Suicide or Meaning?
Please Turn in your Bibles to Psalm 62 and follow along as I read verses 7 and 8.
7 In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God.
8 Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
Hemingway (1899-1961) is often called one of the great American writers of the
twentieth century. You could dispute the American part, since he spent much of
his life outside the country and wrote mostly about subjects outside the
country, but let that pass. Hemingway was part of the “lost generation”
following World War I. The “lost generation” generally believed that there is
no God, and life is composed of accidents that do not make any sense.
Hemmingway would agree with Shakespeare that life is “a tale
told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” [Macbeth, 5. 5]. Hemmingway would maintain that the only way to live an authentic life then was to live in defiance of meaninglessness. He would say that life is not about anything, but you should live to the fullest anyway. In pursuit of the authentic life, Hemingway became the man’s man who did it all and had it all. He was an ambulance driver in World War I. He was a big game hunter, a fisherman, vastly successful writer. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. He made lots of money, rubbed elbows with the rich and famous. But, as he grew older, he found the defiant authentic life more difficult to achieve. He suffered serious injuries in aircraft accidents, he because deeply depressed, He committed suicide in 1961.
Let us turn now to another writer. Albert Camus (1913-1960) was a French Existentialist who put the “Lost generation’s” attitudes into philosophical form. By the way, Camus also won the Nobel Prize for Literature (1957), so we are in distinguished company here.
In 1942, Albert Camus wrote an essay entitled The Myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus was a character from Greek mythology who angered the gods, and his punishment was that he had to push a boulder up a hill and just as he got to the top of the hill, the boulder would roll back down to the bottom, and Sisyphus would have to start over again.
Sisyphus is depicted often in Greek art as a nearly naked man, straining every muscle to push this huge rock up a steep hill. Eventually, after toiling up the hill with great labor and sweat, he almost makes it to the top. Then the rock rolls back down to the bottom, and he must go down and start over. He can never quit. He cannot say “I have had enough of this, I am out of here.” He is locked into this task for all eternity, and he knows that he cannot succeed. He knows that the rock is always going to roll back down the hill, and that he is always going to have to do it again.
Camus says that we are all Sisyphus. Humankind is locked into a struggle to live, but the struggle is futile because life is nonsense. Camus’s word is absurd. Life is absurd. Camus would have agreed totally with the bumper sticker, “Life is hard and then you die.”
But if you believe that is all there is, why not die? Camus begins his essay with one of the most famous sentences in modern French literature. “There is only one really serious philosophical question, and that is suicide.” [Camus quotes are from The Meaning of Life edited by Sanders and Cheney, Pages 65-75]
Wow! That gets your attention. The only philosophical question worth thinking about is suicide. He goes on to explain what he means. He says we must decide whether life is worth living. And Camus says that a philosopher should preach by example, so it follows that if we believe life is not worth living we should commit suicide.
So Camus raises a basic question: Can we find something in life that makes it worthwhile? He does not believe that we can. He believes that we are a collection of atoms caught in a jumble of circumstances and nothing we do has any significance. Often the circumstances are hard. For many people life is a desperate struggle. Why go on then? Camus says, “Killing yourself amounts to confessing. It is confessing that life is too much for you or that you do not understand it.”
Ultimately, however Camus says that we should not commit suicide, even though life is absurd. What we should do is to live with stoic dignity in the face of the absurd. This is the authentic life that Hemingway tried to live. Camus says life is absolutely meaningless, and there is no God, but we should not despair. We should live in defiance of hopelessness.
We are all Sisyphus, condemned to do a useless and absurd task for all eternity. Camus says we are not going to make the world a better place; we are not going to be happy; we are not going to find self-fulfillment. But knowing that, we defy all that and live anyway.
That is what he says, but the fact is that does not work for most of us. Most of us cannot live without meaning and purpose in our lives. All this talk of living an authentic life in defiance of an absurd world did not work for Hemingway and it does not work for us. And I do not believe any of that for a moment. I do not believe that we are a chance jumble of atoms living in an absurd universe. I do not believe that because I believe in God.
Some folks have the idea that we can believe in God or not, and it does not make any real difference for the way we live. Belief in God, they say, is similar to belief in life on other planets. There may be little green people on other planets, but it does not make any difference for the way I live here and now, and belief in God. they think. is much the same. Not so.
