Nothing like a deep topic to get us through the end of the week. What is the purpose of life? There’s a bunch of different thoughts on the matter. And often the answer depends on one’s foundational beliefs to guide their answer. It seems as though purpose doesn’t give us a starting point, but rather helps us clarify our beliefs.
For example, I think it’s pretty safe to say that there are many who would answer the question by saying that the purpose of life is to be happy. If we take that answer at face value, it raises a few follow-up questions. The most obvious one being – what does that mean? What is happiness? How is it being defined and used here?
Going deeper, we need to ask some other questions. How does one achieve or obtain happiness? This is where it gets interesting. Some will answer that the happiness is something within us and others will say that it has something to do external to us. Some link happiness to others. Some to experiences. And some see happiness coming as a form of transference. And there are others who see that happiness only comes by making others miserable. This belief if linked to the idea that if you aren’t ok, then I must be ok. Kind of like a set pie with the size of the pieces changing, if that makes any sense. It’s an assumption that there is a limited amount of happiness, as if it were a natural resource.
The sad reality about this way of seeing the world and others is that it is really a projection – that those who spread misery are actually miserable themselves. Why? Who knows. There’s as many reasons as there are people who are miserable.
Not only is happiness seen as a limited resource, there are some who believe that if someone else is experiencing happiness, then that happiness must be destroyed because they aren’t experiencing it. And if a person can’t experience happiness, then no one should. So much for being happy for someone else just because they are experiencing happiness.
I wonder if some of this is related to a creed of the ends justify the means. It seems like a grounding for why some people would spread misery to others.
There are Christians who operate on a creed of the ends justify the means. This seems to be in contrast to the way of Christ who showed that the means and the ends are equally important and valued. But this contrast highlights some foundational differences in Christianity – Is God most concerned with us having the correct belief, or something else? How about right living? Or maybe relationship or community? Or are all of these things off? What if God is most concerned with shalom, which is the concept of wholeness and completeness.
And where does grace fit in? Grace is receiving something that is unearned and undeserved. It offers us a way to live in community and leads to other things like love, peace, forgiveness, mercy, and more.
I wonder how the world would be different if Christians embraced Christ’s way of valuing the ends and the means. But that also relates to the bigger picture – purpose. Is our purpose to be correct in belief? Or is it something else? If being correct in belief is the purpose of life, then changing the world is not an option. Which leaves us with a broken world that is left to be full of injustice and therefore misery. But isn’t justice just God’s way of fixing things back to a way that makes sense?
So what is the purpose of life? Maybe a simple Christian answer might be to love God and our neighbor in such a way that we seek what God seeks – to be in right relationship, to pursue justice, and to seek shalom.