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God Given Meaning?

Updated on November 17, 2011


Welcome to another installment in the Giving Credit to God hub-series where I discuss the strange things believers give credit to God for. In this hub we're going to deal with one of the foundational questions of all philosophy, one that theism and atheism often clash about – the meaning of life. Believers love to give God credit for giving their life purpose or meaning but in reality would the existence of their God add an objective meaning to life? I think the answer is a resounding and obvious no and I'll spend the rest of the hub explaining exactly why.

Believer or Not

One of the first evidences that meaning in life doesn't stem from God is that believers of different faiths and nonbelievers alike tend to find meaning in similar things. From the company of a loved one to the satisfaction of a hard days work to helping others. From the humor of a cherished inside joke to the bittersweet memory of a loved one who has died. Chances are we all find meaning in similar places and we all have some sense of purpose to our lives. For example many find purpose in providing for their families while others in a duty to serve their country in some way.

Aha! I hear the religious saying, “My purpose is to bring people to Christ”. Finding meaning in your religion does not make it objectively meaningful, it also doesn't mean there is a higher power from which that meaning stems. Remember that there are a great many different religions. A Muslim and Hindu might feel they are deriving just as much purpose studying their faiths as a Christian studying theirs.

Furthermore many religious folks I've talked to over the years have different answers for the meaning to life. Even within one church, within one denomination you're likely to get different answers. Some might say that loving your neighbor is the true meaning, others might point to John 3:16, still others might claim that a personal relationship with Christ is what does it, or simply getting to Heaven. If you expand this to include all religions you will get hugely differing answers. So what exactly does this mean about the meaning of life?

Well the answer seems clear to me, it means that the things we find meaningful, the things that give us purpose, are inherently subjective. In fact I would argue that they are NECESSARILY subjective.

Imposed Meaning

A human being cannot be forced into finding meaning in something and a meaning imposed from outside can only be valued if it has subjective meaning to the person. Imagine for a moment that there is an evil God who declares the meaning of life to be slaughtering innocent children, we must now all find meaning in that. Chances are that we will all reject that as the meaning of life. Why? If God declares it than it must be the OBJECTIVE meaning to life... and yet we would reject it.

The idea of objective meaning from God fails for precisely the same reason that a God given morality fails.

Let's say we have a Christian who believes the meaning of life is for her to reach paradise and spend eternity with Jesus. Why does she think this way? Is it because Jesus has imposed this meaning? If so wouldn't all Christians know the meaning of life, supposing that God wanted them to know. Or does she believe it because it has it been explained during her religious indoctrination and turned out to be appealing to her?

If the all powerful and perfect being of the Universe has a purpose for your life why wouldn't he explain it AND if it turned out to be something you didn't like would you still obey? Of course I have heard stories of folks who felt “God's call” and guilt-tripped themselves into following a career path they didn't want. In fact that's pretty much the story of Matt Dillahunty, except that apparently God's call for him to join the ministry was apparently a call to atheism.

Matt Dillahunty, host of the atheist experience, was in training to become a priest in a response to "God's call on his life"...
Matt Dillahunty, host of the atheist experience, was in training to become a priest in a response to "God's call on his life"...

Together in Paradise

Of course at the center of many religious claims for objective purpose is the afterlife. How, theists argue, can life be meaningful if it really is ashes to ashes and dust to dust? How can atheists stand the nihilistic nature of their non-belief and the idea that we're just going to be DEAD when we're well, dead. The issue with this is that an eternal life is inherently (and yes I realize I overuse the word inherently) meaningless.

An eternal life also robs your mortal life of any real meaning outside of the “Will you get into heaven or not” question. Think about it for a moment. Does playing catch with your son, bonding with your loved ones or going to work to provide for your family even matter? If the only thing that matters is worshiping Jesus and attempting to obtains from sin than much of what human beings find meaningful becomes meaningless.

I've discussed the issues with an eternal paradise before but I'll do it here again just to better explain why such a thing is meaningless. What are you planning on doing with an eternity of happiness? There's nowhere to go from there, it is an end point, it leads nowhere. Surely after the ten quintillion-th year of sitting in your golden mansion in the Heavenly city you'll be bored. No time, no conflicts, no sadness, just endless happiness? Who could truly be happy in such a setting.

And as for those who do not get into Heaven, who end up in Hell (be that annihilation, eternal fire or mere separation from God) where is the meaning for their lives? Where did God's supposed eternal purpose for them get them?

