In Western tradition, starting with Thales of Miletus, philosophers have always sought answers to questions that transcend the material, tangible world. One of the most burning questions that has lasted for centuries and has troubled many enlightened minds is the dilemma of the meaning of life.
In thousands of years of history, it has not been possible to reach a philosophical consensus on the meaning of human existence. On the contrary, a lot of conflicting ideas have appeared. Hedonism claims that fulfilment comes exclusively from the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of suffering. In turn, Stoicism maintains that virtue can only be found in temperance and facing vicissitudes.
Similarly, theism ties the meaning of life to God’s creation of the human and living in accordance with the divine character, while nihilism, the intellectual movement that declared that “God is dead,” empties life of any meaning. The list can go on with many other contradictory examples that testify to the division of points of view in this regard.
Our existence presupposes a search for identity, for a self with which we can be satisfied. The various ideologies or principles of life are just the coordinates that guide us towards that ideal we long for, consciously or not. Obviously, a universal principle, which would govern every mind, is a utopian aspiration. Some even implicitly consider it incompatible with human free will. From here one could conclude that the meaning of life is given by each individual. However, this is not an answer that satisfies us.
In the amalgam of ideas that have emerged over the centuries, one can find a common denominator: the search for lasting happiness. Being such a broad and ill-defined idea, this can mean an endless number of things, whether material or metaphysical. Some may attempt to find happiness in a life lived according to Buddhist principles, while others may try to find happiness in the constant accumulation of monetary possessions.
Unfortunately, with the gradual secularisation of society, happiness is sought more and more in tangible aspects, in instant gratification and less in fulfilment through the application of a valuable ethic. With the secularization brought by the Enlightenment, humans lost their absolute moral compass and embraced individualism, so we no longer take each other into account in our search for happiness.
For me, the meaning of life is found in the joy brought by living out certain beneficial principles for my mind, my body, and my neighbour. Albert Camus states that it is absurd to look for value in a world that does not have such a thing and is indifferent to it. It is true that society is denatured, but this is not a solid reason to give up on living a beautiful life.
After exploring several possibilities for living, I found a special pleasure in biblical principles. Leaving aside the discussion related to the verisimilitude of the biblical narrative—which will never reach a conclusion accepted by everyone—I believe that the human model proposed by it is the ideal which, if reached, would make the world look different.
Often, Christianity is viewed only through the lens of history and of the church as an institution, paying more attention to people’s mistakes than to the actual Christian teachings. Looking at Jesus we can observe such a simple and at the same time satisfying life. In Him we can see true beauty, that of the soul.
His impact on history was so earth-shattering that it divided time into two, before Him and after Him. His speech, based on love for one’s fellow man, kindness, and mercy—later developed in the 21 epistles of His apostles—is unique in its absolute self-denial. Through His example of a perfect human, we can give meaning to a life often lived in error, embittered by selfish acts and fleeting possessions.
The Bible could be the universal moral compass by which we could navigate through life and which could restore the emotional component to a society numbed by the cult of the self.
One of my favourite paintings is “The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt. The painting is a game of lights and shadows that hides the secondary characters in obscurity and keeps in the foreground the emotional scene of the father embracing his son. It is probably one of the most beautiful transpositions on canvas of the Christian principles of forgiveness and love. I wish I could live life in agreement with this exceptional painting.