Photo by https://unsplash.com/@dnevozhai
In this post, I’m examining how meaning and purpose are defined through the lens of the article “Can Meaning and Purpose Complete You?” by Caroline Myss, bestselling author in the field of New Age Spirituality & energy medicine. I became familiar with Myss’ writings as a cancer patient, as her books centered on tapping into our inner “energy system” to promote health/ healing. In the article, she begins by equating the quest for meaning and purpose to finding love or a job, later concluding that, “Purpose and meaning are not found; they are earned.” However, when meaning and purpose are rooted on ‘earning’ and ‘accomplishing’, what then do we make of ourselves when we fail to check off our ‘life goals’ or of those whose physical and/or mental abilities keep them from “investing [their] energy into something and then witnessing the result of [their] own creativity upon the world”? Are we then doomed to a sub-par life unworthy of meaning?
Myss continues on to define purpose and meaning as “subjective…each of us fills them in according to our own life experience.” She is partly right here, as there is subjective meaning given to created things or experiences which vary from person to person. For example, a watch given to you by a loved one or the song My Heart Will Go On played at a wedding, will undoubtedly have different meanings from person to person. However, in addition to subjective meaning, all created things at their root are grounded in their objective/intended meaning given by their maker which informs our cultural context and collective human experience of them. The watch, invented by Peter Henlein, was made with the intention of creating a wearable device that would measure time. My Heart Will Go On was composed by James Horner to serve as the instrumental backdrop for the film Titanic. No matter who you ask, the intended meaning and purpose of these remains the same based on the maker’s intended meaning. If persons are able to give things subjective meaning, can we give our lives meaning? Afterall, Myss believes that the “ultimate source [of meaning and purpose] has to come from within.” However, the “has to” portion of this answer suggests she’s making an objective claim about the nature of meaning which she had already established as being subjective earlier. Also, as we reasoned earlier, only makers give their creations the meaning for which they were intended to exist. If we then didn’t bring ourselves into existence, we cannot discover our intended meaning, no matter how much soul searching we do.
Belief in God isn’t required to live a subjectively meaningful life. My family, job and art are important spheres which add meaning to my life. However, there’s a difference between the things that infuse limited areas of life with self-directed meaning, and the given meaning for which my very existence is grounded in. If we are to know the intended meaning and purpose of our life, we then have to ask our maker which brings us to the question of God’s existence. Depending on whom you ask, answers differ on this question. Jesus’s answer stands unique among the rest. He’s the only religious founder/leader claiming to be the author of life, God himself, and only one capable of answering the meaning question. According to Him, being created in His image for the purpose of existing in loving relationship with Him and the rest of humanity is what gives us our inherent and fulfilling purpose and meaning. The events of Jesus’ life, teachings and death are singlehandedly, the most well-documented of any other figure in antiquity from both Christian and non-Christian sources. If His claims of being God in the flesh are found to be valid, which I believe there are many good reasons to believe this, then Jesus provides us with best starting point when considering life’s biggest questions.