C.S. Lewis once said that when a ship is caught in a storm at sea, there are three main questions that it seeks to answer: (1) Why are we here? (2) How do we keep ourselves from sinking? and (3) How do we keep ourselves from crashing into other things and other ships?
The first of these three questions is far and away the most important. Any ship that does not know why it is at sea or that believes it is there only by chance will never be able to formulate meaningful answers to the other two questions. Why should it even bother to keep itself from sinking? Why should it be concerned to keep from crashing into other things? Why not do as much damage as it can and take as many other ships as possible down with it? If there is no reason for being at sea in the first place, why should it matter whether the ship sinks or crashes or stays afloat?
It would seem that twenty-first-century Western society is like a ship that is striving to answer questions 2 and 3 without first providing a meaningful answer to question 1. Our world is scrambling to find answers to the problems of suicide, attempted suicide, and other self-destructive behaviors (question 2) and to address the increasing occurrences of violence, intimidation, assault, anger, and abuse that we see in our schools and in society at large (question 3). But we are doing all this without ever providing an answer to question 1 or by answering it quite senselessly. If there is no reason why you and I exist; if life really is senseless and futile, because we are only chance products of a blind evolutionary process; then why does it matter whether we destroy ourselves or others? We must first provide a meaningful answer to question 1 before we can ever hope to provide meaningful answers to the other two questions.
When I think of this situation, I think of what Peter says in 1 Peter 1:18–19, that Jesus “ransomed [us] from the futile ways inherited from [our] forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with [his] precious blood.” One of the things this passage teaches us is that Jesus has set us free from the futility or emptiness that is part and parcel of living as a sinner in a sin-infected and sin-affected world. He did not do this with money or precious jewels or possessions, things that will sooner or later pass away. He did it with His own blood. He gave His life so that you and I who call on God as our Father (1 Peter 1:17) would not only be set free from our sins and from the emptiness and futility of our lives, but also that we would have meaning and purpose forevermore. He has provided the ultimate answer to question 1, and, thus, to questions 2 and 3 also. Apart from Christ, everything is “vanity and a striving after wind” (Eccl. 1:14ff.). But in Christ, everything and everyone has meaning and purpose forever.
Dr. Guy M. Richard is executive director and assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta. He is author of several books, including Baptism: Answers to Common Questions.