Nihilism vs. vocation


“We’re accidents floating on a rock in the emptiness of space. Billions of years preceded humanity, and after our inevitable extinction, there will be billions more years of silent emptiness. Human existence is a blip that means nothing in the vast history of the universe.”

Such was the comment offered by a nihilist on a popular online forum. The topic was the age-old question, “What is the meaning of life?” For nihilists (often confused with atheists or agnostics), the universe does not have intrinsic meaning or value; there is no creator, no divine plan. According to this belief, the only meaning that matters is the meaning a person has contrived and applied to something.

But for Christians, who have a sense of vocation, the question of the meaning of life bears asking. The Psalms remind us that life is short: “seventy years, or eighty for those who are strong.” Faced with the inevitability of death, and beset by the claims of modern nihilists like the one above, how should a Christian chart the course of his life?

For starters, even when you’re feeling down, don’t give any credence to the bleak outlook of those who view human existence as little more than glorified asteroid dust. Don’t be afraid to call such thinking absurd. And take solace in the fact that you are not alone. Even in our scientific age, actual nihilists are uncommon. Most people, now and throughout history, recoil at the thought that life is meaningless. For example, if prodded enough, almost every person will deny that human life has no intrinsic value. As vast and mysterious as the universe may be, humans find meaning everywhere—in nature, in our own consciousness, and in our relationships. The Christian understands the reason for this: God has built us in such a way that we understand, at least on a basic level, the intrinsic value of His creation.

Christ is the King of the Universe – its creator and its end. Everything has its meaning and purpose in Him. (Salvator Mundi, Andrea Previtali)

But while many believe that life is meaningful, or even believe in a deity, that belief only goes so far. How does that impact my life and decisions? Even a deist can feel awe at the birth of his child or a magnificent moon rise. For the Christian, though, these events are not just beautiful, but absolutely fraught with real meaning. Because of Jesus, “through Whom all things were made,” every atom vibrates with divine life. The moon becomes a metaphor for the grace of Christ shining in a dark world; a birth is the manifestation of an immortal soul.

Over and above the depressing claims of atheism, Christianity offers unbounded joy for those who believe. We, too, claim something that on the surface seems absurd: that we were made to partake in the intimate life of the Holy Trinity, to know God as He knows Himself, to love God as He loves Himself.