Originally published Sept 20, 2016
Confession time. As I worked to finish this post and make aspects of this website more user-friendly (adding a comments section and share buttons and removing the "updated X minutes ago" line), I have thrown a temper tantrum worthy of a four-year-old sailor. I have broken a pencil, pounded a yoga-roller-thing, thrown two of my dog's bones into the yard, and sworn violently. I have acted like a child, and I will likely act that way again. How can God the Magnificent, God the Just, God the Patient tolerate my lack of maturity? How can my life, with all of its fault-lines, glorify Him?
Paul says God is made strong in our weakness. I hope that includes temper-tantrums and computer-cursing.
I hinted in the last post that there were activities we pursued that don't add to our life's purpose, and that we might be surprised what they are. The first and foremost of these may actually be looking for PURPOSE (note the capital letters of significance). If you're working for hourly wages at an outlet store, you might be thinking, "When is God going to use me?" It's a fair question, but you, in all fairness, should acknowledge that He could already be using you. He might not want your potential fulfilled right now. He might want you to ring up those socks and smile at the customer. I hate saying this, because I don't want to work retail. Nor do I want to wake up at 4:30 am to commute to work. I would also prefer not to deal with rejection letters. But what I don't want and what fulfills my purpose are two different considerations. They might even be the same thing.
For argument's sake, let's affirm that if a 19th century industrial worker's life can glorify God (see part 1), then your life can too. Your life right now has PURPOSE. Is that a relief? Or do you roll your eyes and assert that your life stinks. You don't want this life to have purpose. You want the better version of your life to have purpose. Fair enough, but let's not get into emotions. Let's just stick with the logical possibilities.
Yet I can think of three protests against this logic. God is okay with waste, says one. The mortality rates of Cottontail rabbits has been estimated at 80% per year. Then there is siblicide in aviary species, i.e. when the blue-footed booby lays three eggs but only has food for two, the first two siblings kill the third. Depressing and wasteful.
Another objection: if short, brutal lives can glorify God, why should we try to improve them? They'll do their "glorifying" in pain and misery, and we'll do ours in the air-conditioning. Bummer for them. A third and related objection: what kind of horrible God would be glorified by suffering?
Regarding objection one, I don't believe any of those lives are wasted. They are short but not useless. If God notices when a sparrow falls, the implication is that He allows it to happen for a reason. If we have half an imagination, we can conjecture what that reason could be. Regarding objection two, the same Scriptures that imply that a dead sparrow can have purpose are also full of commands: love mercy, help the widow and the orphan, forgive one another, give thanks, feed your family, and so on. Whatever else our laissez-faire attitude to purpose entails, it does not entail inactivity towards suffering. Perhaps if we spent less time fitting our activities into the grand narrative of significance, we would be free to mail a check or help a friend move.
Regarding objection three, God isn't glorified by suffering. Our world is broken, so suffering happens anyway. God redeems what's already there. That seems a better option than evolution, which needs suffering and death for it to exist as a theory. It's also better than Buddhism, which simply accepts that life is suffering. Christianity, through its depiction of both Eden and the Heavenly Jerusalem, imagines a world that doesn't need suffering and therefore doesn't accept it as permanent. Pain wasn't part of the original plan, and it won't be part of the final one. Yet because it's a fact of the here and now, God will use it to improve the there and then.
My mother says I need to hurry up and write this post, because my first post in this series was depressing. I don't think this post is any better, but I do know this: if I chase personal significance in this life, it's like chasing humility. I spend all my time thinking about "it" and not thinking about what's right in front of me. On the other hand, if I take my role in the world lightly, I can relax and start enjoying life where I am right now. As Chesterton says, "Angels fly because they take themselves lightly."*
*Orthodoxy (1908, reprinted 1995, Ignatius Press), p. 127