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The DEEP

Life, The Universe, and Everything

Camus, Nietzsche, Peggy Lee and the absurdity of a life of folly 

Proverbs 1:24-27, 33

 

24 Because I have called and you refused,
I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded,

25 Because you disdained all my counsel,
And would have none of my rebuke,

26 I also will laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when your terror comes,

27 When your terror comes like a storm,
And your destruction comes like a whirlwind,
When distress and anguish come upon you.

 

33 But whoever listens to me will dwell safely,
And will be secure, without fear of evil.”

 

Long ago, a massive supercomputer called “Deep Thought” was posed a question by its builders. They wanted to know the answer to “the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything” and, if so, whether Deep Thought could provide it.

Deep Thought answers: 

“Yes…Life, the Universe, and Everything. There is an answer. But I’ll have to think about it...the program will take me seven-and-a-half million years to run.”

They wait seven-and-a-half million years as Deep Thought processes this information.  Generations pass, geological ages come and go, and the machine is silent–until one day its lights come on and it begins to speak:

“The answer to everything…Life, the Universe, and Everything…is...Forty-two.”

The builder’s descendants are shocked. What? That’s it? After seven-and-a-half million years? Just…the number forty-two?

Deep Thought helpfully explains:

“Now that you know that the answer to the Ultimate question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is forty-two, all you need to do now is find out what the Ultimate Question is.”

And so they ask if he can determine for them what the Ultimate Question is. 

Deep Thought ponders a moment and then says “No.” But they can build another computer that can:

“A computer of such infinite and subtle complexity that organic life itself will form part of its operational matrix. And it shall be called…the Earth.”

Billions of years later, the massive, organic, life-filled computer known as the Earth has finally completed its calculations for The Ultimate Question. Just as it is about to reveal the long-awaited information–the Earth is destroyed by a Vogon construction crew in order to make room for a hyperspace bypass through the Milky Way. 

This absurd scenario is part of the plot of the outlandish science fiction novel, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” by British author and humorist, Douglas Adams. If you had no idea what was going on while reading this–rest assured, the books main characters were struggling to follow the story line too.

The novel is filled with bizarre characters, misbegotten adventures across the universe, social commentary, and goofy British humor. “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is a study in galactic absurdity, but if you read it, don’t panic–it says not to do that right on the cover. 

Life is filled with absurdities–but you do not need to read a science fiction novel to know that. Here are a few everyday absurdities that I can personally identify with.

  • Taking a break from the internet on your computer to check out the internet on your phone. (You know that you do this too!)
  • Lowering the volume of the music on your car stereo so you can see better. (Its true!)
  • Carrying way too much from your car so you can "make it in one trip” (The reason for those plastic grocery bags is so that I can thread eight of them on each arm and lose feeling in my hands–because who wants to go back outside? Wait, I think left the trunk open.)

Life can be absurd because it is filled with imperfect people and you are one of them. The grip of sin on this fallen world can make for simple and deadly absurdities all around you. Solomon, as he prepares you to begin your growth in wisdom, warns of the absurdity of life in the fate of the foolish:

24 Because I have called and you refused,
I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded,

25 Because you disdained all my counsel,
And would have none of my rebuke,

26 I also will laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when your terror comes,–Proverbs 1:24-26

Lady Wisdom cries out for all to hear and those who disregard her words are destined for certain doom. What’s more, Lady Wisdom will mock those who do not heed her cry.

Wow, this seems harsh–and in a way it is–but the mockery here is almost bittersweet. Solomon is trying to say that Wisdom is doing her best, crying out for all to hear and listen. She is shouting in the public square (1:20), and yet is still ignored.

Tim Keller (citing Derek Kidner) says that Wisdom’s laughter is “to convey the absurdity of pursuing folly.”

Think about this for a second. Life without Christ is the pursuit of absurdity. Absurdity, folly…and death. 

Keller, in his book, “God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life,” reminds us of French philosopher Albert Camus. Camus (1913-1960) became convinced that life had no meaning and set about pursuing the nothingness that such a life promised. Married twice, he had numerous extramarital affairs and left a trail of heartache behind him. Though brilliant, became convinced that all this life promised was emptiness, followed by death–which claimed him at just 42 years old.

