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Relevant Verses: Daniel 30:1–20

Theme: Choose Life

Leading Question: What does life expect of us?

Here is an excerpt from an essay with the title, “Yes to Life: In Spite of Everything” written by Victor Frankl (1905–1997), the Viennese neurologist and psychiatrist imprisoned in the Auschwitz concentration camp, where he lost his mother, father, and brother. His 1946 memoir Man’s Search for Meaning remains one of the most profound and vitalizing books ever written, abounding with wisdom on how to persevere through the darkest times.

The question can no longer be “What can I expect from life?” but can now only be “What does life expect of me?” What task in life is waiting for me?

Now we also understand how, in the final analysis, the question of the meaning of life is not asked in the right way, if asked in the way it is generally asked: it is not we who are permitted to ask about the meaning of life — it is life that asks the questions, directs questions at us… We are the ones who must answer, must give answers to the constant, hourly question of life, to the essential “life questions.” Living itself means nothing other than being questioned; our whole act of being is nothing more than responding to — of being responsible toward — life. With this mental standpoint nothing can scare us anymore, no future, no apparent lack of a future. Because now the present is everything as it holds the eternally new question of life for us.

The question life asks us, and in answering which we can realize the meaning of the present moment, does not only change from hour to hour but also changes from person to person: the question is entirely different in each moment for every individual.

We can, therefore, see how the question as to the meaning of life is posed too simply, unless it is posed with complete specificity, in the concreteness of the here and now. To ask about “the meaning of life” in this way seems just as naive to us as the question of a reporter interviewing a world chess champion and asking, “And now, Master, please tell me: which chess move do you think is the best?” Is there a move, a particular move, that could be good, or even the best, beyond a very specific, concrete game situation, a specific configuration of the pieces?

One way or another, there can only be one alternative at a time to give meaning to life, meaning to the moment — so at any time we only need to make one decision about how we must answer, but, each time, a very specific question is being asked of us by life. From all this follows that life always offers us a possibility for the fulfillment of meaning, therefore there is always the option that it has a meaning. One could also say that our human existence can be made meaningful “to the very last breath”; as long as we have breath, as long as we are still conscious, we are each responsible for answering life’s questions.

Question: What does it mean for you to meaningfully live in the present?

Read Deut 30:15, 19.

The commandment to choose life is perhaps the most fundamental commandment in Deuteronomy for it presumes that human life overflows with significance. Even if we cannot fully comprehend life, Deuteronomy reassures us that God’s will for us is to live a full and satisfactory life. This is almost inexplicable in the ancient environment with its preoccupation with death. The ancient Egyptians were obsessed with death. Their monumental buildings were an attempt to defy death. The pyramids were giant mausoleums. More precisely, they were portals through which the soul of a deceased pharaoh could ascend to heaven and join the immortals. The most famous Egyptian text that has come down to us is The Book of the Dead. Only the afterlife is real: life is a preparation for death.

Life is good, death is bad. Life is a blessing; death is a curse. These are Deuteronomy’s truisms. Why even mention them? Because they were not common ideas in the ancient world. They were revolutionary. And, they still are.

How do we defeat death? Yes, there is resurrection (1 Sam 2:6; Isa 25:7–9; Dan 12:2). It is at the heart of salvation through Christ (1 Cor 15:12–19). But Moses does not focus on this aspect. He tells the people to choose life by being part of a covenant—a covenant with eternity itself, that is to say, a covenant with God. Faith in God, Moses says, is not like that of the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, or virtually every other civilization known to history. We do not search for God in a realm beyond life, in heaven, or after death, or in mystic disengagement from the world, or in philosophical contemplation. We find God in life. We find God in love for lif and joy. To find God, you don’t have to climb to heaven or cross the sea (Deut 30:12–13). God is here. God is now. God is life.

Question: Why does Deuteronomy puts so much stress on choice?

The truth is that some of the most important facts about us we did not choose. We did not choose to be born. We did not choose our parents. We did not choose the time and place of our birth. Yet each of these affects who we are and what we are called to do. We are part of a story that began long before we were born and will continue after we are no longer here, and the question for all of us is: Will we continue the story? Moses’ words resonate: “It is not with you alone that I am making this sworn covenant, but with . . . whoever is not here with us today” (Deut 29:14). We are part of the story. We can live it. We can abandon it. But it is a choice we cannot avoid, and it has consequences.

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