I have heard it said that the only certain things in life are death and taxes. There is something else that every person strives for. It doesn’t matter one’s age, economic status, location or anything else. Everyone wants to feel important. We all want to have significance. I can remember classmates of mine in high school who struggled with the meaning of life. During the 1960s, the catch phrase used was that someone was trying to find himself.
When I was in graduate school, I met people who were my age and older who had never held a full-time job. They had been in school their entire life. Some of them had several degrees. I can remember asking them when were they going to stop going to school and do something. The common answer was that they were searching, trying to find themselves. Sometimes I wanted to take them by the hand, take them to a mirror and tell them to look in the mirror because there they were. Now get on with life.
In high school I began to play basketball and run cross country. I enjoyed the sports but down deep inside what I really wanted was to be successful. I thought that if I was successful as an athlete, I would be looked up to. Athletics became my road to significance. Even though I experienced a great deal of success playing basketball, it never fulfilled my desire to feel important.
This desire for meaning and significance is what was behind the self-esteem movement of the 70s and 80s. If a young person could develop a positive self-esteem, he/she would find meaning and significance. One definition of a positive self-esteem explained that a young person should never have to think negative thoughts about himself. Of course, if that were true, then it would be impossible for that person to do something wrong and then feel the guilt that comes with wrong doing.
In order to build positive self-esteem everyone on a team had to get a trophy. It could damage someone’s self-esteem if one member of a team would get a most valuable player award. If fact, I read where recently one high school did not allow graduates who were members of the National Honor Society to wear their NHS stoles at graduation. The reason behind this decision was that if some graduates wore these stoles it would cause those not in the Society to feel left out and “not as good” as everyone else.
Throughout the past several decades the striving for meaning was championed by the importance of self-actualization. It didn’t matter what the rules of society were. It was all about you. You needed to be yourself. You determined your own potential and your own direction in life.
All of these efforts, plus many others, fell short of being able to give a person a true sense of importance. It seems like one cannot be successful enough, have enough stuff, or chase after enough things to get a satisfactory “high” that gives one a true sense of significance. What is the answer to this innate drive found in every individual?
In the past couple of blog articles I have been discussing a biblical principle of education that God has revealed to me over the past few months. The principle is:
The education of children and youth must have as its primary focus the increase in the knowledge of God.
In the first article I shared how the lack of the knowledge God destroyed God’s people and led them into captivity. Last week I talked about how God wants His people to know Him more than to perform religious sacrifices and that the study of any subject is a means of knowing God. Greene said that when we study God’s creation it is God’s way of making Himself known to us.
I believe that knowing God is also the answer to this need man has to know who he is and why he is here on earth. I quoted Jonathan Edwards in last week’s article. Edwards said,
Of all the knowledge that we can ever obtain, the knowledge of God, and the knowledge of ourselves are the most important.
Edwards makes a very meaningful point and the order that he presents in this statement is of utmost importance. He didn’t say that knowing ourselves is most important. From Edwards experience he realized that the knowledge of God was of first priority. As one increases in his knowledge of God, he can then gain a better knowledge of himself. Knowing God can lead to knowing ourselves and together this gives us the significance that we all long for.
All other efforts to find significance apart from God are totally empty. What makes this even more critical today is the fact that most young people are educated in secular institutions. Not only do secular schools deny or ignore the existence of God, they also teach students that man has evolved from lower life forms. Man is merely a natural phenomenon, an exquisite piece of machinery of nature. If that were true, man has no more value than that which belongs to a monkey or the dust of the ground.
True purpose and significance can only be found when one grasps two truths. First, we must understand that God created man. We did not evolve by chance over a long period of time. We were specially created by an all-wise God. That would take us a long way down the road to finding true purpose in life. However, it still doesn’t account for us being of greater worth and value than the monkey or a handful of dirt which God also created.
The second truth is what really matters. Not only did God create man but God also created man in His image. Every person who has ever lived has been and is an image bearer of almighty God. How, then, is the best way for me to “know myself?” I can truly know myself when I know the Person whom I am an image of! Just like it is possible to get an understanding of some of my characteristics by knowing my father and mother, it is of greater value to know the One who actually created me in His image.
If we would fully follow this principle and make the increase in the knowledge of God our highest priority in the education we give our children, they would also be able to better understand who they are. They would know that they have inherent worth and intrinsic value because they are image bearers of God. However, they would also come to realize how far short they fall from being a true image of God’s due to sin. This would lead them to knowing their need for a Savior and, through salvation, they can be transformed into the image of God’s Son. Now that gives one true significance!