Important life questions: Readers respond

We asked you to offer up hard questions designed to uncover what we are really about. They spanned the range from the eternal to the minute-to-minute.

Earlier, we (my husband, David, and I) wrote a post about questions we should ask ourselves but don’t.  The reasons we do not ask these questions vary; they could be busyness, belief we will live forever, or simply just a lack of humility.  Whatever the reasons, we need to stop occasionally and ask ourselves those hard questions about what we are about. These questions fall between the philosophical, ultimate questions (Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going?) and the important everyday questions (Which car should I buy? Why is my relationship with my teenager so difficult?). 

We asked you to offer up your questions and – WOW – you did.  As we reviewed the questions, we saw certain categories (essential/ultimate, self-assessment, relationships, change-agent, worry/anxiety) and grouped them accordingly.  These categories, by themselves, are worth thinking about.

So, here they are.   Personally, I (David) am going to take up a notebook and try to journal through them over the next several weeks.

Thank you, reader-thinkers, for contributing.

Life’s essential, ultimate questions: 

We call these the 1st order questions.  We noticed several of you could not pass by these.  Note the comment on the second bullet…..

  • Who am I? Why am I alive now?
  • Where will I spend eternity?  As one responder noted, “It is only with this settled that I feel I have the correct perspective to look on this present life and to be able to respond to James 1:2, to “consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters whenever you face trials of many kinds.”
  • How and why was the universe created?

If we live in the universe, are we not aliens just living on our home planet?

Self-assessment and self-awareness questions:

  • What is my greatest pleasure in life and is it appropriate?
  • Am I longing for life in the New Heaven and Earth with God, or am I too content to pursue a comfortable life now?
  • Quick, without reflection or over-thinking, who are my idols?
  • If I wrote a letter to the Younger Me, what would I say?  (If you’re between 18 – 34 years old write your letter to a ~16-year-old you. If you’re 35 or older, write your letter to a ~20 – 30-year-old you.) 
  • To whom am I looking for my deepest satisfaction?  Is that working?
  • What baggage am I carrying that I don’t need because it steals my joy?
  • Am I action-oriented, or reaction-oriented?
  • What am I pretending not to know?
  • Am I doubting my doubts?  Or, has my skepticism run full-circle?
  • Am I content with my financial situation? If the answer is “no’” then the next questions might be, Will my concerns about my financial situation be important 10 years from now? (They might.) Or, what are my concerns about my financial situation telling me about my relationships, fears, priorities, self-image?
  • Is my identity in Christ and not my occupation, bank account, status?
  • What deeper questions are my emotions raising?  (We need to listen to our emotions; not obey them, not deny them.  Listen for the questions of the soul they are raising.  Am I angry?  Why am I angry?)
  • Related to the question above, one responder offered this question-to-next-question process:
    1. What emotions am I experiencing?
    2. Dig deeper: what am I really feeling? (Check out the comprehensive feelings-wheel here.  Very helpful.)
    3. What is prompting me to feel that way?
    4. Why does it make me feel that way?
    5. What does that say about my desires? …relationships? …commitments? …expectations?
    6. What does God think about this?
    7. What should I do in response?

Which came first, the chicken-salad sandwich or the egg-salad sandwich?

Daily review questions:

  • When I think of my first and last thoughts of the day, am I pleased with those thoughts?
  • What did I do today that was eternal?
  • What was my end goal in my parenting/grandparenting today?
  • Did I point anyone toward God today?
  • Have I moved into the opportunity to share my faith (the hope that I have) authentically, with gentleness and respect for the hearer?  1 Peter 3:15
  • Should I put my device down and make pancakes for breakfast?

Is there ever a day that mattresses are not on sale?

Relationship questions, both with God and others:

  • Do I need to be forgiven?  Am I forgiven?  How do I know I am forgiven?
  • How am I doing supporting those closest to me?  Is there anything I can do this week to better support them?
  • What was my end goal in my parenting/grandparenting today?
  • What do I hope the end result of this conversation to be?  What space can I make for God in this conversation?  Am I expecting God to show up on this conversation – to change both him/her and me? 
  • Thinking about the parable of the Good Samaritan, who are the people in my life I feel too important to help in their need?  (These could be people I don’t like, people who don’t like me (imagine that) and people who probably will never be able to give anything more than a thank you.  They can be people whose religious and cultural backgrounds are different than mine.  Maybe their language is different, their values different…..people I have to make an effort to enter into their world.)
  • What difference will my life have made in those I love?
  • Are there broken or unhealthy relationships (spouse, family, friends) that are within my power to mend?  As another respondent put it:  What relationships do I need to ask or give forgiveness?
  • Have I passed up an opportunity to tell someone I love them?  To whom do I need to say, “I love you”?

Looking towards the months or years ahead:

  • What does God want me to know or experience before I die?  What has God told me to do that I have not done?
  • What should I risk doing with whatever years I have left?
  • What is the thing I am most afraid of?  (It seems to me that to identify and name it is the first step towards taking away its power over us.)  If I was not scared what would I do? 

Do I have a signature dance move? Why not?