Camus was right in his statement. The main philosophical question is: does life have meaning? Without God, the answer is no. Without God, there is no reason to go on. Without God, we are a collection of nothing going nowhere.
But with God everything changes. In contrast to our Nobel Prizewinners, Hemingway and Camus, let Psalm 62 speak to us.
In v1, we read, “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.” The psalmist declares his total dependence on God. God alone gives meaning to life, nothing else. The psalmist speaks of his soul being silent before God. This is the silence of awe and worship. God is so important to the psalmist, God is so important to us, that we can only approach God with respect and wonder and reverence and adoration.
The reason for this adoration is given in v2. Only God is my rock and my salvation and my fortress. Note how personal this is. God is my rock, my salvation, my fortress. No matter what my circumstances in life may be, even if events around me do not seem to make any sense that does not matter, because I am not dependent on those things. I depend only on God. Therefore the psalmist can say with confidence, “I shall never be shaken.” Other people can talk about the absurdity of life. The psalmist says, I will depend on the lord. The psalmist would agree with Hemingway and Camus—without God, life is absurd, but really the psalmist cannot imagine life without a close personal relationship with God, and we cannot either. As Matthew Henry says, “The rock of ages is my rock.” “The God of salvation is my salvation.” “The most high is my high place.”
All my hope for life is in God. The Psalmist repeats in v6, that God “is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.” This is the chorus of the Psalm. Remember a psalm is a song, a song that the people of God have sung down through the ages. This is a psalm that proclaims that God is the source and meaning of life. What is life about? Life is about God. Life has a purpose. Our purpose is God’s purpose
V7 speaks of God being “the rock of my strength.” As human beings we have certain talents and abilities that are part of our natural endowment. We received these abilities through our genes and our education and our development, but the Psalmist says that is not enough. We have strength, but our strength is never enough unless it rests on the rock of God
In v8, we have the Psalmist’s conclusion to Camus’ question. Everyone is seeking meaning for their lives. God is the answer. Trust in God. Depend upon God’s providence and God’s grace. The psalm says do this at all times. We should have a habitual trust in God.
Again the psalmist says, “Pour out your heart before him.” Live a life of prayer. Bring to God the burdens of your life and give them to God, and trust God for guidance. Bring your grievances and hurts, bring your desires and ambitions, bring them all to God and accept God’s answers, praying always that God’s will will be done, not ours. That is what pouring out your heart to God means.
We can do this the psalmist says, because “God is a refuge for us.” God is our shelter and sanctuary. We can always depend upon God. People may fail us. Events may turn against us. Life may limit us, we can still depend upon God.
When we are young, we all want to be worldbeaters. We are going to be football heroes in the superbowl. We are going to be astronauts or scientists or nobel prize winning writers but as we grow older we come up against life’s limits or disappointments.
For example, if you turn on the superbowl today you will see on the field at any one time 22 athletes. Most of them are in their late twenties. They are the result of process that began about a fifteen years ago. Can you imagine how many kids have played football at every level in the last fifteen years? It must be tens of thousands. Out of all those thousands and thousands, two teams to make it to the superbowl. Many fine athletes, due to injury, due just to being on the wrong team at the wrong time, do not make it.
Can you imagine all those thousands of kids that wanted to make it to the superbowl coming up against life limits and realizing that they are not going to make it. And they are 99.999% of all the athletes involved the process that ends in the superbowl. 99.999% don’t make it. That is life. Now maybe we never have hoped to make the superbowl, but we all encounter life’s limitations sometimes.
The Pslamist says, that does not matter. Your life is not about limitations, your life is about God. God is your refuge.
At the end of the Psalm in v11 and 12, the psalmist says, “God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this.: He says I have a revelation from God about God. What is that revelation? “Power belongeth unto God.” God is the ultimate power of the cosmos. God is using his power to drive the world in the direction he wants it to go. But power by itself is never enough. Power can do evil. Power can do harm. But the psalmist wants to reassure us so he tells us that he has another revelation about the nature of God. God is love and mercy. This is why God is our refuge and our fortress and our salvation—because God loves us. That is why life has meaning, because God loves us. That is why my life has meaning, because God loves me. Hemingway was wrong; Camus was wrong, because God is love. God loves you. That is what gives meaning to your life. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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