Heaven is “some fantasy,” Arnold Schwarzenegger said. “Anyone that tells you something else is a (expletive) liar.” Here’s an immigrant from Austria who arrived in the U.S. in 1968 with little to his name. He reached celebrity status as a body builder, actor, and politician. But success has not brought him hope, and it’s hard to find meaning in life without hope. His words in that same interview reveal frustration and fear. “Who can we blame…that we have to die?” he said.
It is common to the human experience to link thoughts about mortality and the meaning of life. The philosopher Nietzsche observed that people can cope with most things (including death) if they find meaning within them. A full and meaningful life is the antidote to the emptiness of death.
Some regard Leo Tolstoy as the greatest author in history, citing his works “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina.” But after finding success, Tolstoy came up short on meaning. Before he was fifty, he had health, a wonderful family, a large and growing estate, the respect of his community, and even celebrity. But he was troubled. “Sooner or later my deeds will be forgotten and will no longer exist. It is only possible to go on living while you are intoxicated with life; once sober, it is impossible not to see that it is all a mere trick!”
Schwarzenegger and Tolstoy sound like the Apostle Paul, reflecting on the vanity of success. Paul met all the requirements to be a successful and influential religious leader, even persecuting those who disagreed. Yet, “Whatever things were gain to me,” he writes, “those things I have counted as loss” (Phil. 3:7).
It is so human to pursue meaning in success, possessions, pleasure, and influence. It is also so human to fail in the chase. Where does one find meaning in the brevity of this life, if not in those things? Paul’s answer is, “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8). His words reflect a great reset. He found meaning not in himself and his successes, but in Christ Jesus, his Creator and Redeemer.
The noted 20th century journalist Malcolm Muggeridge could relate to Paul’s great reset. “I may, I suppose, regard myself as a relatively successful man…Yet, multiply these tiny triumphs by millions, and they are nothing,” he writes. “Indeed, a positive impediment measured against one drop of that living water Christ offers to the spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who or what they are.”
My prayer is that Mr. Schwarzenegger and my dear readers would thirst for living water, and not allow other triumphs to be an impediment to finding it. In Christ, life has hope, purpose, and meaning. “In Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 18:28).