Meaning Makers for Postmoderns
In his book Cat’s Cradle, author Kurt Vonnegut relates a different Creation story than the one we are used to. Man is made out of the mud and asks God the question, “What is the purpose of all this?”
“Everything must have a purpose?” God supposedly replies.
“Certainly,” says man.
So God says, “Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this.” Then God goes away.1
This portrays a vivid image of our postmodern time. However, while post-moderns may not so readily agree with previously accepted ideas regarding life and existence, they still are looking for meaning and purpose. Their questioning of previous explanations is part of the notion that truth is far more open and subjective. This means that some declaration that begins, “As we all know,” or “Nobody questions” will be rejected or ignored.
Consequently, when seeking to connect with postmoderns, we need to change the way we approach such ideas as the meaning of life and our purpose in this world. It is not enough to repeat ideas we have grown up with. In a sense, this is both a challenge and an opportunity, because it also gives us the chance to think outside the box and realize that answers can be given on many levels.
Jean-Paul Sartre comments, “Life has no meaning a priori. . . . It is up to you to give it a meaning, and value is nothing but the meaning that you choose.”2 While we may want to argue at one level, we do give meaning to life. We discover our life’s meaning and purpose and, by our actions, create meaning in our lives and in the lives of others.
So, we now need to take on the role of meaning makers. Accepting this challenge requires us to be honest in our approach, recognizing we cannot appeal to authorities, but connect through stories and images, particularly from popular culture. We also need to start from scratch rather than assuming any set of givens and not suggest we have all the answers, but ask good questions to develop common ground.
We can help share our ideas of meaning and purpose in life by demonstration rather than declaration, seeking to become a friend and influence others through the way we ourselves live. This personal authenticity is fundamental; if it all comes across as propaganda, then whatever message we are trying to convey will certainly fail.
For these reasons, we find it helpful to point to the experiential ideas that Jesus so often spoke. He said that He came to give people life to the full (John 10:10). He spoke of setting people free (John 8:31, 32; Acts 13:38, 39). He told people not to worry about the material things of life (Matt. 5). He explained that eternal life was not in books but in Himself (John 5:39). When the disciples wanted to see God the Father, He said, “ ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’ ” (John 14:9, NIV).
Tell your own personal experience of God—how He lives actively in your own life, what He means to you, and how knowing Him gives you meaning and purpose. Link this to the story of Nicodemus. This educated man came to Jesus at night looking for meaning in his own life. Nicodemus tells Jesus how much he thinks of Him while acknowledging that Jesus was a great spiritual Teacher.
But Jesus does not respond to this. He tells Nicodemus very directly he has to be reborn. Jesus is not afraid to confront the deeper question very directly. In his search for meaning, Nicodemus has to recognize his need and that no philosophical concepts are going to answer his fundamental questions. Nicodemus tries to argue, taking the idea literally. But Jesus shows He wants to engage at the most important and spiritually personal level. In the end, He says, “ ‘For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him’ ” (John 3:16, 17, NLT).
This brings the meaning of life into sharpest focus. We are given meaning and purpose, and as we understand this, we can show others their shared value in the eyes of each other and of God.
As we understand we are meaning makers, we share with God in helping others see their vital meaning and purpose in this world. But as Jesus has shown us, the focus of meaning is on God. “In the beginning, God.” In the end, God.
Question: Can you identify with becoming a meaning maker in your community?
Ancient wisdom: “ ‘This is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ’ ” (John 17:3, NLT).
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1 Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle (New York: Rosetta Books, 2010), eBook edition, 265.
2 “Jean-Paul Sartre,” Wikiquote, accessed October 16, 2013, http:// en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Jean-Paul_Sartre.