Humans have been searching for the Meaning of Life since the dawn of time. How do Christians make sense of the Big Question, and how does Jesus fit into that?
A study on Colossians 1:15-23 for young adults from the Society of Salt and Light, in Christchurch.
A quick introduction to the week’s bible passages and theme, which aims to engage people in the big picture of God’s story, and the challenge of living faith in light of that.
Albert Einstein was one of those rare humans who managed to change the way we understand the universe. He also never wore socks. Not ever. Feet stench aside, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was a game changer, and helped scientists make sense of a bunch of things that seemed unconnected. And while most of us have heard of but still don’t know what E=MC2 means, we have him to thank for such vital things as Google Maps. That’s right, without Albert, you’d still be stuck in Timaru.
But later on in his life, after becoming a household name, Einstein became discontent with the limits of his Relativity theory. Behind that droopy moustache lurked a bigger desire to crack the ultimate question: the Theory of Everything. A theory that would tie together the connection behind the tiniest particle and the biggest black hole. Well, that’s where the story gets depressing. Einstein spends the rest of his life in a basement trying to crack the mega-theory. People start to ignore him and laugh at him behind his back. No one will listen to his ideas anymore. He gets blisters from not wearing socks all this time. And finally he goes crazy in pursuit of the ultimate in answers, before kicking the bucket aged 76.
Einstein’s quest isn’t exactly new. Since the dawn of time humans have been searching for the big meaning of things, the ultimate theory of everything. And you can’t help but think that science alone can’t really offer all the answers that deep down humans are asking: Why is there life and death? Why is there joy and beauty? Why is there suffering and injustice?
In Colossians Paul suggests the ultimate theory of everything doesn’t revolve around an algorithm. But a person. And this is actually quite hard for us to get our human heads around. When you read the passage you can come to two conclusions – either Paul was on a seriously potent cactus trip. Or, inspired by God’s Spirit, he was explaining one of the biggest, most far-reaching, mind-blowing concepts humans have ever heard.
So what is the Theory of Everything for followers of Jesus? How does it challenge our understandings of who we are and who Jesus is? And what impact, if any, does such a big idea have on how we live our lives now?
For the Scholars
Discussion questions focusing on exploring the bible passage.
1. In what ways do humans seem to like the big stories that help us make sense of everything? In what ways do we not trust these big stories as well?
Read Colossians 1:15-20
2. Paul seems to have a big story of everything in mind. What is it? (Or who is it?)
3. What are the areas that Paul says the Son is at the centre of? How is he the centre of these areas? (You may want to break your group into small groups and get them to look at a couple of verses each, e.g. v15-17, 18-19, 20)
4. How comprehensive is this list?
5. How is the idea that the Son is the theory of everything, the meaning behind everything, different to other theories that try to explain or find meaning in the universe?
Read Colossians 1:21-23
6. Why do you think Paul brings in the word ‘you’ in these verses? What connection is he trying to make?
7. At an everyday/every week level, what difference would it really make if we saw the Son as the meaning of everything, including our own lives, and as the glue that holds the universe together? Think through an average day, and think how it would change your view of each section of your day if you viewed life through this ‘lens’.
FOR THE DREAMERS
Discussion questions focusing on mulling over the theme.
1. How much time have you spent pondering the Meaning of Life yourself? What are some of the meanings of life your non-believing friends have, or that other people often live by?
2. Do you find younger people nowadays are suspicious of any person or organisation that claims to know what the ultimate Theory of Everything is? Why do yo u think so many people are repelled by the idea that the meaning of life could have an absolute answer, rather than just a personal one?
3. Why do you think the search for meaning is found around the world, in every race, gender and culture? Could it just be a biological impulse we’ve accidentally evolved, or do you think it was put there on purpose by God? Do you think our society does a very good job of helping humans explore and attempt to answer what the meaning of life is – or does it prefer to distract us with other things to keep our minds off the topic?
4. In our passage in Colossians, Paul offers us a pretty mind blowing Theory of Everything – but rather than some algorithm, the answer is a person (The Son, aka Jesus). Looking over the Bible passage, explore how comprehensive Paul’s view of just how central Jesus is to everything in the Universe. What new things stick out for you?
5. How is this idea – of Jesus being the meaning behind everything – different to other theories that try to explain or find meaning in the universe? What are the implications of having a person at the centre of all things, rather than an answer or feeling or purpose?
6. A “Cosmic Christ” who is at the centre of all things and holds the Universe together is very different than the image of “Jesus is my Boyfriend” impression in some of our worship music. What difference does a bigger understanding of the importance of Jesus in the universal scheme of things make to you?
7. So after all that, what do you think the Meaning of Life is? Practise your answer, kick it around and argue about it in light of the passage until you get some real clarity as a group or as individuals.
FOR THE REALISTS
Possibilities for on topic testimonials, sharing and story telling.
Social Research: Over the next week get each person from your group to commit to asking one of their non-Christian friends what they think the meaning of life is. The point isn’t to trick your friends into hearing about Jesus (though that could happen), but to begin to get your head around how people react to the question, and the range of answers they have. Share the response you’ve heard with each other the following week and reflect on any surprises that came up.
FOR THE ACTIVISTS
Activities and adventures beyond the couch.
Cinema: Hire a film your group will appreciate that you think relates to the human quest for the meaning of life, and then have a meal and movie screening at someone’s house for the night. Afterwards have a discussion on where the movie got it right, got it wrong, or just didn’t get it at all. It could be the perfect social flavoured occasion to invite new people who might be interested in being part of your group or church along to.