Reinforcing the value of life.

Reaffirming the pursuit of happiness.
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What's Life All About?
A Little Story
Once upon a time, God created a whole bunch of people and sat them down in front of a huge banquet table filled with hamburgers, pizza, and tacos. They were very hungry and tried to eat, but God had neglected to give them elbows. Every time they tried to get the food to their mouths, their hands were too far away. Eventually, they got so frustrated that the table divided into four groups.

The first group of people said, "God must be very stupid, or He is not all-powerful. Because if God were smart, He would have known that we need elbows to eat; and if He were powerful, He would have been able to make them." Depressed at the thought of being stuck with a God who could not help them, they turned to the second group of people for advice.

The second group answered, "Look around at the trees, the mountains, the oceans, the sun, and the whole universe. God must certainly be all-knowing to have thought up all of this. And he must be all-powerful to create it all. The truth must be that God is mean and selfish and filled with anger and revenge. And that is why we have to suffer." At the thought of being stuck with a horrible God, these people became very afraid, and in imitation of their "angry God," they began to turn on one another in violence.

The third group of people cried out: "Stop! You just admitted that God must be all-powerful. But what is the most positive power that exists in the world? Of course, it is love. So if God exists, He must be all-powerful. And if He is all-powerful, He must be all-loving. Therefore, because we are suffering, God must not exist." At the thought of a world without any God at all, the people around the table became very cynical. They saw that life was ugly, brutish, and short. And they sat in protest until they began to starve to death.

Human Suffering

Before we get to the fourth group of people, it might do well to discuss the issue of human suffering. The question, "Why do we suffer?" is probably the most important question a person can ask. If we do not understand why we are suffering, we can end up getting depressed, afraid, and even give up in protest. We may blame God, and grow angry and resentful. Or we may end up deciding not to believe in Him at all.

A very famous radio talk show host was once arguing that young people today complain about suffering too much. He pointed out that young people have everything: homes, cars, clothing, entertainment, education, health care, credit cards; while in his parents' and grandparents' generation, people truly had something to complain about. They suffered from poverty, hunger, war, and diseases that we don't even hear about anymore.

A young man called in to the program and objected to this argument. He said, "I have been at the bottom of life -- drugs, alcohol, depression, sexual promiscuity, suicide attempts, and God helped me back to my feet. From my viewpoint, I can tell you that young people today suffer much more than they did in your parents' and grandparents' generation. Because back then, people understood what was really important in life, and they had something to suffer and die for. Today, young people don't even know what they're living for, let alone what to die for."

What a profound statement!

Not being able to understand our suffering is the worst kind of suffering there is. It is far worse than physical pain. And, as the young man pointed out, the reason why we don't understand our suffering, is often because we don't know what we are living for in the first place.

This kind of suffering is frequently what causes people to turn to destructive, and even self-destructive acts like drugs, alcohol, sexual promiscuity, abortion, suicide, and euthanasia (physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill people).

It is nearly impossible to find a woman who wants an abortion because she likes abortion, or to find a terminally ill man who wants his doctor to be allowed to kill him because the man wants to be killed. But it is very easy to find lots of people who want abortions or physician assisted suicide because they are depressed, afraid, alone, in despair, and cannot see any good in their suffering.

It's interesting how abortion is called "pro-choice" and euthanasia is called "freedom of self-determination." And yet the vast majority of people who get abortions or who ask for euthanasia do so because, in their own words, they feel like they have "no choice."

What if we could show people what truly makes life worth living?

What if we could help one another find deeper meaning and purpose in life?

What if we could offer a way to true and lasting happiness?

If we could do this, it would be pretty clear that abortion, euthanasia, and other destructive acts are not solutions at all, but only part of the problem.

So how do we do it?

What it means to be Human

A human being is not just about what we look like or what we can do. If this is how we define human beings, we would all in big trouble, because everyone looks different, and we all have different skills and abilities. What makes us human is our "end" or "goal."

The ancient Greek philosophers noticed that all living creatures are designed to pursue a certain goal. Every species has a different goal. They called this goal "telos" which means "end." They taught us that, if you can discover what something's telos (final goal) is, then you will know what that creature is. For example, the goal of an acorn is "oak tree." It's the goal of "oak tree" which causes the acorn to grow and change the way it does. Acorns already have "oak tree" written within their nature. That's what they are, only in a very young stage. In the same way, if we can discover the "end" or "goal" of the human being, we will know what the human being is.

What is Human Happiness?

What is the goal of human beings?

What is our telos (or final goal)?

What are we looking for?

The simple answer is, "Happiness." But there are many different ideas of what happiness is. So first, we have to discover which kind of happiness is the "final goal" for human beings.

