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What kind of relationships do I need to be truly happy?

Relationships matter

Relationships are important because they define us as human beings. To be authentically human, someone said, is to exist in relationships. Happiness has to do with the knowledge of being loved. Relationships define our identity. Not any kind of relationships brings happiness. Only loving relationships bring happiness in our lives as nothing else can do.

A famous rock singer, Freddie Mercury, once said that success had brought him fame and lots of money. However, before his death, he confessed that he missed the one thing really needed, “a loving, ongoing relationship.” Not only loving but ongoing relationships make the difference. This involves commitment.

Evidence that relationships matter

A nearly 80-year-old study has proven that “embracing community helps us live longer, and be happier.” The study revealed that “close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives.” Furthermore, they discovered through this study that “loneliness kills. It is as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.” And the key to healthy aging is “relationships, relationships, relationships.”

This study resonates surprisingly with what we read in the Bible. From the repeated words in the creation narrative of everything being good we have a sudden break with the words “it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” God created human beings in his own image and likeness, “in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” We are relational beings.

The reality of loneliness in our times

Loneliness is a real problem in our times. I asked a group of students in a university in Utrecht what could be a problem students are facing. They didn’t need much time to come with an answer. Loneliness and the need for loving relationships were on the top of their list. This generation has social media but still, it feels lonely. Business is a challenge for many people. Things go fast. Some struggle to catch up with things. Others have made it their aim to reach the top. A very successful novelist once was asked what he would like to have known as a boy. Here is what he said, “that when you get to the top, there’s nothing there.”

Relationships and true love

Love is important for good relationships. Our lives become meaningful when true love is part of our daily lives. The Beatles with their song “all we need is love” pointed to the brokenness of their generation which was struggling with racial tensions. The sad thing was that they ended up suing each other.

True love is more than a song that expresses an idea. Someone said that “love is not free” but it is the nature of love to bind itself.” This means that love is not selfish. To gratify our desires is not true love. For relationships to grow and become meaningful commitment is unavoidable. Relationships are messy. Relationships are complicated. But the one thing that can make relationships blossom and grow is true love.

Finding and experiencing true love

Jesus taught about love many times. But more than this he talked about his love relationship with his Father in heaven. In one occasion he said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now, remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

According to Jesus true love can be experienced in a personal relationship with God. This relationship brings joy and leads us to loving, ongoing, meaningful relationships with others. It gives meaning to life. Here you can read more about this love. A good way to find out more about Jesus’ teaching about true love is to join the Alpha Course. I will be happy to answer questions you might have.

 

Notes

– This blog is a shortened version of a talk I gave at SEARCH, university mission in Utrecht in 2018. I also reworked it and used it at Grace Church on March 10th 2019. Here is the outline of the talk.

– Alister McGrath, Mere Apologetics

– Harvard study of adult development

Bible Gateway. Online Bible in different versions. I used the NIV, New International Version in this blog.

Questions of Life: An Opportunity to Explore the Meaning of Life

– Ravi Zacharias, Can man live without God? 

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A fulfilling life without ultimate purpose

Life without purpose is difficult to imagine. But a fulfilling life without ultimate purpose is an impossibility. Of course, there are many people with purpose(s) in life. For instance, an athlete has a purpose. It is to win. To get a medal. To break a record. Also, a student has a purpose. It is to successfully complete her studies. To find a good job. To impact the world. Now, these purposes in life help us find direction and fulfillment at some real level. However, if we don’t succeed then these purposes can lead us to a life of resentment, a sense of failure, and total lack of fulfilment. Some times even to despair.

Therefore, university students in Utrecht asked me in 2018 to speak on the topic, “is a fulfilling life possible without ultimate purpose?” What follows is a summary of my talk. Worldviews present a comprehensive and total way of life and reality. Let us compare two of them as we try to answer this question of purpose and fulfillment.

A fulfilling life without “ultimate” purpose

From 1989 onwards many people from Eastern European countries were turning to God. A Chrisitan philosopher asked Andrei Grib, a known cosmologist, “How are we to explain this?” Andrei’s answer was short and to the point, “prove by the opposite.” He explained that “you can prove something is wrong by showing its opposite is false. Atheism didn’t work after being tried for 70 years. So everybody figured the opposite is true.” This was also my experience when I went to work in Albania in 1991. Many people were turning to God, a considerable number were young people. Albania was officially an atheistic country since 1967. But God would not go away!

Moreover, Nietzsche in “the madman” story makes the point that atheism would bring an age of nihilism. There would not be any meaning to life anymore, neither would there be value. This was insightful but also a sad conclusion. But he at least was consistent with his view of reality.

Furthermore, Richard Dawkins, known as an atheist but who stated in a debate that he was more of an agnostic than an atheist, said that “the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but a blind pitiless indifference.” It is good that Dawkins admits that his “atheism” leads to a life without purpose. He also, like Nietzsche, is consistent in his view of reality. But what about existentially and empirically? Is his view of reality livable? Viability is one way to test a worldview. If a worldview is not livable then something important is missing.

Christian philosopher William Lane Craig pointed to the practical impossibility of atheism, individually and socially. He said that it is impossible to live consistently and happily in the atheistic worldview, “if you live consistently, you will not be happy. If you live happily, you are not consistent.”

