Theology Thursday: Finding Meaning in Life and Work

By Gary Osmundsen, Faculty

businessman praying God to help find meaning in life

Finding meaning in anything we do typically requires identifying the value, significance and purpose of what we’re doing. Finding meaning in our vocation (in general) and daily tasks that make up a workday (specifically) is no different. In this article, I consider the importance of actively maintaining an eternal perspective. More specifically, I consider the significance of how the Christian narrative ends in order to surface additional values within our work that might otherwise be missed. If successful, the quality of one’s life can improve as a result of discovering a deeper meaning behind one’s vocation.

Future Outcomes and Retroactive Value

The season of March Madness games is upon us. Both Men’s and Women's NCAA basketball tournaments are well underway. This time of year brings to mind arguably one of the greatest moments in the Men’s NCAA Division I Basketball Tournament. This moment is even more special since it involves the head coach of Grand Canyon University’s Men’s basketball team: Coach Bryce Drew.

In 1998, Coach Bryce Drew played in the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament for Valparaiso, the 13th seed. Their opponent was Ole Miss, the 4th seed. With only 2.5 seconds left in the game, Valpo pulled off an amazing feat for the upset win. It started with an inbound pass from the far end of the court. But this inbound pass was more like a Hail Mary pass thrown by Jamie Sykes to Bill Jenkins. Jenkins then received the ball and successfully tipped it to Coach Drew who managed to get off a 3-point buzzer beater. Now known as “The Shot,” Coach Drew will forever be part of one of the most memorable moments in March Madness.

I want you now to consider this: as beautiful and improbable as this play was, it would not be remembered as one of the greatest moments in March Madness had Valpo lost the game. Let’s be clear: the success of the shot was valuable—indeed, it was valuable in and of itself—as are most successes. But how the game ends determines whether this amazing shot receives additional value. What’s more, how the game ends significantly influences how the entire game is evaluated. Hopefully this illustrates the profundity of what Christian philosopher Joshua Seachris calls “the proleptic power of narrative endings.”1

How a Story Ends Influences How We Interpret the Significance of Each Scene

Prolepsis is when something is represented as existing now before it actually occurs. The idea, then, is this: the way a story ends can retroactively—that is, go back in time—and literally inject additional value into a prior event. Think about how some of your favorite stories or movies have ended. I suspect how the story ends makes a significant difference in how you interpret, feel and understand prior scenes of it, as well as the movie as a whole. Again, if Ole Miss won the game, Valpo fans would have felt very different about Coach Drew’s shot and the game overall.

The good news for Christians is that we know how the story ends. Death doesn’t have the last word; God will ultimately triumph over evil and will create a new heaven and earth wherein perfect harmony, justice and happiness will be enjoyed forever (Revelations 21). The ending of the Christian narrative also includes a time when Jesus will evaluate how we lived our lives on earth. This future “awards ceremony” (2 Corinthians 5:10; Matthew 25) can do tremendous work toward helping us discover the hidden value embedded in our vocation (in general) and daily workday successes (in particular). Proactively thinking about the temporal value of one’s work, coupled with the ultimate value (which the very same work retroactively receives) can provide us with countless benefits. For starters, it can significantly increase the value, purpose, meaning and motivation for performing successful actions at work. Therefore, God can significantly influence how we think, feel and interpret our present experiences and circumstances at work. (All the ultimate value we’ve accrued will one day be rewarded and experienced!) Indeed, with the right eternal perspective, it can very well increase our degree of happiness experienced at work!

Read more theology and ministry blogs and learn about degree programs offered by GCU's College of Theology today. 

Retrieved From:

1 Joshua Seachris, “Death, futility, and the proleptic power of narrative ending,” Religious Studies, 47 (2011): 141-163.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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