Is that all there is?

Why am I alive? What's the purpose for my life? Why are there so many questions and so few answers? What happens when we die? Is this all there is to life? Is that all there is?

Maybe you remember the famous, Grammy-winning song Is That All There Is? recorded in 1969 by Peggy Lee. Its poignant, melancholy refrain strikes a chord deep in the heart of human beings, voicing the burning questions that echo through our minds as we live our lives searching for meaning and fulfillment:

spoken:

I remember when I was a very little girl, our house caught on fire. I'll never forget the look on my father's face as he gathered me up in his arms and raced through the burning building out to the pavement. I stood there shivering in my pajamas and watched the whole world go up in flames. And when it was all over I said to myself, “Is that all there is to a fire?”

sung:

Is that all there is?
Is that all there is?
If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing.
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is.

Many of us have experienced some tragic circumstance at one time or another in our lives — some great and some small. The woman in the song describes the personal tragedy of her house burning to the ground. Perhaps your dog, your best friend, ran away and got run over by a car. Perhaps your parents divorced, shattering your little existence, leaving you wondering if it was your fault. Your parents were everything to you in your younger years. They were your pillars, your security. They were like God to you, so when they separated, it seemed as if God didn't give a damn about you. You felt abandoned, orphaned — alone.

Most people have faced devastating personal tragedies and undergone great personal pain, but quite a few have also experienced large-scale misfortune — natural disasters on a catastrophic scale. Raging forest fires sweeping across the countryside, burning homes, farms, and ranches to the ground, leaving families homeless and destitute. Massive earthquakes destroying entire overpopulated cities in third world countries, leaving survivors to extract the corpses of their loved ones from the rubble. Or even the recent tsunami, reckoned by many to be the worst tragedy of all time, taking the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in southeast Asia. The waters, which had been their source of food and livelihood, turned on them and became a means of destruction, washing away entire shorefront villages. The death toll piles up in its wake as the waters recede back out to sea.

At times such as these, in the face of great heartbreak and pain, many cry out to God, wondering why He would let such things happen. Some even blame Him for the devastation. If He's the all-powerful one, how could He be so heartless as to not stop such misery from coming upon them? Does He really see all these things going on and not do anything about it? If that is the case, why? “How come You do nothing about it when You see it all happening before Your eyes? Why?!” we scream at a God who doesn't seem to exist in our little hostile world.

How many little girls are left there shivering (not from the cold), wondering, “Is that all there is to a fire?”

spoken:

And when I was 12 years old, my daddy took me to a circus, the greatest show on earth. There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears. And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads. And so I sat there watching the marvelous spectacle. I had the feeling that something was missing. I don't know what, but when it was over, I said to myself, “Is that all there is to the circus?”

Is that all there is?

Some fritter1 away their lives chasing after petty amusements, looking for some relief to the emptiness and pain. A circus or carnival is a good example of this. The bright lights and colorful amusements wherever one turns, with loud, cheerful music blaring from every corner, all blur together into a garish mosaic designed to distract people from their miserable lives. For a brief moment, reality is held in suspension, kept at bay as the crowds whoop and holler with gleeful abandonment.

I have a friend who worked at a carnival for a little while. He did well and the promoter of that little “vanity fair” wanted to make him his second-in-command. Yet it was at that time, as things were looking up and he had hopes of “making it” and becoming successful, that all the futility of the world pressed in upon him. As he walked down the midway, all of the petty amusements — food, fun, and frivolity — seemed to be closing in on him. As the barkers called, hawking their fleshly amusements, he could feel his head swimming. He felt dizzy, disoriented — his whole world closed in on him. Gravity seemed twice as great upon his shoulders — it was as if a great hand were pressing him down. He collapsed onto a bench in the middle of all the colorful lights and the hubbub of the crowd. He buried his face in his hands, weeping over the condition of his life and the state of the human beings all around him. Everything seemed to be just a pale shadow, a hollow, empty husk of what life in its fullness was meant to be.

Then, in the midst of it all, God spoke to him.

No, it wasn't some thunderous voice booming from the sky, nor was it an apparition enshrouded in brilliant, blinding light. Instead, it was a still, small voice in the recesses of his heart, echoing through his mind and burning into his consciousness.

Is this what I created you for?

A simple question, but one that strikes at the very meaning of our human existence. Does what we're doing justify our time spent on this green, grassy planet? Or are we wasting our time, just taking up air and only keeping the grass mowed? If we're not doing what we were created for, why are we breathing anyway? When the amusement is all over and the Fat Lady sings, and the show packs up and hits the road, leaving a pile of litter in its wake, will we be left wondering,

“Is that all there is to a circus?”

I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure. So enjoy yourself.” And behold, it too was futility. I said of laughter, “It is madness,” and of pleasure, “What does it accomplish?” (Ecclesiastes 2:1-2)

sung:

Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is...