Four Levels of Happiness

1) There are four different levels of human happiness. The first level, Happiness 1, is physical pleasure and possession of material things. Level 1 is all about gaining physical gratification through fulfillment of the five senses. This level of happiness is good. Without taking care of our physical needs, we would die. But human beings can make the mistake of choosing Happiness 1 as their "end" (goal). We can believe that physical pleasure and the possession of material things is the most important thing about life, and is what makes life worth living. If we do this, we quickly become bored. We lose a sense of self-esteem. We feel like we are living beneath ourselves. We are not happy. And when we suffer, we believe that suffering is meaningless.


2) Happiness 2 is ego-gratification. This is the kind of happiness that comes not just from feeling good, but from feeling good about ourselves. We get a boost of ego when we are successful, powerful, in control, admired, popular, or when we win competitions.

This level of happiness is also good. We need to love ourselves before we can give ourselves away in love to others. But human beings can make the mistake of choosing Happiness 2 as their "end." This will inevitably lead to jealousy, aggression, fear of losing, suspicion, anxiety, ego-sensitivity, and even anger at God when we are not winning. We are not happy. And if our suffering causes us to lose some control or become dependent on others, we begin to think that suffering is useless.

3) Happiness 3 is contribution to others. This is the happiness that comes from making a difference to other people. It's the joy we get from doing what is right and good. We are happy when we know we have been honest, fair, loving, caring, compassionate, patient, humble, and good. We know that we have helped to make the world better for others.

Happiness 3 is wonderful! But if we make it our "end," we quickly become frustrated. Human beings want unconditional Love. We want perfect Fairness, absolute Truth, and infinite Goodness. And want these things to exist forever. But the human community is not perfect. We make mistakes. We have limitations. We die. When we see innocent people suffer, we begin to believe that life is cruel.

4) Happiness 4 is faith and participation in the unconditional love of God. It is believing that there is such a thing as perfect, absolute, ultimate, infinite, unconditional, and eternal Truth, Love, Goodness, and Justice. It is learning that these things can only be found in God, and that God loves us so much, that He wants us to be a part of that Love forever. If we truly believe that this is our "telos," our end, then we know what it means to be human.

A human being is a physical and spiritual being, created by God, whose final goal is to find happiness by accepting the perfectly unconditional love of God for all eternity, and by giving ourselves away in love to others (even when this requires suffering).

When human beings recognize that Happiness 4

is our true goal, four important things happen:

1) We begin to see that human beings have intrinsic dignity and inestimable worth. This means that we don't have to prove our worth to anybody. Human dignity does not come from what we look like, how old we are, what we can do, how smart we are, or even whether we are healthy, sick, or disabled; rich or poor, strong or weak, young or old, born or unborn, living or dying. Human dignity comes from the fact that we were all made to be loved into eternity by God, and to love others as we love ourselves. All human beings have dignity, no matter what their state in life, because we were all made for something Wonderful!

2) It becomes clear that an unborn child is a human person with intrinsic dignity, too. At the moment the sperm fertilizes the egg, this new being has a new destiny, a new end. The final goal of the unborn baby is the same as the final goal of the adult: to participate in the unconditional love of God for all eternity. The fact that the teenager is at an earlier stage of development than the adult doesn't change the fact that the teenager is a human being with intrinsic dignity and inestimable worth. In the same way, the fact that the unborn child is at an earlier stage of development than the teenager doesn't change the fact that the unborn child is also a human being with intrinsic dignity and inestimable worth.


3) We find that the phrase "death with dignity" which is used to allow physicians to kill their sick, disabled, and terminally ill patients, is very misleading. We don't lose dignity when we suffer. God's love dignifies us even in the midst of our suffering. Secondly, suffering can bring many gifts, such as patience, forgiveness, empathy, understanding, and even faith. Thirdly, suffering allows other people to grow in "Happiness Level 3 and 4" gifts. When we are suffering, it takes a heroic act of love to allow other people to suffer with us, to minister to our needs, to take care of us, even to feed, clothe, and bathe us. The word "compassion" comes from the Latin "cum passio" which means: "to suffer with." We owe great respect and appreciation to people who allow us to join in their suffering.


4) Finally, our Happiness 4 goal gives us the all-important answer to the meaning of human suffering. God does not cause suffering in the world. He is not a mean and cruel God, or a stupid and powerless God. We cause suffering when we make Happiness levels 1, 2, or 3 more important than Happiness level 4. God allows suffering because He respects our freedom. But, amazingly enough, He can use our suffering to bring us right back to Happiness level 4.

Remember the story of the people with no elbows? There was a fourth group of people who were watching all of the activity around the table. And as they were watching, they caught a glimpse of the eyes of the suffering people who were sitting across from them. And they noticed a goodness in the eyes of the other. They saw that there was intrinsic dignity, and something of great worth sitting before them. And this understanding moved those people to empathy. And this empathy moved them to compassion. And this compassion moved them to reach out their elbowless arms across the table, pick up the food from one another's plates, and feed each other.

And it was in this selfless act of goodness that the people with no elbows discovered the true meaning behind their suffering...

LOVE.

And that, after all, is

The End.




What's LIFE all about?

Based on the book, Healing the Culture



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