“’Vanity of vanities’ says the Preacher, ‘vanity of vanities! All is vanity!’” begins the Bible’s book of Ecclesiastes.
“History is the nothing people write about a nothing,” wrote Sir William Golding, the English novelist, in Darkness Visible.
Finally, Shakespeare, in MacBeth,
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
We humans desire significance. Incurably so. The thought of a meaningless life is enough to crush us. It is distressing or dispiriting if it is not maddening or all of the above and more at the same time. If we only have some significance, we can taste hope.
But consider, if we or anyone and everyone and everything are ultimately a crowd of meaningless things, the paraphernalia of a meaningless universe, driven by meaningless forces to no significant end, then why should our meaninglessness even matter? Why should we find that the least bit disheartening? Do clouds care that they come and go without anyone even noticing? Does the grass contemplate its fairly modest existence? How about dolphins? They may be fairly intelligent, but do they care about their place in history, their porpoise, that is, purpose in life? (Sorry!)
Yet we self-centered, species-centered humans want to matter, even if we only matter because we devote our lives to the betterment of other species – which implies that they matter, which means the universe ultimately matters. And here we go again, trying to see significance in the whole thing. If that significance is not really there, if we are only kidding ourselves, then it’s all pointless and we have no real reason to care. At all. About anyone or anything.
On the other hand, we may be made in the image of God, for reasons known best to himself. And he may be willing to reveal these plans and purposes to us little by little, in his good time, especially if we seek him with all our heart. He may have his very own sagacious motives for giving us life and we may have a bottom-line reason to be. In that case, our lives do have meaning and will retain meaning, and perhaps even increase in meaning throughout all eternity. Everlastingly significant. Every last one of us. And hard-wired to want our lives to matter. Such a state of affairs would not only begin to explain our significance, but explain why we so badly desire significance in the first place.