Not many stories make me laugh as much as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. It’s a sci-fi comedy of disorienting timelines and contradictory retellings. But across all the different versions of the story, there’s one line that always sticks out to me: “Forty-two.”
In the story, an ancient alien race decided they wanted to know the meaning of life, and so they built a computer to tell them what life was all about. They programmed the computer to tell them the answer to life, the universe, and everything. And after 7.5 million years of computing, they received their answer: Forty-two.
Suffice it to say, they didn’t like the answer they got. And as they complained to the computer about it, the computer replied, “I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.”
They had asked a computer to tell them the answer to the greatest question of life, but they had never bothered to even ask themselves what that question even was – let alone what they or anyone else thought about it! It was as though they wanted to find meaning in life without actually having to figure out what actually makes life meaningful. And I think that’s a shame.
When I look around at the world in which I live, I can’t help but wonder why it all exists. Where did it come from? And why am I here? What’s life all about? What’s the meaning of our existence here on earth? Is there any reason for why you and I exist? Is there a God, and if so, what is God like?
I believe these are important questions to think about, and I believe they are questions best explored with others in honest, thoughtful, and respectful conversation. But it often seems hard to find places to have conversations that explore these sorts of questions.
It turns out, I’m not the only person who thinks we should have places to explore questions about life, faith, and meaning.
The idea is to create a space where people can actually think about and ask big questions of life, and engage with other people to hear what they think about it all.
Yale University has recently created a course called “Life Worth Living,” which explores how people throughout the centuries and throughout the world have sought to answer these bigger questions of life. The class has become so popular that other universities all over the world – from England to Hong Kong to South Korea – are now working with Yale to teach their own versions of the course.
But it’s not just major universities all over the world that are creating spaces for people to ask some of life’s biggest questions – churches all over the world have been doing it, too. And since the 1980s, over 29 million people world-wide have had the opportunity to gather together to discuss questions about life, the universe, and everything by participating in an Alpha course.
Alpha creates a space for everyone to come together to talk openly and honestly about life, faith, and meaning. It approaches these topics from a Christian perspective, and invites everyone to engage in meaningful conversation about the bigger questions in life.
We believe everyone should have the chance to explore the Christian faith, ask questions, and share their point of view. That’s why, as a church, we will be running an Alpha course this Fall, beginning September 25 at a bar downtown.
The structure of the time is simple – people come and eat a free meal, watch a video about some aspect of life and the Christian faith, and then we talk in smaller groups around a table about what we think about the points raised in the video. People can agree with it; people can disagree with it. But the idea is to create a space where people can actually think about and ask big questions of life, and engage with other people to hear what they think about it all.
So if you’re interested in having a place to ask questions and share your thoughts in a respectful and honest environment, I invite you to come to Alpha. Don’t leave it to a computer to tell you what to think about the universe – come make some new friends, share a meal, and explore some of the bigger questions about life with us.
Alpha starts Tuesday, September 25 at the Granville Room at 7pm. Dinner is on us. I hope to see you there!
You can sign up for Alpha here: https://www.stpetersfireside.org/alpha/