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“Why is there something instead of nothing?” has been sometimes labeled as the “biggest question of all.”
Many consider questions regarding the following topics of utmost importance: black holes; consciousness; dark energy and dark matter; the end times; the existence of matter; whether to focus on today or tomorrow; the origins and future of the universe; whether to strive toward goals or happiness; God's existence; higher dimensions; the livability of rules-free world; the existence of the multiverse; the possibility of miracles; the prevalence of evil, pain and suffering; defining reality and truth; what happens after death; the stability of the universe; the trustworthiness of scriptures, etc.
Some include following on their “biggest questions” list: What is the meaning of life? What is wrong with the world? Who are we? Why are we here? Why does anything exist?
Arjuna asks Lord Krishna in the ancient Bhagavad-Gita: What is the force that binds us to selfish deeds?
A question is asked in the ancient Kena Upanishad: Who makes my mind think?
We asked our panel: What is life's biggest question?
It is human life itself
Kenneth G. Lucey, philosophy/religion professor emeritus, University of Nevada
Erwin Schrodinger posed the query “What is Life?” in his 1945 essay by that name.
Consider the question in a different context: What is the metaphysical nature of human life?
Even the tiniest insect has life because it seemingly has motivated motion, but its nature would not engage most people. Still, the nature and extent of human life must pose a perplexity to anyone who thinks about the issue. Most of my philosophical colleagues are confident they know the answer, and it is captured in the term “physicalism” (or “materialism” by previous generations).
Their view is that human life is just a physical process which begins at conception and ends at death. Most religions, by contrast, believe in “life after life,” in which life is composed of a non-physical self, mind or soul — a view classically called “dualism.” Interesting arguments can be found for both these incompatible views.
What is the meaning of life?
Mohammed “Sami” Fadali, former president, Northern Nevada Muslim Community
The meaning of life can only be understood based on a belief system. In Islam, life is a transient phase followed by eternal afterlife. It is a gift from God to be enjoyed subject to obligations that provide happiness and fulfillment for all humanity while preparing for the afterlife. Islam seeks to elevate humanity above the basic level of survival instincts that require food, drink and procreation, while not denying these instincts as part of human nature. The Quran teaches that God created life for a purpose and created humans to worship Him. Worship is anything that pleases God. Worship is not restricted to belief in God and acts of devotion. It includes rituals, beliefs, work, social activities and personal behavior. Earning money to support one’s family and give charity to the poor is worship. Greeting a fellow human is worship. Even removing a hazard from the road is worship.
Life = meaning?
Monique Jacobs, director of faith formation, Roman Catholic Diocese of Reno
In my ministerial life, people have often worried to me about the question of whether their life has meaning … and then, how to discern that meaning. We recognize this preoccupation exhibited by all ages in our society today. As we age a bit further into life, shifts take place, and the question becomes deeper for us. What does the sum of my life look like? What are my regrets, and did I do enough? It becomes a question of essential identity. Is who I am, related to all I have done? As Catholic Christians, we eventually come to realize that no amount of effort on our part adds one hair to our value in the eyes of God. My identity is solely in this reality, not in my own measurements of success. Big questions often involve mystery. My life has meaning because the Divine has given it meaning. All is gift.
So many good questions
Matthew T. Fisher, resident priest, Reno Buddhist Center
Why are we here? What is our purpose? What is life's meaning? What is the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything? ... But beyond these there is one question that stands apart — the biggest question suggestted by Soren Kiekagaard: Why is it that life is lived forwards, but can only be understood backwards?
This is most important because it points us to the challenges of life’s contradictions. It conjures the feeling of falling into the future without adequate vision and context. It also shows that self-reflection and understanding is vital. Our mind state determines our experience of life; if we are combative, life seems like a fight; if we are kind and gentle, the beauty of life will reveal itself to us. This question is “Big” because it is productive to ask. Ask it today and find answers for yourself!
Find our purpose through faith
Micheal L. Peterson, northwest Nevada media specialist, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The biggest question for most must be, “What is the purpose of life?” A fundamental purpose of earth life is personal growth and attainment. Consequently, there must be times of trial and quandary to provide opportunity for that development. What child could ever grow to be self-supporting were all the critical decisions made by parents? So it is with our Heavenly Father. His plan of happiness is conceived so that we will have challenges where decisions of great importance must be made so that we can grow, develop, and succeed in this mortal probation. (Abraham 3: 25-26) God has given us the capacity to exercise faith, that we may find peace, joy and purpose in life. However, to employ its power faith must be founded on Heavenly Fathers love for us, in His plan of happiness, and in the capacity and willingness of Jesus Christ to fulfill all of His promises.
