Is Life Worth Living?
Is life worth living?
Or to make it more personal: Is your life worth living?
An astounding number of people today are answering that question, “No.” Dr. Henry Pitney Van Dusen, a prominent figure in the 20th century church, signed a suicide pact with his wife, and in face of old age and physical illness, they decided that life was not worth living—so they took an overdose of sleeping pills. Eli Black, the Chairman of the huge United Brands conglomerate, when faced with the exposure of some unethical maneuvers within his company, decided that life was not worth living—and so he plunged to his death from the 44th floor of a New York skyscraper These were prominent suicides—they got publicity—but they were not alone. Every four minutes a citizen of this nation attempts to take his own life. Every fifteen minutes the individual trying to take his own life succeeds, so that today in 20 of our states, suicide is among the top ten causes of death.
Even more alarming is the fact that suicide is more frequent among those aged 18-25 than any other group. That year more than a thousand American college students committed suicide. These young people are answering the question: “Is your life worth living?” with a decision unmistakable, “No”—and they are doing it before they have lived much of life at all.
Well, there seems to be three principal answers for suicide. One is a sense of guilt and the inability to get rid of it. Another is a sense of hopelessness in the face of life’s obstacles. The third is a sense of meaninglessness, having no real purpose in living. These are the things that lead some people to say: “No, my life is not worth living.”
But, my friends, if the Christian gospel doesn’t say anything else, it does unequivocally affirm that life is worth living because of Jesus Christ. For the Christian, the secret, the worth, the great value of life is to be found in the closeness of the relationship between the individual and this Jesus who is the source of everything worthwhile in life.
Take, for example, a man like Paul. Here he was imprisoned in Rome, separated from his friends and his loved ones, carrying the burden of guilt for Christian blood he had spilled in the days before the Damascus Road, frustrated in his dreams for the fulfillment of the mission, locked away under lock and key and guard—yet when someone asks him if life is worth living, his reply rings with a note of praise. I read these words for you a moment ago. In the midst of that reply, Paul inserts this ringing affirmation: “For me, life is Jesus Christ!” Paul was convinced, you see, that Jesus enters into life and touches precisely those things which lead some people to say that life is not worth living. Jesus speaks to guilt. Jesus speaks to hopelessness. Jesus speaks to meaninglessness. Permit me, please, to show you how…
Jesus speaks to guilt. He gives us a conscience we can live with.
Most people are burdened in some way with a sense of guilt. They carry within them a deep acknowledgement of the fact that they have not lived up to what they might have been. Or they are engaged in relationships which are false and deceitful. Or they look back upon events in their yesterdays of which they are now ashamed. Yes, most people have a sense of guilt. They carry it around like a great weight, and they don’t know what to do with it.
Loren Eiseley, the anthropologist, tells of seeing a great eagle land on a mountain slope, inadvertently placing his foot in a trap. The trap snapped shut. The trap was strong enough to grasp the eagle’s claws, but the eagle, in turn, was strong enough to pull the trap loose from its moorings. The eagle then flew off with this heavy steel trap clinging to his claw, But as he flew, gradually the weight of the trap wore away at his strength and endurance until finally, in utter exhaustion, he plunged to the earth to die.
Now the weight of guilt is like that trap. It clings to the lives of so many people and weighs those lives down until at last they fall exhausted and wither and die. But Jesus, when He comes into a life, breaks the grip of that trap. When we turn our lives over to Him, we discover in Him a warm, forgiving, winsome love which transforms every dimension of the human experience and gives us a new power, a guiltlessness which makes life worth living.
That is what Jesus can do for all of us. He can make a list of all those things we have failed to do and all those things we wish to God we had never done—and we can hand that list to Jesus Who is as real as this very moment. He will look it over, and then in our repentance, He will tear it up and throw it away. Jesus Christ can make us clean. He can give us a conscience we can live with. That solves the problem of guilt—and that makes life worth living.
Jesus also speaks to hopelessness. He gives us a conviction we can live by.
The French philosopher, Jean Paul Sarte, in his book entitled, The Age of Reason, declares that people no longer base their lives upon what they believe, but rather only upon those things which they can determine to be true by scientific inquiry. That’s a foolish statement to make in a time when people have rarely given themselves so readily to all sorts of weird and strange beliefs. No, the tragedy of our age is not that people do not base their lives upon their beliefs, but that their beliefs are so often not worth believing in. For if our beliefs are not founded upon something we can trust, something worthy of the devotion we give it, then we are indeed without hope.
During our stay in Russia some years ago, Trisha and I were profoundly impressed with the devotion of the people to their belief in Communism. The tragedy is that they have given themselves to a creed which is hopeless. You see, there are three tests to determine the validity of a creed: the test of history, the test of character, and the test of power.
