A Library of Babel

I’m going to make an educated guess.

What education qualifies you to make this guess, you ask? Well, I don’t really know, but let me have my fun.

I sure don’t want to presume anything about you, but I’d guess that you – like me – have sometimes wondered, “What’s the point? Why am I here? And what am I supposed to do about it?”

Not a bad guess, right?

We’re not going to crack that case today. It’s my personal conviction that those most certain that they’ve solved the riddle of existence are those farthest from the truth – if there is one. I’m what is usually called an agnostic. I’m also very much a skeptic – in Christian tradition, I relate most closely with Thomas. Show me the holes in your hands and I’ll hear you out.

My specific strain of agnosticism, by the way, is labelled agnostic theism: I live in the presence of a God I believe in, but consider my belief essentially impossible to prove. I’m a Thomas who loves his God, but doesn’t expect to meet his Savior. Instead, I seek to know God in the details of experience on a daily basis, and also through exposing myself to a wide variety of stimuli. Over the years, I’ve taken a share of both pleasure and pain; I have found knowledge and comfort in the concrete world around me.

There was a time when I sought God in the Christian faith. It was the faith I was raised in, and came naturally. I hold no grudge, today – but neither do I trust the answers I found there. In my mind, every human system is fallible. I don’t hold any of them in contempt for being so. I simply can’t walk that way, myself.

I know, I know – it’s not a human system, say the Christian, the Muslim, the Hindu; the fundamental truth lies in the conveyed word of God, or gods. I say: every written tradition, or story passed on through generations, is the work of man. The only God I know is written in the wind, the earth, and the hearts of the people I love. This God may even have something to tell me through the good and evil that man does – but God is not written on a page, nor defined by the wagging of a tongue.


Imagine with me, for a moment, what our world would be like if it were one vast library. And not just our planet, but the entire universe. Imagine a library larger than our universe.

It would take all the space we know to exist – and more – to contain the library described by Jorge Luis Borges in his 1941 short story The Library of Babel. He writes about a library where people are born and live out their days – a library filled with 410-page books. The books contain every possible variation of 25 characters that could take place in their pages, and no two books are the same. The possibilities are endless.

I’ve been fascinated with the story since I first read it about five years ago. I’ve gathered a few things from it that are illustrative of the search for meaning in life.

(1) Much of what we experience in life is without greater meaning. I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason, or that my actions will resound down the corridors of time. I believe that life is meant to be lived for the time it lasts, and that I ought to be pursuing the fullest experience possible. When I die, do I transcend? Will we find one another in the afterlife? Do I become spirit, or am I given a new body and a fresh go of it here on Earth? I don’t know and, frankly, I don’t intend to find out for a while yet. In the meantime, I only want to seek happiness for myself and my loved ones.

(2) There is meaning in the details. Sometimes, I encounter something or someone that becomes very special to me. It’s not every day, but once in a while I find something that I want to hold on to. It’s my conviction that these special moments, places, things and people are worth nurturing – they have meaning and value in and of themselves. My idea of a life full of meaning and purpose is in the pursuit of my innermost goals, and in the promotion of life and love and wellbeing. I don’t need to look for a greater significance when I can find glory in the smile of a child.

(3) I construct my own destiny. All of us must pass on from this life eventually. Because I don’t know what lies on the other side of death, my destiny is all in the present. My fate engulfs me from moment to moment. I choose to build a path of meaning and significance within my own framework every day, and look for opportunities to enrich my experience with family, friends, work, and recreation. I try to honor the Golden Rule in any way I can: to do for those around me what I would have them do for me. I’m far from being a flawless example of the idea, but I know what I’m aiming for.


With Kierkegaard, I feel that to embrace without doubt is credulity, not faith. Faith is the belief in something that I know cannot be seen, touched, or proven – it is a deliberate choice to trust in the power of forces beyond my comprehension.

Do I believe myself king of my world? Certainly not. So who’s in charge? I don’t know – but I seek God’s hand in my life from day to day. And while I do that, I never forget that I’ve got two hands of my own.


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