Last But Not Least, God Himself

Finally, what does God hope to get out of the human race? A good laugh? Some drama? A fun show? Mere love and worship. I've heard literally dozens of answers for these questions and each one is as subjective and hypothetical as the next. God is perfect, so he can't be lacking anything, so he can't need anything from us.

What will God do with his followers that could possibly ever fill an eternity? The obvious answer, the only answer, is nothing, because you can't ever fill an eternity.


The idea of God given purpose is absurd and under the slightest critical scrutiny it crumbles to the ground. There are plenty of good religious people who find meaning in their faith and to them I say to each his/her own. You have your subjective meaning to this life and I have mine. Neither, as near as I can tell, has anything to do with deities. Thanks for reading.


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    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 3 years ago from london

      Some very, very interesting people here. Not my forte, but stimulating, I must confess. Nice one, Guys.

    • Paladin_ profile image

      Paladin_ 6 years ago from Michigan, USA

      Another excellent hub, Titen!

      As you've so eloquently pointed out, even those who believe in God are quite subjective when discerning some meaning for their lives.

      I daresay that if you asked most believers -- without making ANY reference to religion or faith -- to identify what gives their lives meaning, they would probably list thousands of different things, like family, career, friendships, charity work, hobbies and the like. Even those who are more consciously committed to their religion would surely offer a variety of answers, though within a more narrow spectrum of possibilities.

      The point, of course, is that even if their belief in God narrows their options as to what gives their lives meaning, in the end it's still a subjective individual choice. Like non-believers, their lives have whatever meaning they give to them.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 6 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      True, I think I would have made a great Vulcan.

    • profile image

      AntonOfTheNorth 6 years ago

      @ Austinstar

      "why can't we just accept the universe as it is?"

      Only because we don't know 'as it is' We only know 'as it appears' from this corner of this planet.

      The nature of 'as it is' is the very thing that draws us to attach a 'cause' a 'meaning'. We are wired to do so.

      Yeah it leads us up the garden path sometimes. So? What else do we have to do of any importance, if there is no meaning attached to anything?

      If nothing is intrinsically meaningful, than we'll make it subjectively so. As long as we are aware that the meaning is ours first (subjective as Titen writes) and only possibly relevant to anyone else, I think we'll be fine.

      It is when I try to force you accept my 'meaning' that problems arise.

      I promise I won't do that.


    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 6 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Most people irritate me to no end when they have to attach a "meaning" to everything. Why does this happen? A glass of water is not "half full" or "half empty" it's just a simple glass with some water in it. Even using the most sensitive measuring tools, one could probably never achieve the mark where the water was neither half full nor half empty. And it makes absolutely no difference either way.

      Reality seems to escape way too many people. They dream of this "heaven", yet can't produce it or even describe it. They worship "Gods", yet can't see, touch, hear or smell them.

      This is a root cause of misinterpretations of truth, politics, ideas and many other things. Instead of imagining some ulterior motive for things, why can't we just accept the universe as it is?

      And welcome back Titen!

    • profile image

      AntonOfTheNorth 6 years ago

      Hey Titen

      Clear and well set up, as always.

      some questions for you:

      "One of the first evidences that meaning in life doesn't stem from God is that believers of different faiths and nonbelievers alike tend to find meaning in similar things."

      Is this not also a possible case for why all religions are actually trying to discover the same creator, the same meaning? Indeed, it is this similarity that tells me there IS a creator, but that no one religion has the one answer.

      I absolutely agree that meaning is subjective. I disagree that this means there is no creator/god involved. The meaning of life to a sloth must perforce be different than my meaning of life. (hmm. My wife may disagree, perhaps. . .:)

      "If the all powerful and perfect being of the Universe has a purpose for your life why wouldn't he explain it AND if it turned out to be something you didn't like would you still obey?"

      Okay, I don't agree with the all powerful perfect being notion, but to be devil's advocate...

      If I'm all powerful and perfect, I don't ask my creation what is good for it. I already know. If I tell my creation what I have planned for them and it isn't what they like, I'm only introducing more angst to that person than I have to. Its going to be my way (all powerful) and its going to be perfect, because I am. Why mess it up by annoying my creation unnecessarily? I know its going to turn out good.

      As to your 'Together in Paradise' argument, I couldn't agree more. I always thought one of the biggest flaws in the bible was the notion that the writers knew the mind of god so well, but have no notion or imagination when it comes to the afterlife. If the book was the inspired word of god, did he just lose inspiration after 'Revelations'?

      good hub. thanks for writing.