In the cult classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, there is a story about an immensely powerful computer called “Deep Thought” that is tasked with coming up with the answer to the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. In the story, Deep Thought agrees to take on the problem, but it takes seven and a half million years to calculate. When it’s finally time to reveal the answer, it goes like this:
“Good Morning,” said Deep Thought at last.
“Er..good morning, O Deep Thought” said Loonquawl nervously, “do you have…er, that is…”
“An Answer for you?” interrupted Deep Thought majestically. “Yes, I have.”
The two men shivered with expectancy. Their waiting had not been in vain.
“There really is one?” breathed Phouchg.
“There really is one,” confirmed Deep Thought.
“To Everything? To the great Question of Life, the Universe and everything?”
Both of the men had been trained for this moment, their lives had been a preparation for it, they had been selected at birth as those who would witness the answer, but even so they found themselves gasping and squirming like excited children.
“And you’re ready to give it to us?” urged Loonsuawl.
“Now,” said Deep Thought.
They both licked their dry lips.
“Though I don’t think,” added Deep Thought. “that you’re going to like it.”
“Doesn’t matter!” said Phouchg. “We must know it! Now!”
“Now?” inquired Deep Thought.
“All right,” said the computer, and settled into silence again. The two men fidgeted. The tension was unbearable.
“You’re really not going to like it,” observed Deep Thought.
“All right,” said Deep Thought. “The Answer to the Great Question…”
“Of Life, the Universe and Everything…” said Deep Thought.
“Is…” said Deep Thought, and paused.
“Forty-two,” said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.”
If you’ve never read it, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is hilarious, and definitely worth picking up. Though it has been over 15 years since I read it, I still remember it fondly.
The story about the answer to life, the universe, and everything encapsulates something that you may or may not have previously considered: In life, you cannot effectively sum up broad, complex issues with single-word or single-idea answers. There’s too much nuance. Too many exceptions. Too many perspectives. Humorously enough, there are people who have tried to find answers in the answer “42.” After years of this, Adams finally put the matter to rest in 1993 when he said,
The answer to this is very simple. It was a joke. It had to be a number, an ordinary, smallish number, and I chose that one. Binary representations, base thirteen, Tibetan monks are all complete nonsense. I sat at my desk, stared into the garden and thought ’42 will do’ I typed it out. End of story.
People crave deeper meaning.
For these reasons 42 is a particularly funny, clever, and frustrating joke. If the question was not already in the reader’s mind before reading it, then it will be by the end. And you’re left with “42.” And it leads you on the path of thinking about many, many deep things.
But I’m here to tell you that there are answers to some of life’s most difficult questions. The information is available. Are you interested?
You see, Adams and his readers weren’t the first to ask these hard-hitting questions. A few thousand years ago a knowledgeable man who had studied God’s law had the opportunity to ask God a question face-to-face. He asked,
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (That’s a good question to ask).
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV)
Various context clues indicate that the man asking God this question didn’t know he was God, but rather, believed that Jesus was just some guy going around teaching all kinds of nuisances. Therefore, he may not have valued the words that Jesus spoke to him, but we know who Jesus is. He is God, and he didn’t just give us the answer, he gave us a bonus answer as well.
If these are the greatest two commandments, and all the Law and the Prophets depend on them, maybe they’re the kind of things we should think about more? Talk about more? Why didn’t God place special emphasis on this when He first gave us these commandments?
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. – Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (ESV)
Talk about special emphasis. God didn’t just tell us what he do. He told us to keep those words on our hearts, and to teach our children, and talk about them, and write them where we can see them. And that was written around 1300 years before Jesus said the same thing. They’re a big, big deal.
People go their entire lives looking for answers like this. What do I do? How do I find meaning? What is my purpose? The answers they come up with are legion: Be a good person. Be a very good person. Want nothing. To thine own self be true. Deny yourself. Save the planet. Seek happiness. Live a healthy life. Low carbon footprint. Be stronger than everyone else. Make more money. Live without. Do what feels right. Depend on yourself. Depend on the government. Depend on your community. The collective is everything. The individual is everything. Might makes right. Violence is never the answer. Coexist. Kill the infidels. Paleo.
Even when people are explicitly avoiding religion, they cannot help but be in one. That which you serve, which you put in a position of preeminence above all else, what you care about most, what you hold in the highest regard, that is your god. And for many of us, we wonder about blindly in the darkness until we stumble upon that god, be it money, convenience, power, sex, family, friends, self, food, status, education, politics, the American Dream, or a million other things. We judge our ancestors for carving idols out of wood, or worshipping the sun and moon. How foolish we are! We do the same thing, choosing arbitrary things around us to worship, but unlike our ancestors, we don’t even realize we’re doing it, because we deny that we even have religion. We live in a secular society.
Bound by these lies, we are slaves to that which we unknowingly worship, being dragged along in a hopeless, endless search for fulfillment.
But we do have a purpose, and we do have the answer: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might! This is your life purpose, whether you know it or not! The specifics? Like what you’ll do for a living, where you’ll live, how long you’ll live, the hardships you’ll face on the way – Those will all be worked out, and there will be trials and tribulations. You will face many trials. But in every situation, no matter what it is, no matter how good, bad, or mundane, we are always to Love God.
In modern life we have a host of encouraging phrases: Keep your chin up, you can do it, just keep swimming, you’ve got this, stiff upper lip, and on and on.
Let this command to Love God be the “just keep swimming” of your life. Let it be the phrase you say under your breath or out loud, and the one you think about, and talk to your kids about, and write on cute little Pinterest signs or wherever you know you’ll see it.
There is an irony about Loving God and your neighbor being the greatest two commandments. All the rest of the commandments, the law, are a list of things to do and not do. Actions. But love, while it does manifest itself in actions, is not itself an action. It is a state of mind. Love is attraction, devotion, admiration. It is an internal process.
And it is only through this internal process, through this state of mind that the rest of the law can be kept in any meaningful way. Love comes first, then obedience. And obedience without love is meaningless.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. – 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (ESV)
The most important commandment is radically different from the rest of the commandments, but it is the foundation upon which they all rest: Love.
It is a consistent theme throughout the Bible. God loves us, and we are to love him, and love others.
The answer to the meaning of life, the universe, and everything is not 42.
It’s not power. Or Science. Or Tolerance. Or Hate. Or Relative Truth. Or Rigidness. Or The Wonders of Human Achievement.
It is this:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might, and love your neighbor as yourself.