Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Everybody Loves... the Meaning of Life

Why are we here? That's the question Ray's daughter Allie asks in the Season 6 episode of Everybody Loves Raymond titled "Talk to Your Daughter". It's a question people have pondered since the beginning of time, and depending on whom you ask, there are probably a million different answers people can give. In this episode, each of the adults offer their insight, so I thought I'd take a few minutes to look at their various answers, and then give another possibility at the end.

The beginning of the episode doesn't even hint that it will deal with anything so deep. It opens with Ray trying to prove to his friends that he can call his wife Debra mean names and get away with it as long has he says it in a nice tone. When Deb catches him calling her "Smelly Tramp", however, she is not amused. That night, she calls Ray immature and accuses him of shirking responsibility. To prove her wrong, Ray offers to step up and have "the sex talk" with his daughter, who's been asking questions lately. But for all his studying, Ray is thrown for a loop when he approaches Allie and learns that her real question isn't so much where babies come from, but WHY they come at all!
Ray: "OK, here's what happens. When a man and a woman love each other very much, they get married, and then sometimes, they decide to make a baby.
Allie: "Why are there babies?"
Ray: "Right, OK, I'm gonna get to that. What a man and a woman do is-"
Allie: "No, I mean, I know that the man and the woman have to do something, but... Why are we born? Why does God put us here?"
Ray: "...because...that's...WHAT?"
Allie: "If we all go to Heaven when we die, then why does God want us here first?"
Of course, Raymond is completely blindsided! Even setting aside the fact that not everyone ends up in Heaven (Revelation 20:15), he has no idea how to answer, so in a panic, he makes something up:
"You see... God is up in Heaven, and... well, honey... it's very crowded up there! And... and... you don't want to be in Heaven if it's crowded, right? Remember when we went to Disney World, how crowded that was? I mean, it was fun, but it was too crowded, right? So God, he sends us down to Earth for a little while to... ease the... Heavenly congestion."
Ray searches frantically for something
to say about the meaning of life.
Obviously, that answer doesn't satisfy Allie's curiosity! Ray pretends to have a sneezing attack and runs out of the room. Downstairs, he explains the problem to Debra, and the two panic! They realize Allie needs a better answer, but neither knows exactly what they should tell her. Just then, Ray's parents and his brother Robert come in, and as the episode plays out, the group comes up with (and shoots down) several possibilities. It's interesting how the show deals with a serious topic in a light way without making the question seem trivial.

  • "You're born, you go to school, you go to work, you die. That's it. That's all." - Frank   This answer is immediately rejected by the group as incomplete because it only addresses what we do and not why we do it. We see later, though, that Frank really believes there is no meaning to our existence. He sees the entire conversation as just plain "nonsense". Even though other episodes show him as a church-going man, his view seems to be more in line with something an atheist might say.
  • "God put us on earth to help each other. It's simple. It's direct. It's a good way for her to live her life." - Debra's 1st attempt   Raymond is quick to shoot this one down because he says it doesn't explain why God wants us to help each other. Why should God go to the effort of creating humans if that's all he wants?
  • "...never knowing the answer, but always wondering about it." - Debra's 2nd attempt   This solution comes in response to some difficult questions raised by Robert about the endlessness of space and the short lifespan of a fruit fly. Ray can't accept this explanation, either, though - "So God made us smart enough to realize that there's an answer, but not smart enough to figure it out?"
  • "It's all in the Bible!" - Marie   This is the response you might expect from a Christian, but unfortunately, Marie never gives us a biblical solution. Instead, she begins flipping pages and pulling out random verses, hoping something might sound meaningful, but nothing she finds is relevant. It's comical, but it illustrates the sad truth that most Americans just don't know their Bibles. One recent survey concluded, "Americans revere the Bible but, by and large, they don't read it." Debra rightly points out, "You're not just gonna flip through the Bible and find the meaning of life" if you're not familiar with it in the first place! The family decides to ask the local minister, figuring he will have the answer - and maybe he would have had something insightful to add - but when Ray calls, he isn't home, which reminds me that instead of always pushing the responsibility to others, each of us ought to read the Bible and learn what it says for ourselves! That way we can always be ready explain what we believe! (1 Peter 3:15)

So what does the Bible have to say about all of this?

Is this whole discussion just nonsense? (as Frank believes) - I'd have to say no, because God has a plan and a purpose for our lives (Jeremiah 1:5; Psalm 139:13-18). Just the fact that God created you makes you special and proves he loves you. If the way he provides for your needs and guides your life isn't enough proof of God's love, then consider the truth that Jesus died for you before you were born! (Romans 5:8) God declares from the beginning that you are of value and your life has meaning!

"For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord
plans for your welfare and not for harm, 
to give you a future with hope."
- Jeremiah 29:11

So why did God create us?

In the beginning, God created humanity "in his own image" (Genesis 1:26-28). In other words, God created us to be like him. Though our bodies were formed from the same earth as other animals, we were intended to be different: we were made to be a reflection of God in this world - to act as he would act and be examples of what he's like. That means part of why we're here is to care for the earth and animals because we know God cares for them! This is reinforced in Genesis 2:4-15, when God created the beautiful Garden of Eden and placed man there "to till it and keep it".

We were also made for relationships. When God made man, he said, "It is not good that the man should be alone," so he made woman, and he brought us together as partners, as family, to live and love and work side-by-side (Genesis 2:18-25). In the next chapter, we see that we were not just made for each other, but also for a relationship with God. God used to walk in his garden with us, but through sin, the perfect image was shattered as we turned our backs on him!

The rest of the Bible, then, is a grand love story - the story of a God who continues to love us even when we have hated him! So much of the Old Testament is meant to show how far we've drifted from the original plan, and the New Testament demonstrates how far God is willing to go to put things right. Jesus came and died so that - by wiping out the power of sin - he could undo what sin had done. The good news spread around the world by the apostles and the church is that God loves us, and by putting our trust in Christ, we can have a restored relationship with our Creator and return to being the image of God in the world - reflecting his holiness and faithfulness as we creatively show the same unrelenting love offered to us!

This is why, when the Pharisees questioned Jesus about which was the most important commandment, Jesus answered:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
- Matthew 22:37-40 (NIV)
So the meaning of life is... love! Because "God is love" (1 John 4:8), love reflects the image! When you submit to God and do what he says, then, you should notice yourself becoming a more caring, loving person - otherwise you know something isn't right! (Ecclesiastes 12:13; 1 John 4:19-21)

God wants us to love the rest of Creation, to love each other, and to be in a loving relationship with him. How each of us lives that out is another question. Maybe for you it means becoming a social/environmental activist, a politician, a teacher, or something else that lets you encourage others to act in more loving ways. Maybe it means writing a book or a blog or just talking to people about what's really important. Or maybe it just means showing love in the little details of everyday life - choosing to recycle, treating people with respect even when you disagree, taking a few minutes to read your Bible and pray and spend time with God each day so you can better understand what he wants you to do and what he wants to do through you.

Without ever agreeing on a definitive answer, Ray and Debra end up going to speak with Allie, just hoping something meaningful will come out. Fortunately for them, Allie has moved on and is playing with her brothers. There's a long close-up of Ray and Deb watching their kids play, and maybe the producers are trying to say that the meaning of life is just taking the time to love those who are in your life. Even if that's not the whole answer, I'd say it's a pretty good start!

What do you think?

1 comment :

  1. I agree with the ending. Take time to enjoy your family now. A good start in the meaning of life.


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