Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
"Life is but an empty dream! -
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem."

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
"Dust thou art, to dust returnest,"
Was not written of the soul.

We all share a deep need for significance. Like the poet Longfellow, most of
us don't like to think f life as "an empty dream." We all want life to count for
something, to have a worthwhile goal.
"Yet how many of us feel
hollow and empty?"
Mark Twain described the fate of all humans in these dismal words:  (Death) comes at last -
the only unpoisoned gift earth ever had for them - and they vanish from a world where they
were of no consequence, where they achieved nothing, where they were a mistake and a
failure and a foolishness.

Oswald Spengler, a leading evolutionist, tells us, "Mankind has no aim, no idea, no plan, any
more than a family of butterflies or orchids." Between such negativism and the optimism of
Longfellow stretches a great battlefield. The basic point of dispute: Are humans any better
than animals? What makes me any different from an endangered spider? Has a person's life
more value? What, after all, is the difference between my pet and me? What makes me so

The Bible portrays well our ground level view:

Man's fate is like that of the animals . . . As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same
breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless (Ecclesiastes

Psalm 49:12 captures the essence of our fear:

But man, despite his riches, does not endure; he is like the beasts that perish.

Such harsh reality hardly supports Marx's allegation that religion is "the opium of the people."
Far from dulling and numbing, the Bible stirs and challenges. "The word of God is living and
active, sharper than any double-edged sword" (Hebrews 4:12). What Marx and others failed
to realize is that the honesty of the Bible cuts both ways. It exposes human weakness and
deals with death. But, unlike modern philosophy, the Bible does more than merely face our
despair. It confronts it. It challenges death as "the last enemy" (1 Corinthians 15:26). Instead
of supinely submitting, Scripture cuts back with the other side of reality.

Yes, we are like the animals. Yes, Scripture is realistic about our earthly destiny. No, that is
not the end of the story. The Bible is equally truthful in revealing the brighter side (often
ignored today), that we are different from animals - and what a contrast! We are different
because we are similar to God Himself!


Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, in Our likeness . . ." (Genesis 1:26).

The image of God makes us spiritual beings with potential far beyond anything in the animal
realm. We can appreciate the glory of a garden, the wonder of a sunset, the potential of a
brighter day. According to Scripture, God's first gift to the living human was to surround him
with beauty.

Now the LORD God had planted a garden . . . and there He put the man He had formed. And
the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground - trees that were pleasing to
the eye and good for food (Genesis 2:8-9).

Appreciation leads to another unique quality, the capacity for thanks, for praise, for prayer.

Praise the LORD. Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good (Psalm 106:1).

God is good and "God is love" (1 John 4:8). To share His image means to share in His
unique ability to love. Thus the Creator's generous hand formed for the first man his wife, his
lover, the mother of children (who in their turn should be loved).

God is good. God is love. Yet God, as Creator of all, is also Ruler. "The LORD is King for ever
and ever" (Psalm 10:16). To share His image implies a share in His ability to govern. This is
exactly what we find at creation.

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule. . . over all
the earth" (Genesis 1:26).

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it
(Genesis 2:15).
"Choose for yourselves this day
whom you will serve!"
Even skeptics appeal to our moral responsibility regarding the environment. How can this be? If all
being is, in Bertrand Russell's words, "accidental collocations of atoms," there is no spirit, much
less spiritual responsibility. The reality of morality disproves mere materialism and reminds us
that the Bible is right - humans are different!

All nature is slave to structure, to gene and to instinct. Humans are free to reason, to moralize and
to decide. That is why Joshua could challenge his people, "Choose for yourselves this day whom
you will serve" (Joshua 24:15). Such a challenge makes no sense spoken to an insect or a rock. It
does make sense for beings that are spiritual and accountable. Every day we make hundreds of
free choices, and so affirm that there is far more to our nature than just nature. That is why we have
a strong sense of "ought-ness." We ought to have worth. Our lives ought to have meaning that
lasts beyond death. The beauty and splendor that we glimpse here ought to continue. Surely life
ought not to be wasted by the futility of death.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men
(Ecclesiastes 3:11).


Certainly there is a dark side to human nature. The Bible is supreme in its description - and
condemnation - of that dark side. But Scripture does not remain there. Like the revolving earth,
revelation soon turns to the sunny side. It reflects hope from the highest and brightest Source.
From the first to the final page the theme of Scripture is that darkness gives way to light!
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the
deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light (Genesis 1:1-3).

The primeval world was dark and empty. But darkness soon yielded to light. Formlessness surrendered to order. Teaming life filled
the void. At that point all of creation was "very good."

Then night descended again. Rebellion against the Creator brought its own kind of darkness. Most inky and impenetrable of all was
death, which the Bible marks as the consequence of sin. Whatever people think of the origin of death, we all feel much the same way
about it. Job's friends called death "the king of terrors" (Job 18:14). King David wrote, "the terrors of death assail me.... horror has
overwhelmed me" (Psalm 55:4-5). Shakespeare's Hamlet recoiled at "the dread of something after death." The French philosopher
Sartre said, "Death is absurd; we ought not even to think about it." Why? Because death is the ultimate black hole. It inexorably drains
away all that we envision and build in life. Death is the source of our sense of senselessness, our darkest fear of futility. American poet
Walt Whitman called Night the sister of Death. To many those two sisters are queens that reign supreme. But the Bible is more
realistic. The earth does not stand still for darkness. It keeps on revolving and passes into day. In the same way, the ancient Scriptures
promised a spiritual revolution, a dawn destined to dispel death.

Darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and His glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn (Isaiah 60:2-3).

The sun rises in the east, but where does a spiritual dawn rise? Where would the Lord Himself rise up to shine on people? The same
prophet, Isaiah, knew exactly where the new day would begin.

In the past He humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future He will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way
of the sea, along the Jordan -The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of
death a light has dawned (Isaiah 9:1-2).

About seven hundred years later that prophecy was fulfilled in Galilee (Mathew 4:13-16). John spoke of the coming of Jesus in this way:

In Him (the Word of God) was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not
overcome it.... The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world (John 1:4-5,9).

Remember the Bible's theme: Darkness gives way to light!


Jesus advanced the theme of light over darkness further than anyone else had dared. He boldly announced,

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12).

Anyone, of course, can make such claims. The test is stark reality. What happens when one is sucked into the black hole of death?
Jesus, as flesh and blood, took His turn, and was swallowed up like everyone else. Friends and enemies alike confirmed His death.
Then they watched the black hole. Three days later He emerged, just as He had promised (Matthew 12:40; John 2:19).