Strategies for Seeing Anew #4
…towards meaning, significance and purpose
What does this mean?
Life has been described as ‘one thing after another’ with little meaning; just a collection of events and facts. Human beings have seldom been satisfied with this. ‘What is the purpose of life, what does it all mean?’ has been asked by every generation. Human beings are people in search of meaning. In the Western world people are more affluent than earlier generations, but still life seems empty for many. The Bible recognises the struggle to find meaning in life. The book of Ecclesiastes is about a man trying to find purpose in it all; he has tried money, sex and power but all are meaningless (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Only after a long struggle does he find some purpose in life.
Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for. Viktor E. Frankl
There is within every soul a thirst for happiness and meaning. Thomas Aquinas
St Augustine described the search for meaning as being restless until we find our rest in God. Faith in God gives purpose to life and meaning is there to be discovered, we do not have to create it. Purpose and meaning come through a relationship with God and others – people were made for love (Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 3:8-9). Humanity’s purpose has been summed up as ‘glorifying God and enjoying him forever’.
Belief in a good creator assures Christians that he has not created a meaningless universe. The pattern and complexity in the world point to a designer who created with a purpose and gives life significance. That purpose is expressed in history moving towards a goal when wrong will cease and there will be a new heaven and earth with no sorrow or sin, where nothing comes between God and his people and where, for Christians, there is a personal sense of purpose that is expressed as a belief in God’s ‘calling’. This calling is to serve God and others using our gifts. It may be expressed within a person’s family, friends or work. It may be volunteering or a calling to a specific ministry.
The questions of what our vision is and should be are in fact the most crucial and most basic questions that we face…Fundamentally, the language of this vision belongs to the moral and religious family of language, for it is the function of moral and religious language to provide the essential dimension of education – a language of meaning. David Purpel
This section is about moving towards meaning and purpose. You may wish to think about where people move from; is it a move from a veneration of ‘facts’ as the only real knowledge, or is this movement a response to pressures from within the education system that allow little time to discuss such issues?
What does this mean in school?
It can be tempting in any subject to concentrate only on the skills, how something works, gathering data and doing research and not take the time to discuss what it all means and its significance. Or we could teach differently:
- Asking ‘Why?’ questions is appropriate in all subjects. Meaning is not just for subjects such as English and RE it applies in science, design, maths and ICT. Ask them in a way that signals that they are weighty and worth grappling with.
- Learning (for instance) to create and read graphs can be presented as a skill that could be used for a range of good purposes.
- Drawing attention to pattern and complexity can be done in most subjects: the patterns in music, art, language and science. That does not mean that we only look at what is good and ordered in life. Christians explore God’s world and face the depths of sin and the heights of love, all within the awareness that God has created a world with meaning.
- Use examples of people who felt a sense of God’s calling, from famous figures such as Florence Nightingale to ordinary Christians living out their calling in work and family life.
Think of a time a good discussion about purpose or meaning arose in a lesson. How did it come about? Identify a lesson where you could emphasise meaning, significance and purpose. Very few lessons are ‘raw’ facts; there is usually scope for developing meaning. For example, history is not just events – those events have significance for the larger questions we ask about life.