Questions for making changes in 2021, or any year:

  • What are the spiritual disciplines I need to cultivate to keep me connected to God?
  • What are the practices of self-care I need to attend to my body and nurture my soul?
  • What core relationships do I need to support me on my journey?
  • What are the gifts, passions, and burdens within me that God wants me to express for the blessing of others?

Questions dealing with worry and anxiety:

  • Will it matter in 10-20 years?
  • If you were dying would you worry about this? 
  • How important will this be in 100 years?  (The responder noted that this is similar to another question above but “making sure that I will be dead before I reflect on this so that it is not just the older self looking back but the one who has now entered into eternity.”)
  • Does __________ really matter?  (Insert anything, relationship, situation, worry, anxiety-maker into that sentence.)  But, does ___________ REALLY matter?

How Fine-Tuning of the Universe Helps Me Cope with Cancer

In a previous post I described how a diagnosis of metastatic cancer inexplicitly sparked curiosity, wonder and questions about the cosmos. I started listening to podcasts and reading interviews with prominent scientists describing the physics of the universe and the surprises from new discoveries about how the cosmos works.

The shock and awe of the marvels of the universe took the shock out of cancer. 

I am not alone in my interest.  Conferences, books, and on-line debates indicate a surge of fascination with cosmology – particularly new observations, theories, and philosophies – among average intellect people like me as well as the scientific heavyweights. And popular culture is on to the cosmos. Sci-fi movies and books paint stories of quantum field irregularities creating portals and wormholes through time or into multiple universes filled with doppelgängers and other mind-bending craziness.

One dominate serious discussion across cosmology, physics and theology over the last 20 years is the fine-tuning of the universe.  In the late 20th century scientists started to describe how the universe is extremely sensitive to changes in physical constants.  If one of the constants is changed even by a tiny bit, the world will look vastly different – it will generally have no suns, no chemistry, and – therefore – no life. This is known as “fine tuning.”  It is as if there are a large number of dials that have to be tuned to within extremely narrow limits for life to be possible in our universe.

If you are looking for examples of esoterica, you have found them in these ‘dials’ – physical constants.  Allow me to state two of many which, because they are almost incomprehensible to me, I copied nearly verbatim:

  • Omega (Ω), commonly known as the density parameter, is the relative importance of gravity and expansion energy in the universe. It is the ratio of the mass density of the universe to the “critical density” and is approximately 1. If gravity were too strong compared with dark energy and the initial metric expansion, the universe would have collapsed before life could have evolved. If gravity were too weak, no stars would have formed.
  • Lambda (Λ), commonly known as the cosmological constant, describes the ratio of the density of dark energy to the critical energy density of the universe. Λ is on the order of 10−122.[19] This is so small that it has no significant effect on cosmic structures that are smaller than a billion light-years across. A slightly larger value of the cosmological constant would have caused space to expand rapidly enough that stars and other astronomical structures would not be able to form.

And the list of physical constants that must be fine-tuned goes on and on.  From constants, like above, required for stars to exist to those tuned for intelligent life.  I do not understand any of these ‘dials’ except that it is extremely unlikely that all of them are tuned precisely to create the conditions for intelligent life.  Interestingly, that is a point on which most secular scientists, theologians and philosophers agree.  Of course, their explanations differ.  Currently, the four main theories are:

  1. Fine-tuning is an illusion:  Once we discover more fundamental physics an explanation will present itself.
  2. Multiverses:  Our universe is just one of many, maybe billions.  If each have different physical constants, we should not be surprised to find our universe hospitable to intelligent life.  (This is also a theory for creation.  If the universe just popped into being – something out of nothing – then other universes have an equal chance of appearing.)
  3. Alien simulation (my personal favorite):   Aliens developed a simulation fine-tuned for us to exist.  Earth and all that effects earth is a laboratory and we are the rats within it.
  4. And, of course, God created the universe and fine-tuned it for intelligent life.

It is odd that there are brilliant physicists who would rather think up farfetched theories to explain fine-tuning rather than be in awe of the FINE-TUNER that created the universe’s inherent physics that allow us to exist.  Occam’s razor indicates that the simplest explanation, the answer that requires the fewest assumptions, is preferable.  Which theory requires the fewest assumptions for fine-tuning?  Billions of other universes coexisting with us?  Alien simulation?  Or, a creator-God?  Theologians and some astrophysicists and cosmologists have no problem with divine fine-tuning and in fact are delighted by its implications. There is a God.

As a serious illness looms over my life, as metastatic cancers find a way to mutate and work around tumor-killing drugs, I am tempted to despair. Cancer acts and feels frighteningly powerful and almost god-like with attributes of omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. At times like this I need something MORE powerful that happens to be benevolent, merciful, transcendent, and eminent. Thinking of bigger realities works to belittle the cancer bully and grow the great hope that the Fine-Tuner of the universe has no rivals, not even the great fearsome cancers of this world. There is hope and reassurance that the great Fine-Tuner of the cosmos loves me and purposes me to further his love in this world and the next. Cancer is no rival to this fact alone! Hallelujah.