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The Human Person in Search for Meaning

Updated on June 14, 2020


The human person is always in search for meaning. From the enlightened persons to the common folks, this desire for meaning is present in all without reserve. Whether it is seen as information, knowledge, discussion, explanation, or research; engaged in by philosophers, scientists, theologians, analysts, or anthropologists; in form of questionnaire, pool, survey, spoken word or pondered thought; not withstanding if the topic is of the physical, spiritual, mental, psychological, or cosmological; either simple or complicated; this search is the same and the desire remains the same. Nonetheless, this search is ever continuous, the more answers we get the more questions we are faced with; as one door seems to close, another opens. Is there an ultimate answer to this search for meaning?

Thales, the first western philosopher began the philosophical quest with a question. His quest was to find the unity that underlies all the multiplicity of things in our experience. We encounter many things in the world: animals, plants, stars, fish, rocks, water, and fire. What unifies it all? Why do we consider the earth as a universe and not a multiverse? How can we account for the basic principle of all things? Who can explain the fundamental stuff responsible for the existence of all things in the world?

Socrates tells us that an unexamined life is not worth living. Aristotle tells us that life begins in wonder. Questions and the quest for answers are part of the human fabrics. Even in our relationship with the Divine, we probe the transcendental in search for meaning to satisfy our quest for understanding: theology begins with wonder therefore we need to examine it. As human beings, we ask different questions, we ask questions looking for the meaning of our lives. There are questions that are insignificant while there are very substantial ones such as the when, who, where and most of all, the why questions. This drive for answer and meaning is in-built in us. It is hard-wired in our DNA; in other words, it is innate in us. This explains why even children ask questions. As we grow older, this curiosity of asking questions grows. We do ask ourselves, who am I? Who are you? Where do I come from and where do I go when I die? What are we here for? Why is there suffering? Why do our loved ones die? What is there after death? To be or not to be, does it make sense? Why be responsible? So we are essentially meaning seekers; hence we want to understand things. We are questioning all the time the people around us, ourselves and the world. In many ways, we are a mystery to ourselves because sometimes we don’t understand ourselves. We are a puzzle. In our life therefore, we have a deep seated desire to make meaning of our lives. Asking questions reveals that we are trying to be in touch with the known and unknown.

There are different questions. Some are banal and insignificant while others are more profound and vital. The insignificant ones are such questions like, what am I going to wear? What am I going to eat? etc. These questions to an extent are essential for daily living, but they are not all that important. When we enter into the areas of love, life, suffering and death, we are confronted with the bigger questions. This is the zone of ultimate questions, meanings, purposes and values for life. These questions are also called foundation questions because they deal with the foundations of our lives. Ultimate questions appear in various forms and formulations and they can be expressed in the following ways.

The Question of Purpose

What are the questions of purpose? They seek to answer the intention of things. The reasons why something is needed or why it is considered in a particular way or manner. Why is there anything at all rather than nothing? What is the purpose of my being here on earth at this particular moment? Am I making of my life, all that can be done by me? Am I making this my life useful? The human person naturally does not believe in coincidence or chance especially in reference to oneself unless an explanation for such an incident cannot be conceived. Thus there is the need to understand one’s place in the arrangement of things and event and the need to see that one makes the most of one’s time in order to pursue and achieve the purpose of one’s life.

The Question of Meaning

Why do we keep asking why? Why are facts never quite enough? This is so because the human person always want to seek meaning and thus attain satisfaction. Satisfaction comes from knowing, interpreting, and understanding things and situations that we encounter. This satisfaction is nevertheless not achievable completely because one cannot fully comprehend the meaning of all things that are. Thus, one continues to ask why, and seek for meaning. Why is it that the meaning of life is not often clear? What is the meaning of existence itself? Why come into existence?

The Question of the Absolute

The question of the absolute is always intriguing and at the same time can be frustrating because they are very abstract and far from our reach. Is humanity alone in the universe? Could there be intelligences in the universe? More significantly, is there an Intelligence or Source that is the ground of it all? If this Intelligence or Source is there, it is for us or against us? Is this Mystery or Intelligence trustworthy? Is this Intelligence or Mystery interactive? Does it interact with us?

The Question of Suffering

Every day we are faced with the reality of pain, suffering and evil, and worse still we are helpless before this reality. Why do we have pain, sufferings and contradictions? Why frustrations? Does suffering have meaning? Why in particular innocent people suffer while the wicked ones flourish? What is the place of evil in the scheme of things? Is death the absolute end of all? How can there be a Good and powerful God and yet there is evil and poverty? Why come into the world just to experience evil, to suffer and to die?

The Question of Hope

The question of suffering invariably raises the question of hope. The belief that although there is the present experience of evil and suffering, that the future holds a better life. However we ask : what is this expectation of a better future based on? Why do we have to hope? What is the meaning and source of this life-force called hope? Can the cultivation of hope help see us through problems and difficulties? Hope is seen as an essential component of life, for where there is hope, there is life.

The Question of Morality

The question of morality deals with living a good and virtuous life. It promotes the cultivation of some right behaviours that are essential for living a better life and for the peaceful co-existence of all in the society. What is the Good? Where do we find the source of our experience of right and wrong? Does right and wrong, goodness and bad have objective basis? Why do we have religious morality and who decides it? How much freedom do we truly have in making decisions of our lives? Why should we be good?

The Question of Character

What are the qualities or characteristics that I most admire in others? But also expect them to admire in me? Why is it that some cultures take priority in some of these qualities and characteristic while others do not? For example why do we have to give priority to courage instead of cowardice? Why to be honest instead of to be dishonest? Why priority on freedom instead of oppression? Justice instead of injustice? Why beauty instead of ugliness? Why joy instead of sadness? Why harmony instead of turmoil? Why patience instead of rudeness? Why fidelity instead of infidelity? Who decides?


We live in a world which seduces us towards happiness and when this happiness is not there, our hearts are broken. We always have that dream and desire for happiness and fulfillment. But we are not fully satisfied no matter what, why? It means that we ourselves and the world around us cannot answer fully these fundamental questions and provide us with the meaning we seek from life.

We are meaning seekers. At the same time we have the capacity to look for those answers and this explains why we are always looking for more knowledge in our lives. Even when we are very old and have forgotten some of those things we have learnt, there is always room for more knowledge. The human being has the capacity for more knowledge. The moment we stop to ask questions, we cease to be humans. Reflecting on our experiences, we realize that since we are questioners, the questions are open ended. We are always asking questions. We have absolute openness and our minds and hearts enjoy unlimited transcendence but we know that this ultimate transcendence is often dim, unattainable, a mystery.

What is this Mystery? Is it for or against us or indifferent to us? What does this Mystery wants of us? The urge for happiness leads us to this mystery which is the transcendent; hence we are looking for answers that cannot be found in ourselves but beyond this finite world. Humanity can be known and loved by what is on the other side of the infinite horizon, the ultimate mystery. Thus our questions move from the horizon of the physical to that of the spiritual; from philosophy to theology. The Divine becomes the ultimate answer to all our questions.

The Divine helps to answer the deepest yearnings of the heart. Religion helps us communicate with that Mystery and this is what we call revelation. So, does revelation provides all the answers? However, life is a mystery and the understanding of it may take time to comprehend but the individual person is not left to grapple with his/her life’s vicissitudes alone; the divine illumines it always and every time. Mystery is not something that we can never understand, or that we cannot penetrate. Mystery is not that which lacks intelligibility. It is infinitely intelligible. It is something that we can enter into but cannot exhaust it.


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