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In this document:
1When the son of David was king in Jerusalem, he was known to be very wise, and he said: 2Nothing makes sense! Everything is nonsense. I have seen it all nothing makes sense! 3What is there to show for all our hard work here on this earth? 4People come, and people go, but still the world never changes. 5The sun comes up, the sun goes down; it hurries right back to where it started from. 6The wind blows south, the wind blows north; round and round it blows over and over again. 7All rivers empty into the sea, but it never spills over; one by one the rivers return to their source. 8All of life is far more boring than words could ever say. Our eyes and our ears are never satisfied with what we see and hear. 9Everything that happens has happened before; nothing is new, nothing under the sun. 10Someone might say, Here is something new! But it happened before, long before we were born. 11No one who lived in the past is remembered any more, and everyone yet to be born will be forgotten too. It is senseless to be wise 12I said these things when I lived in Jerusalem as king of Israel. 13With all my wisdom I tried to understand everything that happens here on earth. And God has made this so hard for us humans to do. 14I have seen it all, and everything is just as senseless as chasing the wind. 15If something is crooked, it can't be made straight; if something isn't there, it can't be counted. 16I said to myself, You are by far the wisest person who has ever lived in Jerusalem. You are eager to learn, and you have learnt a lot. 17Then I decided to find out all I could about wisdom and foolishness. Soon I realized that this too was as senseless as chasing the wind. 18The more you know, the more it hurts; the more you understand, the more you suffer. It is senseless to be selfish
1In the past you were dead because you sinned and fought against God. 2You followed the ways of this world and obeyed the devil. He rules the world, and his spirit has power over everyone who doesn't obey God. 3Once we were also ruled by the selfish desires of our bodies and minds. We had made God angry, and we were going to be punished like everyone else. 4But God was merciful! We were dead because of our sins, but God loved us so much that he made us alive with Christ, and God's wonderful kindness is what saves you. 6God raised us from death to life with Christ Jesus, and he has given us a place beside Christ in heaven. 7God did this so that in the future world he could show how truly good and kind he is to us because of what Christ Jesus has done. 8You were saved by faith in God, who treats us much better than we deserve. This is God's gift to you, and not anything you have done on your own. 9It isn't something you have earned, so there is nothing you can boast about. 10God planned for us to do good things and to live as he has always wanted us to live. That's why he sent Christ to make us what we are. United by Christ 11Don't forget that you are Gentiles. In fact, you used to be called uncircumcised by those who take pride in being circumcised. 12At that time you did not know about Christ. You were foreigners to the people of Israel, and you had no part in the promises that God had made to them. You were living in this world without hope and without God, 13and you were far from God. But Christ offered his life's blood as a sacrifice and brought you near God. 14Christ has made peace between Jews and Gentiles, and he has united us by breaking down the wall of hatred that separated us. Christ gave his own body 15to destroy the Law of Moses with all its rules and commands. He even brought Jews and Gentiles together as though we were only one person, when he united us in peace. 16On the cross Christ did away with our hatred for each other. He also made peace between us and God by uniting Jews and Gentiles in one body. 17Christ came and preached peace to you Gentiles, who were far from God, and peace to us Jews, who were near God. 18And because of Christ, all of us can come to the Father by the same Spirit. 19You Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens with everyone else who belongs to the family of God. 20You are like a building with the apostles and prophets as the foundation and with Christ as the most important stone. 21Christ is the one who holds the building together and makes it grow into a holy temple for the Lord. 22And you are part of that building Christ has built as a place for God's own Spirit to live. Paul's mission to the Gentiles
1Finally, my dear friends, be glad that you belong to the Lord. It doesn't bother me to write the same things to you that I have written before. In fact, it is for your own good. 2Watch out for those people who behave like dogs! They are evil and want to do more than just circumcise you. 3But we are the ones who are truly circumcised, because we worship by the power of God's Spirit and take pride in Christ Jesus. We don't boast about what we have done, 4although I could. Others may boast about themselves, but I have more reason to boast than anyone else. 5I was circumcised when I was eight days old, and I am from the nation of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin. I am a true Hebrew. As a Pharisee, I strictly obeyed the Law of Moses. 6And I was so eager that I even made trouble for the church. I did everything the Law demands in order to please God. 7But Christ has shown me that what I once thought was valuable is worthless. 8Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have given up everything else and count it all as rubbish. All I want is Christ 9and to know that I belong to him. I could not make myself acceptable to God by obeying the Law of Moses. God accepted me simply because of my faith in Christ. 10All I want is to know Christ and the power that raised him to life. I want to suffer and die as he did, 11so that somehow I also may be raised to life. Running towards the goal 12I have not yet reached my goal, and I am not perfect. But Christ has taken hold of me. So I keep on running and struggling to take hold of the prize. 13My friends, I don't feel that I have already arrived. But I forget what is behind, and I struggle for what is ahead. 14I run towards the goal, so that I can win the prize of being called to heaven. This is the prize that God offers because of what Christ Jesus has done. 15All of us who are mature should think in this same way. And if any of you think differently, God will make it clear to you. 16But we must keep going in the direction that we are now headed. 17My friends, I want you to follow my example and learn from others who closely follow the example we set for you. 18I often warned you that many people are living as enemies of the cross of Christ. And now with tears in my eyes, I warn you again 19that they are headed for hell! They worship their stomachs and boast about the disgusting things they do. All they can think about are the things of this world. 20But we are citizens of heaven and are eagerly waiting for our Saviour to come from there. Our Lord Jesus Christ 21has power over everything, and he will make these poor bodies of ours like his own glorious body.