What is the Meaning of Life
We’re Slaves to Others Opinions
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WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE? Program 197 We’re Slaves to Others’ Opinions by Ernest O’Neill
What is the meaning of life? That’s the general topic we’ve been discussing on this broadcast now for about I think is the one hundred and ninety seventh broadcast. And we’ve come to the point where, having examined the reasons for believing that there is an intelligent Being behind the origin of the universe, we’ve reached the point where we have decided that the One who knows best what that intelligent Being had in mind for our lives and for the meaning of our lives is not Buddha, not Zoroaster, not Confucius – all of whom were ordinary human beings and died like the rest of us and were buried and never seen again; but it’s the remarkable man called Jesus of Nazareth, who lived in the first century of our era.
And we have examined his life and the historicity of His life, and His claims to be the Son of the Maker of the universe. And we’ve concluded, on an intellectual basis, that He is in fact that. And that the best one therefore to tell us what the meaning of life is, is this man. And we’ve started to examine now His explanation of the meaning of our lives. And in that connection we’ve been dealing with a kind of problem that most of us meet eventually as the years pass by. You may have remembered reference to it yourself by grownups when you were young at school.
And they would say, “Of course, oh well, it’s all right for you now — you’re young and you have all your life ahead of you and you’re full of ideals and full of plans. But when you get to my age you’ll find that life is not what you thought it was going to be.” And if you are like me, I rebelled against that whole attitude. I thought, oh it’s old, it’s sick, it’s boring, it’s depressing. It’s just everything that’s unexciting and unadventurous. And yet, isn’t it true that many of us, as the years have passed, have reached the same point of oldness and grayness about our own lives.
And if you press me and say, “Well, yes, that’s right, we have and I suppose we’re saying the same thing to young people now. We’re saying, oh yes, it’s all right for you; you’re young and full of ideals but wait until you find out what life’s about in the big wide world. Then you’ll change your tune.” And the reason many of us say it is because we have found life rather a disappointment. We’ve discovered that it is not a bowl of cherries. It is not a wonderful oyster in which we find our pearls.
But we have found that it is rather boring. It is rather like a rat race. We find ourselves getting up in the morning, not because we’re filled with life and enthusiasm but simply because we have to get to work by nine o’clock or nine-thirty or eight o’clock or seven-thirty in order to avoid losing our jobs. And we need our jobs, because we need money to get the food that we require to keep us alive, and to buy clothes and even to buy a few little things that might give us a little happiness in this short life.
And we find also that when we get to work we discover that it isn’t a wonderful place where we can express all our magnificent abilities, but it’s rather a dog-eat-dog kind of world, where people vie with each other for the approval of the one significant other in the company or in the shop or in the factory. And really we don’t have too much freedom there. We find that we all kind of have a pecking order. You know, you peck me and I peck somebody else and somebody else pecks somebody else. And really it’s all rather robotic and stereotyped and mechanical.
We find we’re bent on trying to keep each other’s good opinion. Even our conversations at lunchtime are rather boring because they follow the same trend. We make the same jokes, we use the same comments as our parents did. And we’re bent on trying to get the same little bit of approval from each other, so that often we go home
after a conversation with even our best friend and we wonder why? Why? Why do I say these things that drain or squeeze little compliments out of my friend, to me? Why do I always talk about stamp collecting or skiing down the Swiss mountains just because I’m good at stamp collecting or skiing down the Swiss mountains?
And I know they’ll make me some compliments. Why do I love to get into a little confidential huddle with them and talk about the other person, so that the two of us have something special between us? Why do I do that? Why am I so anxious to get a good opinion from anybody just so that I will feel better and feel worth more and feel some self esteem? What we’ve been seeing is that many of us are caught in this old, grey attitude to life where we seem not to have any spontaneity left inside us. We have become rather preprogrammed puppets or marionettes or R2D2’s — you know, robots, like the guy in Star Wars – that just do what they’re supposed to do.
“Hollow men”, T.S. Elliot called us. And in old “1984” — old Orwell, you know described us: we would be men and women who responded as we had been programmed to respond to external stimuli, much as Pavlov’s dogs and really we couldn’t do anything of our own free will any longer. And I’m afraid many of us find that out, don’t we? And so we give that discouraging information to young people. “Oh, it’s not like you thought it was going to be.”
What we have been saying is of course, it can be. It can be what you thought it was going to be. But you’re dead right if you say in response, “Oh no, not with me as I am. I’ve tried. I’ve tried to find some spontaneity in myself. I’ve tried to look down and see what I used to be when I was young but I can’t find it. In fact I can hardly find myself. It’s as if there’s nobody there anymore. I’m just a bundle of planned preprogrammed responses. And I can’t find myself anymore. I can’t find out who I am. If you ask me now what I would really like to do, you know what you’d like to be. “Oh, I’d like to be an engine driver” or whatever.
If I was asked that question I don’t know what I would like to be. I can’t even dream of what I am or who I am or what I like to do. It’s so long since I tried to do what I think I should do that I’ve almost forgotten what I wanted to do. I can hardly find myself any longer. And that’s what this man Jesus said. He said, if you keep on going the way you’re going, believing that there’s no Creator, there’s no Maker in the universe — then you’re bound to depend on your job, and your money, and your boss for security. And you’re bound to end up becoming a slave to him in a nice way.
And it’s the same with your own self-esteem and self-worth. If you don’t believe there’s a Maker, then you’re just one of four billion of us and you’re going to try to get approval from everybody you can. And you’re just going to become enslaved to what people think of you. You’re going to be afraid of their disapproval and anxious for their approval. And you will do that so much that you will lose the sense of who you are. In fact, you’ll go dead inside. Your spirit will die. Your spirit is the very essence of you. You as you really are. And Jesus said you’re going to die inside.
And yet He held out hope. He said that there is only One who can ever make you alive and that is my Father, the Maker of the universe. He originally made you different from everybody else — that’s why you think that you’re unique, because you are unique. But none of the rest of us will recognize it. But your Maker is interested in your uniqueness and He’s interested in bringing it to life again. He is able to make your spirit alive inside. He’s able to get you to be kind of born all over again, and start all over again.
And of course, He explained to us how to experience that. And He said the first step is to believe that what I am explaining to you is true. And the second step is to change your mind about the way you’re living. In other words, stop living depending on everybody else for your security, and your significance and your happiness — and start depending on the Maker of the universe, who alone can guarantee those things. So, really, the first
step is to believe this and the second step is to begin to act in accordance with that belief. Let’s talk a little more about what that means tomorrow.