The meaning of life is probably death. Facing this inexorably fact forces us to look for solutions, evasions, comfort. Perhaps the greatest solace is faith, consolation for what Reinhold Niebuhr called “the essential homelessness of the human spirit.”
Sometimes I wonder if faith is about human vanity; if it's borne out of the inability to accept that we are mortal, that our lives have no universal significance and our existence is ultimately futile. But perhaps it's also born out of humility; the recognition that we cannot know everything, do everything, conquer everything. One of my favourite prayers is that of the Breton fisherman:
Dear God, be good to me:
The sea is so wide
And my boat is so small.
As we cannot know everything then much of life is mystery. Perhaps, then, we should investigate that mystery.
I approach questions of belief through literature; where faith is both a metaphor and a different way of approaching the way in which we live our lives. I look to religious writing, essentially Christian texts, for language, inspiration and for different ways of thinking about matters that are greater than our own small existence. Reading gives us time to think about Time: how we manage to carry past, present and future simultaneously, and how our lives are made up of both the instantaneous moment and the long arc of human existence.
Our lives are both long and short and if we remove the idea of an afterlife a heaven in which the good are rewarded, and a hell in which the evil are punished- then we are left with this life and this life only.
The challenge is to negotiate the difference between need and desire, to live a life without cruelty or excess, and to die without guilt, recognising, perhaps, the unlikely wonder that we have existed at all.
And if we are not judged by anyone after our death and live sufficiently long, then we may find that our lives are judged by something altogether more frightening than a divine being - our own, elderly selves.