Originally published Sept. 11, 2016
I'm trying not to start every blog post with "I", but I'm failing. Sorry about that. As G.K. Chesterton said in the preface to Orthodoxy, "he has been forced to be egocentric only to be sincere."
In a fit of philosophy, I asked my husband the other day what the meaning of life was. He had two responses. The first was, "I don't understand that question," which threw me off. Having been schooled in Douglas Adams, I assumed everybody knew that question. When he clarified and suggested that what I was really asking was "What is the purpose of life?" we started to get somewhere.
"Okay, so what is the purpose of life?"
"To glorify God."
Of course, he wouldn't have answered any other way. I wouldn't have either if the question had been asked of me. Yet the simplicity of his response was startling. Was that really all there is to it? Think of the implications! But first, as a good Bible student, let's get some textual evidence. The prophet Micah asks, what does God want of us? "To live justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God." What is the first and greatest commandment? "To love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind. Wise Man Solomon says "Here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man." And then there's Paul, "To live is Christ, to die is gain"*
For the purpose of this post, I'm going to boil all of this down to "glorify God." Consider the profundity of this statement! If the aim of life is to glorify God, then that includes many more lives than I would think and excludes many more activities than I might like.
Whom might it include? Consider your standard industrial revolution worker in the 1800s. He's born into a working family of multiple children. He goes to the factory, works all day, comes home only to sleep and eat, then returns. Life is a grind, with the possible exception of Sundays, when he gets a little more time to rest and possibly an extra potato to eat. He dies young. This is a hypothetical life based off of historical reality. Have a look at the Rules of a Berlin Factory for an idea of the timetable. For some more atmosphere, read Chapter 1 of George Orwell's Road to Wigan Pier.
Consider also any child born with the horrible condition called Anencephaly, in which she is missing part of her brain. According to the CDC, this affects about three babies in every 10,000 in the U.S. It is rare but fatal. Again, according to the chilling words of the CDC, "There is no known cure or standard treatment for anencephaly. Almost all babies born with anencephaly will die shortly after birth."
If the purpose of life is to chase our dreams, the boy in the factory and the baby with anencephaly had no purpose. The infant could not dream and to preserve sanity, the child laborer might have stopped dreaming entirely. But it is just possible to imagine a way in which the life of each can glorify God--short though her life is, the baby with anencephaly could remind her parents of life's value and give them the promise of meeting her again after their own death. Gritty though his situation was, the steadfastness of the young laborer could give pleasure to his Lord, or even his co-workers. It doesn't take wealth or freedom or education to glorify God. It takes existing and possibly a willingness to do it.
It is therefore possible that, depending on God's will and their attitude--or possibly just God's will--the slave of ancient Mesopotamia, the stillborn infant of the 10th century, or the teenager killed in any civil war you could name had a more meaningful, purpose-filled life than you or I will. Kudos for them, but what about us? Why do we do anything? Why don't we eat, drink, and be merry, since we have no idea what will add significance and what won't?
Great question. Let's stick a pin in it, put it on the bulletin board, and address it in the next post.
*Verses in order of appearance: Micah 6:8; Matthew 22:35; Ecclesiastes 12:13; Philippians 1:21.