A fulfilling life with “ultimate” purpose

Christianity consistently has pointed to the reality of the ultimate purpose of life. Jesus talking to a huge crowd once said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Another time, Jesus talking to a woman who was exploited and seen as an outcast in her society, said, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Many people have said to this woman “go!” But Jesus says to this woman and to all of us “come to me and drink!”

Augustine, a Christian writer, talking to God said, “You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.” Others have pointed to the idea of a “God-shaped gap” in the human heart. Pascal once said, “this infinite abyss can only be filled with something that is infinite and unchanging — in other words, by God himself. God alone is our true good.” Someone said that “Life with God illuminates human nature, it interprets the widespread human experience of longing and helplessness.” Life with God, therefore, makes sense of the experience of life itself. Furthermore, it allows this human experience to be transformed. A fulfilling life is possible with God!

Finally, the well-known author of the Chronicles of Narnia, C.S.Lewis, used the “argument from desire” as a pointer for God’s existence. Every natural desire has its corresponding object. We have a natural desire for transcendent fulfillment. Nothing in the present world can help us experience this transcendent fulfillment. It can be satisfied only with something beyond the present world.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Leave a message and I will be happy to reply.

 

Notes

– On Guard, William Lane Craig

– Mere Apologetics, Alister McGrath

– NIV translation of the Bible

 

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Lent week one – Reflections by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It was a few years ago when a friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer. He was a young man full of energy and life. A few months later he died. I still remember the moment I heard the news about his illness. I was filled with sorrow and started to grief. The same day I attended a worship service at the university I was studying. It was Ash Wednesday. The minister asked one of the teachers to come forward and kneel down. Then he made a cross on his forehead from ash he had in his hands. It was a stern reminder of our mortality! But it also helped me process my grief and find help in my sorrow. During this lent period I will upload weekly posts with thoughts and quotes from my reading, especially the book mentioned in the notes.

In the church calendar, the “Lent” period is a few weeks before Easter. For this year, 2019, it started on March the 6th with Ash Wednesday. Here are some quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s reflections on the Christian life. The book is divided in six weeks, 5 Lent weeks plus the Holy Week that leads up to Eastern.

Ash Wednesday

“God deceives no one.”

“Each of us has his or her own cross, ready, appointed, and appropriately measured by God.” Matt. 4:3-4. Psalm 51:1-3

Prayer

We should not take prayer for granted. “We pray to the God in whom we believe through Christ.”

Prayer is “the petition of a child to the heart of the Father.” Matt. 6:5-6

God is not a matter of mood

Don’t wait until you are in the right mood in order to pray. God “is still present even when we are not in the mood to meet with him.” “Interaction with God must be practised.” Bonhoeffer thought that “the morning prayer determines the day.” Psalm 5:3. Prayer does determine the day. It is an important part of living out the Christian faith.

Meditation

“In meditation, God’s word wants to enter us and remain with us.” Bonhoeffer encourages us to continue and meditate regardless of having an extraordinary experience while meditating. “To be silent does not mean to be inactive; rather it means to breathe in the will of God, to listen attentively and be ready to obey.” Psalm 119:15-16

 

Notes

– The quotes are from the book “God is on the Cross: Reflections on Lent and Easter.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s reflections are chosen for Lent and Easter.

Is faith real or just made up?

Is faith real or just made up?

That’s a good question for the following simple reasons. It will either stop you from trying to find an answer or encourage you to look at this question in an open and honest way. It will also help you realize that you already have a faith-based few of reality, human dignity is one example. Here then is the question you have to answer, will you follow what others tell you or follow the evidence wherever it will lead you? Honest philosophers, historians, scientists would do exactly that.

That’s a  fair question. Fair, because there are so many other faiths around. People of all kind of backgrounds and countries have their own faith. Culture, country, ethnicity, religious background influence the faith you have. We all have faith. Even an atheist has faith, she cannot prove her atheism scientifically, does she? Since we all have a certain level of faith in what we hold as true it is not strange by itself to have faith. The question then is not if faith is real but which faith explains reality in a better way. Because that’s what faith is supposed to do, help us understand reality and make sense out of it.

But why do people reject faith?

Some people reject faith because they have intellectual objections to the idea of a personal God. They may say that faith and reason are incompatible. Faith, in their thinking, is unreasonable. Others may reject faith because they had negative experiences with religion. Sometimes our own culture may discourage us to consider the question of faith in God. We are living in a scientific and technological advancing age, faith is something for the less informed and uneducated. Science will finally explain everything some people would say. There are also reasons that go deeper, reasons that are related to making a commitment to a certain faith. People may reject faith because they do not want to change their lifestyle. This is a more personal and subjective reason to reject faith, but it is certainly a real one.

Why do you reject faith?

You may reject faith because of the above-mentioned reasons. Or you may have other reasons that are holding you back.  You may simply not have enough time. Or you may not see the need for faith in God at this stage in your life. Or you may not know from where to start searching for an answer to these questions. Here are some thoughts that might help you in your faith journey.

First, find out why you reject faith in God. You could write these objections down. Be honest with yourself and try to find out how people have responded to the objections you mentioned. Here are two links that could help you find reasonable answers, every student and bethinking. Second, leave a comment and I will be happy to respond.

Notes

– There are different reasons why people reject faith. Four of them mentioned in this post are taken from a talk given by Alister McGrath. Reasons of the mind, of memory, of the culture, of the heart.

 

 

 

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