Of the more than six billion people on earth, most spend their lives—some woefully short—struggling to exist. Such has been the condition of humanity since the dawn of history. Most people long to know if their lives have purpose and meaning and whether they have any reason to have hope in their future.
Opinion surveys reveal the questions that most puzzle and perplex us: Why was I born? Is there a reason for my existence? Is this present life, with its hardships and suffering, all there is?
People have long tried to answer these questions through their own reasoning, seldom realizing that God has already revealed the answers though His Word and through His festivals. Man’s attempts to answer these questions, however, have produced some mystifying speculations that have added to our confusion about the future.
In ancient times man’s hopeful conjectures about an afterlife focused on the existence of a peaceful materialistic paradise abounding with pleasures. Ancient man gave these hopes names such as Elysium, the Elysian Fields, Valhalla and El Dorado. Today such hopes commonly fall under descriptions such as “heaven” for those who anticipate some kind of paradise.
Are the traditional views of an afterlife consistent with God’s purpose? Do they reflect His plan for humanity? Or does He have designs that are far superior? We must understand why so many erroneous views of our future, originally introduced through idolatrous religions thousands of years ago, are still so deeply entrenched and remain so popular in our culture. Historians are impressed and amazed by how alike and enduring these traditions are—especially the similarity in the solutions they propose to people’s fears and disappointments.
Studies over the years, especially in comparative religion, have identified some remarkably similar themes in ancient traditions that transcend nearly all eras, regions and cultures. They show that people have always had similar concerns, regardless of their physical and social conditions or the time in which they lived. Through the centuries most cultures have sought answers to the same questions. Their common objectives have been to determine why we exist and which is the best and right way to live. People have pondered these questions since the beginning of history.
We find records of ancient peoples in areas as diverse as Europe, South America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East struggling with the same issues. As they watched rivers such as the Nile and the Euphrates rise and fall, and as they watched the paths of the stars across the night sky, they attempted to deal with the big questions. They searched for meaning, but they based their conclusions on wrong assumptions and traditions.
Societies have long looked to the night skies to find their place in the cosmos. There they imagined giant immortals acting out scenes on a celestial stage that related to their destiny. They invented warrior gods and terrible beasts that came and went in regular cycles. In this way they attributed their problems and weaknesses to the gods they themselves had invented.
Paul Deveraux, author of Secrets of Ancient Places , comments on the development of common themes: “Belief systems, deities, specific rituals and taboos may be cultural inventions , varying from society to society, but … it is instructive to note just how many underlying themes recur in societies which had no contact with one another or belonged to different chronological periods, even though they may be overlaid by differences of architectural innovation and other cultural variables. The shared realities of nature and human consciousness are the great constants, and it is these which can be glimpsed shining through” (1992, pp. 35-36, emphasis added).
From these shared perceived realities come recurrent themes about life that are ultimately addressed by the true God through His annual festivals. Themes such as the need for redemption through sacrifice, the desire for one’s life to be spiritually transformed through contact with deity, hope for universal peace and belief that a deity (or deities) will pass judgment on the world are found in most of these cultures.
Tragically, man has long sought to explain his place in the world by devising mythical answers to questions relating to these persistent themes. As a result most people of ancient cultures looked upward—to physical objects in the sky—for their answers. They worshiped the sun, moon, planets and stars.
In stark contrast the Holy Scriptures are refreshingly different in describing humanity’s future. God tells His people not to follow superstitious practices like looking to created objects in the sky as sources of revelation, but to look directly to Him for answers that are true and real: “… Take heed, lest you lift your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, you feel driven to worship them and serve them …” (Deuteronomy 4:19 Deuteronomy 4:19And lest you lift up your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, should be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the LORD your God has divided to all nations under the whole heaven.
American King James Version×).
True knowledge and divine revelation come only from worshiping our Creator, not His creation. Such worship is organized around His commanded assemblies on His holy Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11 Exodus 20:8-11 8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
9 Six days shall you labor, and do all your work:
10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates:
11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: why the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
American King James Version×) and His annual feast days (Exodus 23:14-16 Exodus 23:14-16 14 Three times you shall keep a feast to me in the year. 15 You shall keep the feast of unleavened bread: (you shall eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded you, in the time appointed of the month Abib; for in it you came out from Egypt: and none shall appear before me empty:) 16 And the feast of harvest, the first fruits of your labors, which you have sown in the field: and the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when you have gathered in your labors out of the field.
American King James Version×).