Theology as Meaning-Making

My last post ended with this line: “It’s when theology fills in our gaps in meaning — the “why” to our scientific “how” — is when it is at its best.”

Obviously, I don’t think theology is pointless. I love it too much to think that. But aside from what I mentioned before — that theology is at its best when it drive us to action – I’d also like to explore the idea of theology as a meaning-maker in our lives.

I’ll be recording the sermon on the Holy Spirit this week. One of the things I’ll be saying is something along the lines of this: Most of us have a sense that this universe isn’t just a bunch of atoms floating around randomly. Instead, many of us have an intuition that this whole thing means something. The biblical account helps us to see just a little bit under the surface of our lived experience. This isn’t all there is. From the Genesis creation stories to the prophetic literature to the Gospels to Paul’s letters, we’re reminded that there’s maybe something else going on.

In my mind, when we try to evaluate human existence, we have to start somewhere. By that, I mean that if you want to actually believe that life has meaning and purpose, you have to decide whether it can have meaning and purpose. For meaning and purpose to objectively exist (that we’re not just “making it up,” so to speak) the universe cannot be a random ball of material floating on infinitely until its eventual expiration.

In other words, if I affirm that there is nothing “under the surface” of the material universe in which we are experiencing consciousness, then I cannot logically affirm that human existence is inherently meaningful or has an ultimate purpose. There is no good or bad. There is no right or wrong. There is no “better” or “worse.” Everything that is just is. And I have no objective reason to act one way or another.

The corollary to this argument is that for human existence to have meaning and purpose, the material universe cannot be all that exists. Somehow, some way, we need a guarantor of meaning. A foundational, divine, supernatural *something* that makes life meaningful and imbues it with purpose.

So, put simply: Objective meaning cannot exist without the supernatural.

This is not a post claiming what kind of supernaturalism or divinity one ought to believe in if one wants to claim that human life has meaning. Only that meaning requires the supernatural.

And this is where theology comes into play.

If we start with evaluating our lives at the “material” level — i.e., what I can see, hear, smell, taste, touch — we can only get so far. I can eat an apple and know that it tastes sweet. I can jump and understand that I won’t fly into the air. But when I start to think about my very existence, I am left with nothing. When I start to ask the question “Why?” — my senses come up short.

Theology is an attempt to answer that why with a foundation in the supernatural. In Christian theology, if the question is “Why am I here?” the answer is somehow related to the fact that God has breathed life into this universe, and has some expectation about what that life should consist of. If the question is “Why am I in pain?” or “Why am I suffering?” the answer should be related to the fact that something in our experience is broken.

Again, my senses can tell me that I am here. They can tell me that I am in pain. They cannot give me some ultimate answer for why these things are the way they are.

If we want to engage in meaning-making (that has an objective foundation) we all have to engage in some form of theology.

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