Why Mortality Is Meaningless

And Where We Can Find Consolation

It has frequently struck me that everything I do is meaningless.

I read books thousands have read. I think and write what has been thought and written for millennia.

It irks me to think that I might not be special, not somehow better than those who have come before me. This is a tendency of my supercilious nature.

But my dilemma runs yet deeper: Even if I end up being that one-in-a-million writer, in a few generations my life’s work will fade. It will be as if I never existed.

And if it doesn’t fade, then civilization will. Nothing lasts forever. Even our mighty Towers of Babel—art, philosophy, science—must eventually collapse. Through them we seek to defy mortality, challenge God, but in them we only reveal our weakness.

My problem therefore is twofold:

  1. I fear insignificance and mediocrity, that I will become just another letter in the great typewriter of society.
  2. Everything must eventually be lost. How can I find meaning in spite of humanities overwhelming mortality?
Tower of Babel - Wikipedia

My initial attempt

Encountering these problems, I proposed a few tentative answers that might justify the futility of my efforts.

  1. My work is meaningful because it is unique. I shine my own individual light, which no other may replicate.
  2. I am still young, and what I am currently doing is but preparation for something great.

Both of these answers fall short. While they do solve my first problem (Admittedly the most pressing to me; as all humans do, I struggle to comprehend that our society must eventually collapse. It seems too distant to grasp) they fail to address the second.

So I proposed two more solutions:

  1. What I do is enriching. I enjoy it, and that is all that matters. Maybe life doesn’t need an ultimate purpose, only to be full and rewarding. This idea is admittedly very appealing.
  2. While the ripples I create are perhaps weaker than those created by someone such as Plato, they are still there, and I will inevitably have an indirect impact on all who come after me.   

But these answers too are insufficient:

I cannot believe that I have been placed here to do nothing. I cannot reconcile myself with the idea that my existence is random; it is too great a horror to even consider. It is to admit defeat to mortality, to let death subdue me. For as Paul says: If the dead are not raised: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die”. Hedonism is the last resort of the conquered.  

The second solution, while comforting, does not solve either of my problems. I will still eventually be forgotten, and civilization come to an end.

The solution

ruins during daytime

The bottomline is that all earthly things must fall. We are condemned to mortality; both the boon and bane of our existence.

Civilization cannot last forever. Admittedly, our stability has increased. But so has our power, our capacity for destruction. There is so much that can go wrong. It is only a matter of time.

All our efforts are weak grasping at immortality: art by creating something that may outlast us, philosophy by seeking unity with eternal principles, and science quite literally by conquering death.

But these attempts are futile. 

Art will decay. Knowledge will be lost. Power will be thwarted. These things are ultimately meaningless. We may only prolong, not preserve.

The solution then is to love and contribute towards something eternal. Meaning may only be found in immortality, for otherwise fulfillment is but an illusion:

If something is lost, whether it be tomorrow, or in a million years, what use was there in working towards it? I cannot help but think mortality is ultimately meaningless.

What then is eternal?

The answer then, may only lie in the divine, some eternal being.

By what means you approach Him—Christianity, Daiosm, Hinduism, philosophy—and by what name you call him—God, Yahweh, Buddha, the Dao, Allah, the Good et cetera—I will leave up to the reader to decide.

While I would truly love for someone to change my mind, and I am still an incorrigible Christian at heart, I simply cannot imagine that this Divine Being we all refer to is to be so narrowly defined. Can arbitrary human names and distinctions really capture Him? I prefer to think that we all see facets of the truth, but that no religion holds the complete truth.

I digress.

Back to The Article:

It is only in the works of this Divine Being (which I will henceforth refer to as God) that we may find our meaning, for He is eternal. While Christianity will inevitably change (as it already has), or even fade in the passage of millenia, the God we worship is eternal, and unchangeable. Our efforts in him cannot be vanquished, for He has conquered Death.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

1 Corinthians 15:58

Labour in the name of the Lord cannot be in vain, for we contribute to that which is eternal.

30And why stand we in jeopardy every hour? 31I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. 32If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.

1 Corinthians 15:30-32

Paul is willing to risk his life, to “die daily”, for the Lord, because death and decay lose significance in the face of the Lord. Immortality makes all he does meaningful, for why do anything that must eventually come to nought? I find this passage so inspiring.

Philosophy as a religion

Philosophers too propose an enticing solution to this problem of mortality, first expressed by Plato: Through knowledge of the eternal ideals and principles that govern us, we are united with the eternal aspect of the universe.

But even this relies on some divine element. For what are these principles and ideals but a manifestation of God? God is the ideal form of beauty and of knowledge that Plato refers to. He is the principle that governs us. Plato merely conceptualizes a path to God through reason.

And even philosophy requires faith; in the infallibility of logic, and the existence of objective truth.

My source of meaning

person's hand holding book page

I realize now that meaning may only come from serving God.

But this is easier said than done. In fact, it is supremely difficult, clashing with fundamental, carnal human instincts: the desire for fame, superiority and recognition.

Each of us may serve this Divine Being (for lack of a better term) in our own way, in our work and daily life. Only so may we participate in eternity, and contribute to the greatest Work of all, the Everlasting Kingdom. Only this is truly meaningful.

Now this is a very vague and inconclusive answer, to which many questions might be raised, which I certainly do not have answers to.

I have not attempted to provide an ultimate meaning of life, but rather solve the problem that confronted me: how can we find meaning, when we are doomed to mortality?

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Karol Zlot
1 year ago

Interesting article. Can you remember a time when you made a decision to become a Christian? Was it a conscious one? What made you take this decision? I’m curious if in your case it was a matter of emotions or perhaps some logical analysis.

Last edited 1 year ago by Karol Zlot
Karol Zlot
1 year ago
Reply to  LouisKruger

I think I agree with you, that beliefs are unavoidable in life.

We can’t say for sure if any belief is true, so I found good rule of thumb to judge beliefs: is this belief helpful for me?

Louis Kruger
Louis Kruger
1 year ago
Reply to  Karol Zlot

It’s an idea I’ve encountered before. And it is certainly a very useful way of looking at things.

But the romantic, irrational part of me clings to the idea of an objective truth, that we may measure our beliefs against, and so I more often think about my beliefs in terms of reason.

This does remind me of Pascal’s wager: the potential benefits of believing in God are immense, and the detriments relatively small in comparison, and therefore (or so he says) believing in God is the most practical choice. I must say that this (while it certainly shouldn’t, because it undermines the core of Christianity, simple faith) does factor into my belief.

Last edited 1 year ago by LouisKruger
Brian Scoles
1 year ago

Your post brings to mind something that Reinhold Niebuhr wrote: ” A genuine faith resolves the mystery of life with the mystery of God.” I wholeheartedly concur, with one exception. I would end with Christ.

Louis Kruger
Louis Kruger
1 year ago
Reply to  Brian Scoles

It seems to me wherever we turn there is only mystery, and faith.

1 year ago

This article with certainly Divine wisdom reveals two things for me: – First, the realization that apart from being connected to the Divine Being life and all in it is vanity. Second, meaning of life is only found in serving this Divine Being.