Anthony Shafton, author and atheist thinker
When American author Gertrude Stein was on her deathbed in Paris, her life partner Alice B. Toklas asked, “Gertrude, Gertrude, what is the answer?” Gertrude replied, “Alice, Alice, what is the question?”
Was Gertrude dismissing Alice’s earnest question by resorting to the famous Steinian penchant for wordplay, as in “A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”? Or was she merely relieving the tension of the solemn moment with a shallow or nihilistic quip? No, Stein in extremis employed the Talmudic rhetoric of her Jewish background by answering the question with a question, and this metaquestion is the right and proper answer. Therefore, the correct answer to today's question “What is life’s biggest question?” is “What is life’s biggest question?” The query has no better answer, unless it be, “What is?” It is. A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.
What is sacred to you?
F. Kevin Murphy, Sunday Forum chair, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Nevada
There is no single biggest question. Each of us is on a different spiritual path, each with a different idea of the most important question. For some, it is “What is God’s plan for us?” or “How do I get my relationship with God or other human beings right?” For others, it is “How do I build personal wealth?” or perhaps “How do I build that sacred treasure that moth and rust cannot corrupt?” For some, it is “How can I support and care for my children, brothers and sisters, my neighbors or friends, so that they can succeed at achieving meaningful, fulfilling lives?” Those who are beaten down by poverty, disease or addiction may see the immediate little questions of how to get by as the biggest questions. Perhaps in the end the first question is “What are your values?” In the answer may lie the biggest question.
What am I living for?
ElizaBeth Webb Beyer, Jewish rabbi
This question focuses on today. Now is the only time we can make a difference. To answer this question, we must choose priorities. We must consider how our behavior affects ourselves, our family, and community. Today’s conduct impacts the earth and all of its inhabitants.
Our Sages say that when we die, we are asked whether we actively envisioned (looked toward the future imagining) the world improving? (Shabbat 31a). These two questions are intertwined. We need to consider what we are living for in order to positively respond to Sages’ question. Complacency will cause stagnation. So, we must actively choose personal spiritual growth, self-introspection, and being compassionate, honest, earnest, authentic. We must prioritize embodying Torah — being moral, ethical, conscious, conscientious people. Our lives are our teaching. How we live and what we do reveals who we are and who we want to become. What are you living for?
Who do you say that He is?
Stephen R. Karcher, presiding priest, Saint Anthony Greek Orthodox Church
Once Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; others say Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah (the Christ), the Son of the living God.” At that moment, looking upon the face of Jesus, Peter knew him to be God; he recognized Jesus as Creator and Lord. This is why “who do you say that I am” is life’s biggest question. For each of us also, it can become a revelation, an opportunity to know God and receive his invitation to a limitless life with boundless horizons. And just as for Simon Peter, our answer too can become an expression of faith and a way of life. As someone once said, “If Christ is risen, nothing else matters.”
Does God exist?
Nancy Lee Cecil, Baha’i teacher
The biggest question in life for most of us is “does God exist?” While there are many other spiritual questions, all are predicated on this one. Knowing there is a creative force behind this universe puts every other spiritual question in context.
Bahá’u’llah wrote “the purpose of God in creating man ... is to enable him to know his Creator and to attain His Presence. To this most excellent aim ... all the heavenly Books and divinely revealed and weighty Scriptures unequivocally bear witness.” For Baha’is, the certainty of God’s existence — and one’s purpose in life — are intrinsically linked. Paradoxically, in the Baha’i tradition, God is unknowable, yet our purpose in life is to know and worship Him. So how do we know an unknowable entity? Knowing God is a journey that involves learning about the series of Messengers He sends us, connecting with God’s creation, praying, and meditating — listening to our inner voice.
Will my life matter?
Bryan J. Smith, co-lead pastor, Summit Christian Church, Sparks
The question fueling our decisions, simmering in the background of our lives, impacting our response to our world is the question of our worth. Will my life matter? If we are just an accidental conglomeration of atoms, cells and tissue — then we either fight hard to find our worth or determine that life is worthless. Travel down that path and one is either worn out or defeated.
But if our worth is found in Christ, as opposed to what we do, who we are, or what we produce, there is a beautiful transition. When our worth is grounded in Christ, he makes our lives matter. He brings purpose and value simply because he has determined we are valuable. This brings both great humility and direction to our lives. Plus, there is freedom to live a Christlike life, knowing we are squeezing most out of the few decades we have.
Next week’s topic: What are the top five moral values?
Faith Forum is a weekly dialogue on religion produced by religious statesman Rajan Zed. Send questions or comments to [email protected] or on Twitter at @rajanzed.
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