Meaning in Life
Every teacher has heard the classic student query: “Why do we have to learn this?” Sometimes the question isn’t so easy to answer, but I am convinced that it deserves a careful and complete response. Students may not always take the long view of things, and so may not see the good answers to their question of why. Yet to ask the question reveals a heart-felt need to find purpose in what they do. To be human is to seek for meaning in life.
The Westminster Divines give us a good answer to the meaning-of-life question. They tell us in the Shorter Catechism that it is “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” True words indeed. Yet the students’ question remains: “Do I need to learn Algebra in order to glorify God?”
Michael Wittmer explains that along with answering the meaning of life question, Christians should also look for answers to find the meaning in life. In our everyday activities, such as studying Algebra, is there inherent meaning? Wittmer puts it like this: “Does our purpose for life consist entirely in spiritual activities, or is there some value in showing up for work, waxing our car, playing with our children, or taking a trip to the beach – just a few of the many things we do, not because we are Christian, but primarily because we are human?” The Apostle Paul says yes to the value of everyday things, and calls us to do every deed and say every word in Jesus’ name. Nothing is beyond the gaze of God, and there are no neutral areas in life where God is not vitally interested. He knows and loves his world and his people.
The school is a wonderful place to work out answers to the meaning in life questions. It can speak a resounding yes into the everyday affairs of students. Homework and homeroom, mathematics and music, sports and science are all part of a school life lived before the face of God, and all have value. Learning is never ultimately for its own sake, but serves to uncover what is inherent in the created order. Algebra tells an important part of the story, and may be the means for some to further explore creation’s potentialities.
Students can have a hard time remembering these truths, so the next time a student asks you “Why do we have to learn this?” you can remind them of where they live: in a world charged with the grandeur of God.