Musings on Meaning, Guilt, Responsibility, Satisfaction, and Purpose

Along with other millenial men, I am prone to watch and take delight in videos featuring Jordan Peterson. If you don’t know Peterson, he’s a Jungian psychologist who tends toward a classic liberal viewpoint in politics. Thus he defends notions of liberty, responsibility, capitalism, freedom of speech, and ect. One of his talking points as to the reason young men are so aimless, disenfranchised, and unhappy is taken straight from the Jewish psychologist Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning (I highly recommend the book). Frankl is a proponent of what he calls logotherapy. The word is derived from the Greek “logos” which, roughly, means reason. So his theory is literally called reason therapy; the skinny of the theory is that someone who has a reason for living can endure life and derive satisfaction from it.

My intent in writing is not to prove Frankl’s thesis. I think most people would tend to agree that a life without a subjectively appropriated meaning is, by definition, pointless. And that pointlessness – directionlessness – meaninglessness – is thoroughly unsatisfying. So if the goal of ethics is existential satisfaction, then one must believe oneself to be living a meaningful life. Dr. Peterson argues, principally, that what gives meaning to a young man’s life is the assumption of responsibility. So if he’s right, the assumption of responsibility is the way in which a young man attains meaningfulness and through meaningfulness one derives satisfaction; the assumption of responsibility is a necessary condition for personal happiness/satisfaction.

If one keeps on watching Dr. Peterson’s videos, one may come accross his discussion as to why young men binge drink. His reason for young men’s binge drinking is that it relieves them of responsibility. One can see the apparant contradiction in either Jordan’s thinking or men’s actions then – men drink to attain happiness through carelessness toward their responsibilities, yet on the other hand it is only through the assumption of responsibility that one attains a meaningful life and hence attains the goal of ethics, satisfaction. Yet, I don’t think it’s a contradiction at all – at-least theoretically. Men want and don’t want to assume responsibility at the same time in different senses.

There are doubtless many reasons why men, particularly young men, don’t want to assume responsibilities. One reason may be because they don’t want to “be tied down” to something, ultimately, that they don’t believe in. And that’s at-least reasonable to some extent right? You might assume the responsibility of being the chair-man of the Communist convention, but if your fundamental belief system is that Communism is evil then it won’t really satisfy you will it? I get this objection and think men should choose wisely what responsibilities they do choose to assume, whether it is worth the opportunity cost. In this regard assumption of responsibility or non-assumption is a matter of choice and wisdom.

Yet I think another reason that men, particularly Christian men, don’t pursue responsibility is ultimately because of guilt and fear of failure. Evangelicalism is a ripe context for the extentuation of our shame isn’t it?  I mean think about how many times you’ve failed and felt terrible about it? Think about how angry and defensive you get when people accuse your wounded ego of immorality? You’re guilty. You’re guilty all the time and you hate it. You want to get rid of it but you can’t. The overwhelming sense of your constant inadequacy resides within you as a suppressed feeling of worthlessness that is expressed, practically, in terms of cynicism, anger, bitterness, and defensiveness. Hard to get up in the morning and give responsibility another go when you fundamentally believe that you’re worthless – it’s worthless – and that you’re a failure, right?

Every Christian man wants to be nobel. I really believe that. I think there’s something in us, something programmed to want to be noble. We want to assume responsibility. It’s like a piece of gold before a money lover – nobility beckons and calls us. Yet, guilt and shame are also there – they are right there beside the good desire – always keeping us down and keeping us from striving. So before a Christian man deals with the assumption of responsibility, which, if he’s honest he wants to do, he must deal with his underlying sense of guilt and shame. And I’m honestly not sure if the cause of his guilt in shame in us is unbelief or not attending to the means of grace on a daily basis because the answer, in Scripture, as to the antidote to our guilt and shame is pretty clear and simple:

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins…” (1 John 2:1-2a)

We have an advocate! We have an advocate! We have an advocate! My little children, if anyone does sin we have an advocate! And our advocate paid – he paid it all – Jesus paid it all. Guilt and shame are nailed to the cross and I bear it no more; my sin not in part but the whole. The simple and profound Gospel truth that we were taught as children is just as much the answer to our day to day guilt and shame as it was the day of our conversion. We have an advocate. We who sin are advocated for. Our guilt is paid, the deed is done, – the shame is over and I bear it no more. I am free – Christian liberty is freedom from shame. Shame is not my life. Shame is not how I view myself. Free. Free indeed.

And so from the firm foundation of the propitiation (the wrath appeasing grace of Jesus), I am free to pursue leaps and bounds of new and ever increasing responsibility. Not for merit, or love of the world, nor for the pride of life – but for myself, my Lord, my family, my neighbor, my church, and the kingdom do I assume more responsibility. I think that many, many men are filled with shame. We just haven’t done enough have we? We just haven’t done enough. We’ve failed. We’ve failed over and over again…But He won! He won! He won! He won! Jesus overcame! And because He overcame, I am unashamed. And because I’m unashamed, I can go forth in to the free fields of righteousness assuming responsibility yet again with the unabashed joyful contentedness that befits sons of God who’ve inherited the kingdom of their beloved and triumphant savior.

And with that free, joy filled assumption of biblical-meaningfulness, we may yet see righteousness in this world.

P.C. Casey Horner,

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