Sharing One’s Faith
David W. Shenk
“What is the meaning of life?” I recently asked a small cluster of Chinese university administrators and professors in Shanghai over a dinner meeting. “As I see it you have abandoned your ancient philosophies such as Confucianism and Taoism. Buddhism is in disfavor. The Chinese people have even abandoned Mao Tse-tung’s little red book that promulgated atheistic Marxism.”
I think Jesus might have the answer to your question.
One professor interjected, “That is a very good question! We do not know the answer to that question. That is one of the reasons for high suicide rates on our campuses. Students have no idea what is the meaning of life, unless it is to be number one. But that goal doesn’t wear very well.”
Then there was a surprising comment from the other side of the table, “I think Jesus might have the answer to your question.” The dinner conversation shifted to reflection on what difference Jesus makes for students who are seeking the meaning of life.
A few weeks later I had lunch with a Christian Chinese professor at the University of Beijing. This was her story. “As a PhD student I was very depressed for I did not know the meaning of life. So I seriously investigated all the alternative answers that I was aware of: our ancient Chinese philosophies and religions, Islam, modern atheistic philosophies and humanism, educational philosophies, and Darwinism. I did not find a satisfactory answer. So I was considering suicide. Then someone gave me a Bible. Alone in my dormitory room I carefully read that book. And I found the answer to my quest. God has created me in his own image. I have fallen short of that glorious vision of who I am. But in Jesus God has come near to forgive me, to transform me, and to bring me into the family of God. So the purpose of life is to glorify God now and forever. As I understood and believed in Jesus, my life was transformed for I knew the meaning of life. Then I discovered the church and was baptized. So I am not alone in this journey with Jesus. I think that I will be put in prison before long because the university authorities are not happy about the many students who come to my apartment to learn about Jesus. Students come because the word is out on the campus that I know the answer to the question: what is the meaning of life?”
There are many important questions, but the German philosopher, Paul Tillich, probably had it right when he said that there are only three ultimate questions that every human being asks.
- What is the meaning of life?
- How can I find forgiveness for my shortcomings?
- What is the meaning of death?
Surely one of the reasons Jesus really matters is because of the good news answers he brings to each of those questions. It is not only that Jesus provides a philosophical answer to those questions, but that he meets us and calls us to believe in and follow him within the fellowship of the church as he unlocks the mystery of these three ultimate questions. Here are only some dimensions of the mystery that Jesus reveals to us in regard to these ultimate questions.
1) What is the meaning of life?
For several years I taught in a university where most of the students were atheists or agnostics. A required course was theology; the students came into that class skeptical about theology having any relevance to life. But early on each year we would hit this question: who are you? In their high schools all the students had been taught Darwinian evolutionary theory from an atheistic commitment. So almost in unison they would exclaim: we are only intelligent monkeys. Then we went to the great surprise of Genesis 1: 27 – God created us in his own image. The class would explode with vibrant interest. Then we would fast forward to Matthew 1:23 – Jesus is God with us! Not only are we created in God’s image, but in Jesus God has come into our history revealing his boundless love for us. Often students would write in their weekly journals: I have always hated the “scientific” idea that I am only a monkey. How I hope that this word from the Bible is true, that I am created in God’s image and that God loves me so much that he has come near in Jesus. Then occasionally in the journal entrees I would read: I have now become a believer. I now know the purpose of my life! And of course I would shed a tear of joy!
2) How can I resolve feelings of shame or guilt, a sense that I am falling short of what I should be?
I often visit new church plantings where most of the participants are new Christians. I often ask, “Why have you become a participant in this church?”
This response comes from a young man in his early twenties. “I was an atheist. I lived for myself. I became increasingly depressed. This depression was because I felt very guilty for my evil ways. I fought the guilt. There is no God! Why, then, these feelings of shame and guilt. The more I fought the guilt, the more depressed I became. Then an acquaintance told me that this church is about a man called Jesus who forgives and who removes our guilt and shame. So I came to this church to check things out. Who is this Jesus who removes guilt and shame? And I discovered that Jesus has taken my place on the cross. I discovered the Man who has the authority to forgive my sins. I believed in Jesus, and my sins are gone. I am a forgiven man. And remarkably my guilt-induced depression is gone as well! I am a free man. Jesus is my Savior.
3) What is the meaning of death?
How does Jesus matter in regard to the third ultimate question? When my mother died in a tragic air crash, I was teaching in a Muslim school. I told my students that I know I will meet my mother again in the presence of God. They were astonished. “How can you know your destiny at death?” they asked. “In Islam there is no assurance of a person’s ultimate destiny.” I responded, God raised Jesus from the dead, and God has promised that all who believe in Jesus, God will also raise from the dead. Jesus has promised, “I am the resurrection and the life….Whoever … believes in me will never die!” (John 11:25-26)
When we consider the alternatives, this promise by Jesus is truly astounding. For the materialist, death is only our biological bodies turning to dust. For a Hindu or Buddhist death means rebirth into another form of life, or for the enlightened person the fusion of the soul into the universal sea of life, as a drop of ocean spray being absorbed into the vast sea. The diversities are amazing. But in Jesus we meet the One who has promised bodily resurrection and that we shall live and reign with Jesus eternally. A million years from now I will be just a young man getting started on the vast adventure of eternity with Jesus!
Jesus does matter! We have looked at only vignettes of how significant Jesus is to each of the three ultimate questions. All these are foundational, yet there are also many other dimensions of Jesus as astonishing good news for 21st century people. The book, Jesus Matters explores a variety of ways that Jesus is good news, including bringing surprising good news answers to life’s ultimate questions.
On a recent trip to Iran, I spoke to about 40 faculty and students at a religious research institute. This was their final question, “Why is the church growing so rapidly around the world?”
I responded, “Because of Jesus. He is good news!”
They invited me back for more discussion.
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Used by permission. This article first appeared in ” The Messenger, vol. 48, no. 2, Jan. 20, 2010, 4-6. Evangelical Mennonite Conference (national office, Steinbach, Man.)