There is one day in February that everyone remembers – St Valentine’s Day! A day when traditionally men and women express their love and loyalty to that one special person in their life. I think it’s a good tradition in a world of constant wars and hostility, internationally, locally and sadly often at a personal level. Someone special saying, ‘I love you’ does help us feel some sense of warmth, value, worth and significance.
This month I have also gone back to working on my family tree. A pursuit which engages countless thousands around the globe. There is a sense of significance in knowing where you and your family fit into the great story of humankind, where your ancestors originated from, and some of the things they did, or did not achieve. ‘It’s one of life’s great thrills to have the sense of belonging to a goodly company and a goodly fellowship.’ So said Eric Linklater as he thought of the men in his company who lived and died with him during WW1 (quoted by the late William Barclay) Our branch of ‘the McKinnons’ came from Tiree, and with the help of others I am pleased to have traced the McKinnons back in time to a Flory McKinnon who lived in Tiree in 1742. How significant is that 🙂
In contrast, another event took place on the 14 February this year, which seems to convey a completely opposing message, suggesting in fact that we are completely insignificant. I refer to NASA’s publishing of an enhanced version of ‘the pale blue dot’ picture taken from ‘Voyager 1’ on 14 February 1990. Surely it must rank amongst the greatest and most iconic photographs of all time! I love this photograph, I marvel at the technology and ingenuity of man that allowed it to be taken some 4 billion miles away from our sun, as Voyager 1 headed out into interstellar space.
When you consider the minuteness of our planet and solar system buried in the outer edges of our ‘Milky Way’ galaxy with its billion stars, amongst another billion galaxies in the universe, it surely raises the question, how significant are we? Is our life a sad, meaningless journey from nothing to nothing? A blob of carbon floating from one meaningless existence to another as Bertrand Russell put it? Or is ‘Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more’? As in ‘Macbeth’.
Scientific research in my lifetime has been phenomenal, and it seems the more science reveals the more we come to appreciate not only the need for God, but see the evidence for God, and wonder at His awesome greatness. The fine tuning of the Universe at one end of the scale, and the intrinsic detail of the human cell with its DNA, at the other end testify to Him. Anthony Flew the great atheistic scientist, philosopher and writer of the last century published his final book entitled ‘There is a God’. It makes for an interesting read. What changed his mind? He followed the advice of Socrates, and stated ‘I have followed the argument where it has led me. And it has led me to accept the existence of a self-existent, immutable, immaterial, omnipotent, and omniscient Being.’
This God I believe has revealed Himself to us, not only in creation, but in His Son Jesus Christ. Those who knew Him personally, listened to His words, saw His miracles, witnessed His life and death, rejoiced at His resurrection and ascension, and put their experiences in writing so that we too might know Him. The disciple John in his book starts speaking about Jesus by saying, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.’ He finishes his book by saying, ’Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’
So as a follower of Jesus my ultimate significance comes not from my ancestry or from any other source, but from God Himself. Paul the Apostle says, ‘I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’ No wonder Paul goes on to say ‘May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ‘!
When it comes to the big questions of life, sadly, as David Robertson* has noted, there are far too many people who are agnostic and just do their best to avoid thinking. But as Blaise Pascal said, ‘there is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.’
I’ve enjoyed thinking through this question of life’s significance, it’s good to consider if you are building on a sure foundation.
If you are interested in reading further I recommend:
- John’s Gospel
- The Magnificent Obsession – David Robertson*
- The Atheist who Didn’t Exist – Andy Bannister
- The Devil’s Delusion – Atheism and its scientific pretensions. – David Berlinski