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August 23, 2014 by William H. Scarle Jr. 

Jean Paul Sartre (French existentialist 1905 – 1980) believed it was irrational not to commit suicide.  “The absurd man will not commit suicide; he wants to live…”  Why he did not kill himself is another story.  Like most of the existentialists he was an atheist and found no meaning in existence.  Expressed in Samuel Beckett’s (Scottish playwright – 1906 – 1989) play, “Waiting for Godot,” the rational man waits for God, who never shows up, and so leaves us without meaning in life.

Any time a well-known person, especially one whose life seems to have been filled with outstanding achievements commits suicide the media has great difficulty trying to express what has occurred.  The general direction of comment goes toward neurological and pathological explanations, and I would not exclude those factors.  However, as the existentialists were aware, the core problem is meaning.  We need meaning in life to make it worth living and the search for meaning is frustrating if we cannot see beyond the material world; if we cannot see beyond the art to the Artist.

I have been reading the works of Saint Augustine (354 – 430).  He was writing in the context of the sack of Rome by Alaric I in 410.  The citizens of Rome were trying to blame the Christians for their misfortune.  They were sure the Christian suppression of worship of the traditional gods of Rome caused the gods to abandon them.  Of course their gods were all reflections of the material world.  Augustine is quick to remind them that the worship of their gods never did anything for Rome except multiply their debauchery and repress their virtue.  The excess of plays and rituals dedicated to the gods was the work of demons and would never satisfy their souls.

Augustine knew why this was true.  His famous prayer expresses it clearly.  “Thou hast made us for thyself O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”  It does not matter how full our lives are with all sorts of things unless God is there to direct the performance.  Augustine observes, “I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely things which you made.  You were with me, and I was not with you.  The lovely things kept me from you, though if they did not have their existence in you, they had no existence at all.”

Augustine tells us, “And men go abroad to admire the heights of mountains, the mighty waves of the sea, and broad tides of rivers, the compass of the ocean, and the circuits of the stars, yet pass over the mystery of themselves without a thought.”  It was Jesus of Nazareth who said, “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself.”

When the first man was created the Holy Spirit of God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and he became a living soul.  The first person he met after coming into existence was God, even before he met his wife.  Nothing would ever make sense; nothing would ever have meaning without this initial awareness of the presence of his Creator.  He did not need to wait for God to show up.  God was there.  When this reality is rejected there is a hole in the soul.  All the beautiful things of the world will not fill it, nor will they ultimately have any meaning.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at  END-whs