Camus was right about one thing: life without God–without the love of Christ–is truly just emptiness and despair.  

A predecessor of Camus, Friedrich Nietzsche, essentially believed the same thing in the 19th century. Nietzsche believed that life had no meaning, but he thought we could give it artificial meaning. By embracing illusion, seeking meaning in the things around us, such as art, beauty, entertainment and social standing–we somehow get through life.

Is this not how you see the modern world in which you live? It seems that everyone around you is seeking meaning in something. A job, a bigger house, the ultimate retirement plan complete with RV and all the trimmings? Or you can search for meaning in your children, raising them to fulfill your dreams. 

One of the biggest sources of modern absurdity is politics–and all too often we look for meaning there. Satirist P.J. O’Rourke shakes his head at the folly of those who professionally pursue the levers of power: 

We have two political parties in the United States. We have the silly party and we have the stupid party. It’s not always easy to tell which is which.–P.J. O’Rourke

The pursuit of all of the above will only lead to emptiness and despair. Jazz singer Peggy Lee's classic song entitled “Is That All There is?” describes a life filled with meaningless disappointment. The solution is to party to forget and to live this life for what it is.

Camus, Nietzsche and Peggy Lee capture the modern spirit so well–but it is a spirit with an ultimate end in death, of a life spent “whistling past the graveyard” until the final curtain falls on nothingness. 

Tim Keller contrasts the life of worldly nothingness with a meaningful life in Christ:

You can never get out of romance, money, and accomplishment the fulfillment that only a relationship with God can bring. So life in a world without God is indeed absurd.–Tim Keller

Solomon tells you that when you heed the cry of Lady Wisdom, you are hearing the voice of Jesus and in Him is your refuge from this meaninglessness:

33 But whoever listens to me will dwell safely,
And will be secure, without fear of evil.”–Proverbs 1:33 

And deeper in Proverbs you find the hope–and gladness–that comes with your understanding of Christ’s completed work on the cross:

The hope of the righteous will be gladness,
But the expectation of the wicked will perish.–Proverbs 10:28   

It almost feels like a relief to read these words, does it not? When you dwell in Christ you find new meaning. There is a popular phrase that I have used for years, that I “find my identity in Christ.” This sounds gentle and innocuous–reassuring even. I have recently found that this phrase is not actually biblical but entered common use among christians in the last few decades. Caleb Morrell looks at this curious phrase and how it entered the lexicon of western Christians: 

But rather than starting with God’s glory and holiness, the contemporary “therapeutic gospel” often makes God a servant of man’s sense of well-being and Christ’s atonement primarily a statement of man’s worth and loveliness.–Caleb Morrell, “The American Reformer”

What this means is that when you tie your ultimate meaning to the ultimate power of the universe, you transcend the temporary glories of life in this world. Your place with your heavenly Father is from the work of Christ and not something to be “negotiated” like identity. You identify with a sports team...until they let you down. You are united in the One who "has fully paid for all your sins with His precious blood, and has set you free from all the power of the devil." (taken from Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 1)    

All of this may sound like playing around with words but as Paul says in I Corinthians 7:

But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk.–I Corinthians 17:7a

Your life may be filled with absurdities, but as a believer, life for you is not absurd. You are given a calling in Him. A calling to serve the king. Like the words of Tennyson in his epic poem:

Follow the deer? follow the Christ, the King,
Live pure, speak true, right wrong, follow the King —
Else, wherefore born? - Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Idylls of the King”

You have meaning because of your union with Christ and His presenting you to the Father. Like Peggy Lee, life may be burning down around you, but your hope is not found in the ashes of the world. It is in the sweetness of Christ’s embrace. 

This means that you will have to weather some storms. You will have to stay strong while others around you crumble and fail, and in their despair you can bring them the light of Christ. You may have to check your desires as others parade their hard-won worldly successes, and remember the treasure that you have been given “where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matt 6:20b) 

In all of this, though, the answer to the “Ultimate Question of Life the Universe and Everything” is not anything that the world can provide. It is not even the number forty-two. 

It is Jesus Christ. 

We part today with new meaning and we see them in the words from the great prayer of St Patrick:

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.–St. Patrick’s “Breastplate”

 

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The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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