all thoughts that life has meaning. The one major difference in Solomon’s lament and the “bright idea” of Camus is that God gives meaning to everything.
Camus’s recognition of the absurdity that gives us hope in knowing that everyone else’s life is just as meaningless as our own is the greatest absurdity of them all. Hope can only be found in Jesus Christ.
If you like these Tuesday morning essays about philosophy and other “heavy topics,” but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Tuesday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.
Appreciate your ending with pointing to Christ with this discussion of Camus and meaning
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Excellent post, thank you very much!
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Thank you so much for your comment.