I walked downtown the other night. It was a Saturday night and all the bars were full. I looked through the plate glass windows. Inside, the dim, smoke-filled atmosphere was crowded with laughing people, drinking to escape their sorrows. The alcohol freed them from their inhibitions, releasing them to be the person they always wished they could be. They could sing, dance, be funny, or the life of the party. Booze was their ticket to friendship and popularity. Yet when they woke up the next morning with a splitting headache from a terrible hangover, where have they gotten themselves? At least they could temporarily forget their troubles.

Let's break out the booze and have a ball...

Give strong drink to him who is perishing and wine to him whose life is bitter. Let him drink and forget his poverty and remember his trouble no more. (Proverbs 31:6-7)
So I commended pleasure, for there is nothing good for a man under the sun except to eat and to drink and to be merry, and this will stand by him in his toils throughout the days of his life which God has given him under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 9:15)

spoken:

Then I fell in love with the most wonderful boy in the world. We would take long walks by the river or just sit for hours gazing into each other's eyes. We were so very much in love. Then one day he went away and I thought I'd die, but I didn't, and when I didn't I said to myself, “Is that all there is to love?”

Some look to love for fulfillment. Women can invest all their hopes and dreams into finding their “Prince Charming,” the one who will sweep them off their feet and together will ride off into the blissful sunset. They look toward the day when the happy plastic bride and groom atop a tiered wedding cake will represent themselves. They have bridal magazines on their dresser, daydreaming of that day when complete happiness will be theirs, as all the bridesmaids look on in envy.

We would take long walks by the river or just sit for hours gazing into each other's eyes. We were so very much in love.

There are some men who know full well that this works deep in the female psyche and prey upon such women, going from one to the next. Such predators wreck women's lives and emotions, leaving them abandoned — pregnant and emotionally devastated.

One day he went away... and I thought I'd die... but I didn't

But maybe you wish you had. And maybe the child in your womb will wish he had never been born, too.

Is that all there is to love?

spoken:

I know what you must be saying to yourselves, if that's the way she feels about it why doesn't she just end it all? Oh, no, not me. I'm in no hurry for that final disappointment, for I know just as well as I'm standing here talking to you, when that final moment comes and I'm breathing my last breath, I'll be saying to myself...

sung:

Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing.
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is...

So why not end it all? Why not take a gun to your head and blow your brains out? Too messy? Well, a rope's pretty cheap and there's not much mess. But maybe it'd be simpler to pop a few pills and just fall asleep, drifting off to a final sublime unconsciousness.

So what holds you back? Like the woman in the song, is it the fear of the unknown? Fear that on the other side is just one final disappointment after a lifetime of disappointments? What is death? Is it peace — a place of no problems, no hurts? Is it oblivion?2 Or is it torment — weeping and gnashing of teeth? Maybe that's why death is so feared and people will do just about anything to avoid its sting.

Oh, no, not me. I'm in no hurry for that final disappointment...

But man dies and lies prostrate. Man expires, and where is he? As water evaporates from the sea, and a river becomes parched and dried up, so man lies down and does not rise. Until the heavens be no more, he will not awake nor be roused out of his sleep. Oh that You would hide me in Death, that You would conceal me until Your wrath returns to You, that You would set a limit for me and remember me! If a man dies, will he live again? (Job 14:10-14)

Is that all there is? That question echoes through most people's minds at one time or another in their lives — if they're not too sedated or distracted by the myriad of petty amusements that daily assault our senses. Is what keeps us going merely a carrot being constantly dangled in front of us — enticing us onward — that one more amusement, one more relationship, or one more spiritual quest will lead us to the ultimate answer to life.

Is that all there is? Is that all there is to life? If so, then let's keep on dancing. Let's break out the booze and have a ball, if that's all there is. For what difference does it make? This question is not new. It stretches back to the time of the ancient prophets (and still further back):

But instead, you dance and play ...you feast on meat, and drink wine. “Let's eat, drink, and be merry,” you say. “What's the difference, for tomorrow we die. (Isaiah 22:13, NLT)

If you're seeking for self-fulfillment, you're certain to come up empty. The greatest fulfillment, the greatest satisfaction is to live for others rather than for yourself. Such fulfillment is lasting and doesn't fade away, but it costs everything to obtain it. If that is the song your heart yearns to sing, you're invited to partake of what's been missing — the rest of all there is.

  • 1. fritter — wasting time, energy, money on trifling matters
  • 2. oblivion — the state of being unaware of what is happening around oneself; the state of being forgotten; destruction or extinction.

The Twelve Tribes is a confederation of twelve self-governing tribes, composed of self-governing communities. We are disciples of the Son of God whose name in Hebrew is Yahshua. We follow the pattern of the early church in Acts 2:44 and 4:32, truly believing everything that is written in the Old and New Covenants of the Bible, and sharing all things in common.

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