Reading between the lines: Youth

In my philosophy degree, I’m currently studying a module entitled ‘The Meaning of Life’. Naturally, parts of it have been a bit heavy and often dark; many of the writers I’ve had to read, contend that life is meaningless, and, further, that it is absurd to take any activity seriously.  What is the point in striving, they wonder, if we’re all just going to die anyway? (The writer of Ecclesiastes understood these feelings, but found the answer in God. Many of the philosophers have, unsurprisingly, rejected that solution.)

Moritz Schlick, however, suggests that the time at which we are most content is when we engage with an activity and enjoy it purely for its own sake, not for its outcome. He calls this ‘play’ (though it can also be carpentry, or bricklaying, or any activity in which you are employed), and suggests that the period in life when we were most satisfied was when we were children, and all we did was play.

Thus he advocates eternal youthfulness, striving always to undertake tasks for their own sake “independently of [their] effects and consequences.”

While this sounds good, and wonderfully freeing, it misses a key benefit and purpose of maturity.  Growing up is in large part about learning to do those things which do not give us pleasure, which could not in any way be considered ‘play’, but which we do for the sake of their effects and consequences.

We visit tiresome elderly relatives, or give money to charity, or volunteer at a homeless shelter, not because these things are fun, but because they are good. They may have no benefit to ourselves at all, but we do them for the sake of their benefit to others.

Youth is highly celebrated in our culture. To be youthful – to look and act younger than your age – is considered a virtue. Age and wisdom are belittled and abhorred, but in trying to avoid growing old, we sometimes reject the lessons that we should have learned in our youth.

Yes, Jesus told us to come to him like little children, but he didn’t mean that we should strive to be self-centred, unrestrained and immature. We should be joyful, teachable and trusting like a child, but with the self-control and maturity of an adult.

The meaning of life does not consist in feeding our own pleasures and desires – that’s hedonism, the doctrine that seats ourselves in the place rightly reserved for God.  The conclusion of the writer of Ecclesiastes, after examining ‘everything under the sun’ was this:

Now all has been heard;
       here is the conclusion of the matter:
       Fear God and keep his commandments,
       for this is the whole duty of man.
                                                Ecclesiastes 12:13

4 Comments On This Topic
  1. Peter P
    on Aug 3rd at 5:03 pm

    Interesting post, Jen.

    Of course, all that you have said about the need to grow up is completely dependent on the veracity of the fact that there is a God, that there is meaning to life.

    If there is nothing but a few short years of life then ‘maturing’ is not essential. Being kind to others is unnecessary and doing things because they are ‘good’ is completely subjective. If there is no God, there is no moral standard except that which I set for myself.

    But then, of course, there’s the argument that even if there is a God, what difference should that make to the way I live my life? Am I saved through what I do? Does it matter if I do ‘good’ things or not?

    I love these questions and am kind of envious that you get to study this stuff!

  2. newsong40
    on Aug 3rd at 5:19 pm

    Thanks Pete. Yes, absolutely – if there’s no God, no accountability, then it makes far better sense to ‘eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die’. If this life is all there is, then you’d better suck all the marrow out of it now and not waste a moment thinking about other people and their needs.

    If there is a God, and we are saved by grace through faith, then whatever we do on earth is forgiven and forgotten. However, God claims to give life in all its fullness. If unbelievers hear this, then see us living just the same self-serving, pleasure-seeking lives as them, there’s a chance they’re going to wonder if God really is as powerful and satisfying as he claims. If he doesn’t make a difference to my life, why would my friends even believe he existed, let alone turn to him?

    I do also think our actions on earth have consequences somehow in eternity, but this reply is already too long!

    Yes, I’m loving thinking through these things, too!

  3. Father Stephen
    on Aug 4th at 1:31 pm

    Taking this post together with your previous one (What will you be remembered for?) there is a common denominator in the question of making sacrifices. If, as you suggest, maturity is demonstrated in the ability to commit to tasks that are not fun, then making sacrifices must also equate to maturity because sacrifice is not fun. Therefore the answer must be to find a way to look on sacrifices and unwelcome tasks and things to embrace and enjoy.

    Then the epitaph on the grave stone can say ‘I just played and played all day’

  4. newsong40
    on Aug 4th at 2:02 pm

    I agree, right up to the word ‘enjoy’. I think we can embrace sacrifices and take on difficult tasks wholeheartedly, but it may be asking too much to seek to enjoy them.

    Did Jesus enjoy dying on the cross? He definitely did it wholeheartedly, and maybe even joyfully (certainly ‘for the joy set before Him’), but I don’t think He enjoyed it.

    Doing difficult things well and with a good attitude may make them more bearable, but not necessarily any easier/more fun.


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