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Killing time

| Monday, April 6, 2020

These past few weeks have been, well, hard, to say the least. All of us have had something important to us taken away by COVID-19. But with all of us (hopefully) at home, we’ve gained something we’re always asking for: time. Yet now that we have it, we have absolutely no clue what to do with ourselves. Utter boredom has struck. Indeed, we’ve actually grown to despise time. It has become a nuisance that should be done away with as quickly as possible. It’s apparently a major concern nowadays.

Of course, this would be a much smaller problem if social distancing were out of the picture, perhaps because we’d make ourselves so busy meeting friends and running errands that there would be no time left to worry about. The problem isn’t that there is time. No, we’re very good at doing away with that — at least under normal circumstances. There’s something about having so much time by ourselves that unnerves people. We’ve grown incapable of dealing with the silence and the solitude. We need to be doing something, anything. So we go headfirst into the world of Instagram and Buzzfeed. We binge watch that show we just got into on Netflix. But none of it does the trick — at least not for long. Something doesn’t add up. That inexplicable empty, “meh” feeling we experience when we shuffle off to bed and put down our phones tells us something’s wrong, something’s missing.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing necessarily bad about getting lost on YouTube or looking for the perfect meme. But when it takes over our free time and becomes a substitute for the important things in life, we aren’t just procrastinating, we are killing time — and there is a difference. The latter is far more dangerous. Procrastination is defined as putting off “something that should be done,” but killing time means “to spend time doing nothing.” Procrastination carries with it a sense of obligation — and hope. It has, after all, an expectation of something meaningful and significant in the future, something that we should be doing now. (If it lacked any meaning, then there would be no reason that we should, in fact, be doing it.) Killing time need not have such aspirations. It does not necessarily imply we should be doing something else. As we think about this, some questions undoubtedly emerge: What should we be doing?  Does it even matter what we do? Do we procrastinate — or are we just killing time? Is there meaning to our time here, and if so, what is it?

When we put it under the microscope, the answer our secular culture provides is hardly a pleasant one. We are told that we are nothing more than the random byproduct of time plus matter plus chance. Somehow, against the beyond-infinitesimally small odds, the universe and this speck of dust we call home had exactly the right conditions for not just life, but complex organisms like ourselves. Everything around us tells us we should never have existed. We’re the accident of all accidents.

But just because we’re unlikely accidents doesn’t diminish the fact that we are indeed accidents — short-lived ones at that. No sooner do we enter into the world than we cease to exist. Us, our family, our friends, all of humanity and the Earth itself will all one day be no more. Everything that we’ve worked for, everyone and everything that we’ve loved will suddenly disappear into oblivion. What then is the point, the meaning of our time living? There is, to put it bluntly, none — none at all. We quickly become like Ozymandias’ once-terrifying kingdom now buried in the sand — once tall and proud but now erased forevermore, as if we’d never been there at all. Under the atheistic worldview, our lives lack any ultimate meaning or significance. William Lane Craig puts it this way:

If each individual person passes out of existence when he dies, then what ultimate meaning can be given to his life? Does it really matter whether he ever existed at all? … His life may be important relative to certain other events, but what is the ultimate significance of any of those events? If all the events are meaningless, then what can be the ultimate significance of influencing any of them? Ultimately it makes no difference.

It does not truly matter, then, how we live our lives. Hitler and Mao, Gandhi and Mother Teresa, they all had the same fate: nothingness. Joy or suffering, it does not ultimately make much difference, except to make our inescapable march towards nonexistence a little more or less bearable. Our lives lack meaning because our existence is, at bottom, meaningless. Thinking that this is not so, that we can create meaning for our lives against the cold, indifferent backdrop of the universe is, unfortunately, nothing more than delusion.

Yet we cannot help ourselves, we cannot live with the conclusions of such a worldview, for doing so would render life utterly unliveable. We are like the characters in Samuel Beckett’s play “Waiting for Godot,“ spending our hours waiting for someone who never shows up. If there is no God, we — skeptic and believer alike — don’t choose to kill time at all. It has already been killed for us. No one is showing up. There is no future hope or purpose to look forward to. Life itself becomes meaningless, absurd even. And if there is no ultimate significance to our lives, why go through the tiresome agony of living at all? Indeed, for Albert Camus, this was the “only … really serious philosophical problem.” Everything in our being tells us that this is all wrong and that it cannot be true. But resistance is futile. In the words of Francis Schaeffer, “If God is dead, then man is dead, too.”

But if Christianity is true, if Christ did indeed rise from the dead that first Easter morning, then mankind finds not death, but life. It means that each and every one of us was designed for a purpose. We have intrinsic worth because we ultimately do matter, because life does not end in nothingness, because we were created for eternity and relationship with the living God — the Designer of the universe and the Lover of your soul. You matter because God cares about you as a person. We are not numbers to God; he calls us to be his children. God wants us to be happy, and he wants our lives to be meaningful. And it is only through Jesus that we find the convergence of our ultimate joy and ultimate purpose: when we spend eternity in the presence of the One we call our Heavenly Father.

This changes everything. It gives us eyes to see beyond this life and to fix our sights on the one to come, but this doesn’t make time on earth meaningless — far from it. As Billy Graham once said, “Heaven doesn’t make this life less important; it makes it more important.” God did not put us on Earth “just because,” and if we take our role as servants seriously, we will realize that there is no part of our lives that we can’t use to seek and praise God. We do this not out of reluctant obligation or coercion but because Christ is the source of ultimate meaning and happiness, and we can experience that renewed life right here and right now. As someone once put it, “You don’t go to Jesus because He is your preference, you go to Him because He is your life.” This is at the heart of the Christian message.

So what’s the point? The point is that if Christianity is true, our heart’s need for meaning and purpose is not illusory. It is real and can be experienced. It means that we are not merely killing time. We’re given the opportunity to get to know our Savior better and to “have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). What could be better than that?

This means that, as Craig concludes, if God exists, “we can live both consistently and happily.” This is something that the true atheist cannot say. Such a comparison may not prove that God exists, but it does force us to think about what it is that we truly believe. This isn’t something that can’t be put off. Procrastination is not an option. We should want to know if our lives are meaningful or not. Even that, though, is not necessarily true. It too depends on whether we, in the end, have any ultimate meaning at all. Do we?

Andrew Sveda is a freshman at Notre Dame from Pittsburgh intending to major in political science. Besides politics, Andrew enjoys acting, playing the piano and tennis. He can be reached at [email protected] or @SvedaAndrew on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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