Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Meaning of What We Mean (and Incidentally, the Meaning of Life)



What is the meaning of life?  Meaning.

In other words, what do you mean when you do what you do?  And what does God mean when He does what He does?

***

One of the mind numbing and soul numbing effects of the politically correct culture we live in is Deniability.  People everywhere are doing horrendous things to other people everywhere and we are not supposed to acknowledge blame.  We're supposed to buy the excuse that nobody means to do wrong.  It all just happens.  Stuff happens.

Well, mostly no.  Mostly the stuff that happens is people doing bad things to you and you doing bad things to people.  Now, it's true that when we act selfishly we usually don't intend the consequences of our actions, but we certainly intend the thing we aim for, and we go for it despite the consequences, despite the harm we cause.


  • A man certainly doesn't intend to harm his wife and destroy his marriage when he starts cheating; the consequences aren't what he's aiming at.  But what he's aiming at is clear enough.  He means to do what he's doing.  He knows what he's after - what it looks like, feels like and smells like and he's going for it.  To hell with the wife and kids.

  • The bishops don't mean to destroy the lives of children they put at risk by protecting molesting priests.  They just mean to protect the priests, regardless of the safety of children.  They just do what they want and are heedless of the harm it causes.  That's what we all do, isn't it?  The only difference is we typically aren't selfish if we know children will be harmed.  Bishops aren't like us in that way; they're usually more willing to risk the innocent.  

  • The leader of a cult may begin by seeking to serve some sort of benign spiritual purpose, but sooner or later he means something very specific: he wants to own you, to control you, to abuse you.  People who ignore this intention do themselves grave harm.  Cults just don't happen.  At some point, the cult leader has a very clear purpose, a very evil purpose, and he structures everything in his life and in his group to attain it.

What I'm saying is that if we look at evil - at the many shades of wrong-doing, from harmless moments of egotism to the deliberate destruction of others - if we have the courage to peer through all the comforting excuses and tune out all of the distractions and denials that surround it; if we ignore the hand wringing and if we don't fall for the deflections of those who do evil but insist it somehow wasn't their fault - if we look through all that we see intent.  We see meaning.  

Disturbing as this is, it's not unlike what happens in prayer.

***

That's a strange thing to say.

But in the same way that courage and persistence will show us the meaning of our fellow men, so God's grace given in communion with Him in prayer allows us to see the meaning of God.

Even if we see that meaning in a sunset, or in a kind deed done to us, or in an unexpected prompting in our heart to be kind to others when we don't feel like it - all of these things are things that come with a form of prayer, or a kind of openness to What God is Saying to Us.  

When we take the coward's way out by not looking clearly at the meaning behind the Fifty Shades of Selfish all around us, we also become too scared to see clearly the meaning behind common acts of generosity, the daily goodness and self-sacrifice of our fellow man, and we fail to see the meaning behind joy or peace or certitude or love - which come both directly and indirectly from God.

God is a person in a way that shocks us.  Like us, He means and intends what He does.  The gifts He gives us (including the gift of suffering) are not just stuff that happens by a kind of dumb luck.  They are gifts, given by a giver - given intentionally and with meaning.  

And the more we can intend as He does, then the more we mean - and the more meaningful our lives will become.

***

So try asking God in prayer to answer you in a thousand different ways, to show you in small things and big things what He means, and what He wants your life to mean.  



2 comments:

Tom Leith said...

God? Meaning? What an odd superstition.

'It's a cravat, child, and a beautiful one, as you say. It's a present from the White King and Queen. There now!'

'Is it really?' said Alice, quite pleased to find that she had chosen a good subject after all.

'They gave it me,' Humpty Dumpty continued thoughtfully as he crossed one knee over the other and clasped his hands round it, 'they gave it me — for an un-birthday present.'

'I beg your pardon?' Alice said with a puzzled air.

'I'm not offended,' said Humpty Dumpty.

'I mean, what is an un-birthday present?'

'A present given when it isn't your birthday, of course.'

Alice considered a little. 'I like birthday presents best,' she said at last.

'You don't know what you're talking about!' cried Humpty Dumpty. 'How many days are there in a year?'

'Three hundred and sixty-five,' said Alice.

'And how many birthdays have you?'

'One.'

'And if you take one from three hundred and sixty-five what remains?'

'Three hundred and sixty-four, of course.'

Humpty Dumpty looked doubtful. 'I'd rather see that done on paper,' he said.

Alice couldn't help smiling as she took out her memorandum book, and worked the sum for him:

365
1
----
364
----

Humpty Dumpty took the book and looked at it carefully. 'That seems to be done right —' he began.

'You're holding it upside down!' Alice interrupted.

'To be sure I was!' Humpty Dumpty said gaily as she turned it round for him. 'I thought it looked a little queer. As I was saying, that seems to be done right — though I haven't time to look it over thoroughly just now — and that shows that there are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents —'

'Certainly,' said Alice.

'And only one for birthday presents, you know. There's glory for you!'

'I don't know what you mean by "glory",' Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. 'Of course you don't — till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"'

'But "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument",' Alice objected.

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'

'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master — that's all.'

Drusilla Barron said...

Wow! This is excellent. I reblogged, focus on the problem with evil. Thanks. I'm happy to have found your blog.