Imagine that you’re having a walk that’s generally unremarkable, in an unremarkable locale, surrounded by unremarkable people. Nothing unusual going on. Suddenly, you are impaled by a poisoned arrow. Your world plunges into chaos. “Who shot me?” you cry out. “Why?” It seems uncalled for, terrible and unfair. You feel nauseous, and your hands get cold and clammy.
You look around at your friends, some of whom smile and nod at you, almost with pity and condescension as you cry in pain. “Who shot me?” you demand. “Who?!” Nobody seems to have an answer. You look around and you realise that everybody else has a poisoned arrow in their back, too. Half of them seem completely oblivious about it.
“I know I’ve been poisoned,” say some. “But I don’t have time to think about who shot me, or any such nonsense. I’ve got work to do, for Christ’s sake! I’ve got bills to pay, people to impress. Now stop wasting my time with questions like what does it mean to be poisoned. I’ll worry about it when I have more time.”
“You were shot because you are a sinner,” says another. “You were shot by powers beyond our understanding, for reasons beyond our understanding. I want you to come to a designated building and join a congregation of other sinners to worship these powers that we do not understand, for we believe that doing so will deliver us from our deplorable fate. I am not certain that this is the case, but you must have faith. It is all we have.”
“I have been poisoned, damn you!” screams one, as he plunges a dagger into another. “Damn you all! Why should I care about what you think of me? Why should I care about anything at all?” His eyes gleam. “You have no idea what it’s like to be me! I can’t be held accountable for my actions!” His victim lies bleeding. The crowd disperses as he proceeds to disembowel himself, his breath shrill like a wounded animal. “I had no choice, I have no choice… bastards, all of you…”
You will never know who shot you. It is really quite a waste of your time and energy- especially now that you are aware of just how limited both resources are. There are more pressing concerns for a poisoned man than to know his mysterious assailant. Suppose you did, somehow, for curiosity’s sake, be the first person in the known universe to find out why you were poisoned. Perhaps you were poisoned by a sentient being with a divine purpose, or perhaps you were poisoned by an accident in the laboratory that is the universe. How should that change anything about the way you live your life?
You may want to convince yourself that there must’ve been a reason for it. Perhaps you might like to convince yourself that you are some sort of victim, of a hateful deity or a cruel fate. It can be satisfying to be victimised. Or perhaps there is a higher purpose behind your poisoning. It can satisfying to believe that you’re somehow special, or superior. Surely nothing is more important than knowing who shot you, and why. Such injustice cannot be tolerated! You may meet others who will tell you that they know who shot you, and why, and that justice will be served upon your death if you do as they tell you. You will also meet others who will tell you that the first group of people are wrong, and that they know better. Who should you believe?
The question “Why are we here?” cannot be answered. Any answer which you are given, or which you give yourself- cannot be verified. Any amount of comfort you gain from telling yourself that you can have any degree of certainty about the truth is entirely self-created and delusional. “Why are we here?” is a question not to be answered, but transcended. There is, however, another question that you can ask, and this question can be answered- and it is- “What are we going to do while we’re here?”
The poison is running through your veins, as we speak. Every passing second brings you a second closer to your death. How do you feel about it? What are you going to do about it? There are men who choose to be bitter, anguished and full of self-pity. There are men who choose to be distracted, ignorant and oblivious. There are men who choose to be convinced that they know what will happen to them after they die. And there are men who choose to lead lives of excellence, and settle for nothing less. What will you choose?