"I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." John 15.5
What is the difference between merely being and becoming fully alive? This was the question which preoccupied French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre. Where his earlier, German counterpart, Ludwig Wittgenstein, concluded that what was real about a person depended on what others made of them, Sartre spoke up for the possibility of defining one's own being and significance. He named his approach to life as "existentialism".
The key to existentialism is the exercise of free will and the avoidance of bad faith. Nobody has to settle for the role society expects of them. Though our starting point may be fixed (who we are, where we were born, the language we speak), we can change... the world is our oyster!
This may sound intoxicating, like being a child in a sweetie shop. Ironically, Sartre referred to this feeling of freedom as "nausea". And, in his case, it was all too good to be true. For all his achievements and despite his Nobel prize and public adulation, he died a drug addict. What went wrong?
Sartre certainly struck a chord with his courageous and enthusiastic zest for life. He and his muse, Simone de Beauvoir, lived out their convictions (with questionable results). But was atheism his "achilles heal"? One has the impression that he over-reached himself in his existentialist convictions. That, in asserting as much freedom as he did, he rejected too many necessary constraints.
Jesus brings a message of life which is more realistic because it acknowledges both our potential and our weakness. Jesus addresses our needs as well as our aspirations. And Jesus reveals the elusive key to it all, which is that our lives are not gained by asserting them but by sacrificing them. With Jesus, all things become possible. Without him, we are like Sartre and all the other lost souls, which is why the metaphor of the vine and the branches is so apt. It challenges our individualism, while satisfying our hunger for meaning.