Apply the test of history to Communism and you see a history written in blood, whether it be in the Ukraine, in Hungary, in Czechoslovakia, in Poland, in Cambodia, or in Afghanistan—always the same story—blood. Apply the test of character to Communism and you find that it does not exalt the human spirit—it debases it. It does not affirm the worth of the individual—it negates it in favor of the worth of society. It does not encourage human initiative—it suppresses it. Witness the plight of those like Alexander Solzhenitzen and Valeri Panov and Andrei Sakharrov and Seorgi Vino. And if you apply the test of power to Communism, you find that it is a dissension riddled movement, marked.by a spirit of distrust. It has been an economic failure. It has been a moral failure because, contrary to its original precepts, it has resulted in an: endless series of not-so-benevolent dictatorships.
Consider now the creed of those who call themselves “Christians.” Apply the test of history. No creed has ever so transformed the flow of history. Every hospital ever founded, every school ever built, every social advance of the last 20 centuries can trace its origins directly to the Man from Nazareth. No one—but no one—has ever so magnificently affected history. Apply the test of character. Jesus is the One who can take a prostitute and transform her into a nurse; a drug addict can go straight; a jewel thief can begin making a contribution to life rather than stealing from it; one who sought to destroy others can become one who offers his life in service to others. That’s what the character of Jesus can do to human characters. Apply the test of power. Without a single armed skirmish, without a single shot fired, the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ has encompassed the globe. Millions upon millions of people kneel today at the feet of Jesus—more people than have ever knelt at the feet of any person who lives now or who has ever lived.
You see, when you come face to face with the fact that Bethlehem was for you, that the life of that Galilean preacher: was for you, that that cross was for you, that that resurrection was for you—when you see that all of that was done for you as if you were the only person in all the world worth doing if for—why the sheer knowledge of that gives you a tremendous new power in your life. That’s the creed which Christ offers. That’s a belief which destroys hopelessness and gives a hope which cannot be destroyed—and that, I tell you, that makes life worth living!
Then Jesus speaks to meaninglessness. He gives us a cause we can live for.
Most people, if they are at all honest with themselves, are troubled by the fact that one day their lives and all that they have done in those lives will be marked only by a tombstone with a name and two dates upon it—the date of their birth and the date of their death. That disturbs us. That’s one of the reasons we see the recent rise in popularity of things like eastern mysticism and transcendental meditation. But, of course, those things are not a confrontation with the reality of life—they are an escape from it. The holy men of the East have been parasites upon the society since they began—and they encourage a parasitic kind of living, a cocoon existence in which you cut yourself off from all caring, all hoping, all dreaming, all meaningfulness in life. You wind up living only for yourself—and that’s not much to live for now, is it?
But Jesus Christ gives purpose and meaning to everyday living. I could talk to you about Harold Hughes who left the United States Senate because he finds greater meaning in life pursuing that which Jesus Christ would have him to do—or about John Perkins who in Jesus’ name is trying to overcome racial hatred with Christian love in Central Mississippi—or about my friend A. L. Reynolds, a Presbyterian minister, who is transforming a southside Chicago ghetto into a haven of faith and love and opportunity—or about Mother Teresa who, amidst terrible odds in Calcutta, is doing “Something beautiful for God” there.
There is in all of these people a profound sense of meaning in life—and it is all because of Jesus Christ. He gives us a cause to live for, a high and noble and exciting purpose in life. And that makes life worth living!
Paul was able to say that life is worth living because life for him was Jesus Christ. Christ took away the guilt of his past. Christ took away any hopelessness which might have been his. Christ gave him a purpose for living. And what Christ did for Paul, He can do for us.
Oh, how I wish I could share these truths with every person who is thinking about suicide—either suicide in an instant with a gun or a bottle of pills, or dying across a lot of years with a six-pack in front of a TV set—either ending it quickly by plunging off a bridge or out a window, or ending it slowly by asserting that life is not worth living and then proceeding to prove it by living a guilt-ridden, hopeless, meaningless existence. I wish I could share this Jesus with every one of those people today.
But at least I can share Him with you. So if you believe that what I have said today is true—and if you have never really offered yourself to Him, never really known the things of which I have spoken, then why not make this the day you take that step?
And if you don’t believe that what I have said is true, that is your right. But please remember that we are talking here about something as important as the worth and value of your life. Surely then you are not going to make such a momentous decision about your life on the basis of some biology teacher telling you that evolution invalidates Christianity. Surely you’re not going to make that decision on the basis of some guy down the street who goes to church on Sunday and lives like a. pagan the rest of the week. Surely you’re not going to make such a decision on the basis of this or that individual, this or that congregation. We are talking about your life. It’s something you have to decide for yourself. And if that is so, then this is the time for you to take this Jesus—to try Him on for size—to see if He can really make your life worth living. Now is the time to discover for yourself that the secret of life and its infinite worth is to be found only in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God.
He makes life oh so worthy the living!