What's The Point? The Purpose Of Life
Credit goes to Tim Keller and Christianity Explored for much of the materials below:
The big questions in life that people ask throughout history: “Where do we come from? Who am I? Where are we going?”
Have you ever looked up on a starry night and wonder, “Why on earth are we here for?” Or perhaps, you wake up in the morning, open your eyes and look at yourself in the mirror and think, “How do I know I’m not wasting my life? What is the point of living if everything, absolutely everything ends in death?”
No matter how skillful we are as doctors or how advanced medical technology becomes. In two hundred years from now, everyone in this hall today will no longer be alive. No one can escape from this. If death is the final destination, and that’s all there is to it, then what difference does it make?
The psychologist Dr.Viktor Frankl once said that the drive to fulfill our meaning in life is the primary motivational force in us, human beings. From his experience in a horrible Nazi prison camp, he observed how prisoners who have lost hope and meaning for the future also lose the will to survive. And those who do not have a purpose worth living for will find an inner hole and a deep sense of emptiness within their hearts.
Maybe some of you have heard of the famous rock band called Radiohead. The lead singer was once asked in an interview, “What are your ambitions after achieving so much success in the music industry?”
And he answered, “Ambitious for what? What for? I thought when I got to where I wanted to be everything would be different. I’d be somewhere else. I thought it’d be like in heaven. And then I got there and achieved the success I’ve always dreamed of. But I’m still here.”
Then why are you still making music?
He says: “It’s filling up the hole. That’s all anyone does”.
The interviewer goes on and asks: “What happens to the hole?”
There was a pause… And he finally says: “It’s still there”.
It seems like we human beings have this infinitely huge vacuum in our hearts and we try our best to fill it up with things, money, gadgets, sex, music, success, English Premier League football, religion, you name it… but it leaves us empty as before. And in some cases we see the symptoms manifested as boredom, addiction (i.e. workaholic, alcoholic or drug abuse), a sense of despair or even suicidal tendencies.
OK fine… We need to find the purpose of life. But why can’t I live a normal, meaningful and functional life without God?
Since we’re all going to die anyway, then let’s make this world a better place. We hear speeches at funerals that so-and-so has enriched many lives so his life and death is not in vain.
Or some may say, “Since we’re all going to die, let’s seize the day! (Carpe diem) Let’s party, eat, drink and be merry for life is short. Enjoy the simple pleasures while we still live. Then life can be meaningful.”
Or the existentialists will say, “Yes, life is meaningless and absurd. But I refuse to accept it and live as if there’s meaning. Let the world be cruel and indifferent, but I will not. I will choose to be compassionate and kind. That’s authentic human life.”
Well, so far so good. But let’s do a thought experiment here… If there is no God, then we are nothing but the accidental, by-product of nature. We came from matter plus time plus chance. We hit the lottery so we were born. We are a random collision of carbon based molecules. No soul, no spirit in us. There is no reason or no purpose for our existence. Our ultimate destiny is death and nothingness.
So in a million years from now, it doesn’t ultimately matter what you did to improve the world or how much nasi lemak you enjoyed. We all come to the end of our lives as naked and empty-handed as on the day we were born. We can’t take anything with us. In the long run, it’s just chasing after the wind.
Maybe your life was important because it influenced the course of history like Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. But even that is like leaving your footprints in the sand… in just a moment, the waves will come, washing over them and they are gone. In the bigger scheme of things, it makes no difference. Nothing means anything. Because our lives are not connected to something bigger than ourselves… if there is no God.
But with God, everything changes. Yes, you can work to make this world a better place. Heal the sick. Fight injustice and relieve suffering. And that only makes sense because people are created in the image of God. Therefore human lives are infinitely precious and valuable in themselves… even when they are weak, unproductive and suffering, they are still precious and worthy of our care. In a million years from now, the choices we make today will echo through eternity. One day, we will be raised back to life and God will judge our thoughts and actions. So how we live today has enormous significance.
Yes, like the existentialists, we can defy the absurdity and cruelty of the nature. But if there is no God, there is no higher law of right or wrong. Everything is just ‘survival of the fittest’. It’s only natural for the strong to prey on the weak. That’s the law of the jungle. Being kind and compassionate to the weak only makes sense if there is an objective moral law higher than the law of the jungle and a moral Lawgiver we call God. For unless you know what a straight line is, how do you know that the world is crooked? Unless we know a divine law higher than the law of nature, we cannot rationally defy nature’s cruelty and indifference.
And lastly, yes, we can enjoy the simple pleasures in life. Friendships. Love someone truly, madly, deeply. Hug a baby. Write a poem. Listen to music. Go backpacking and enjoy the sunset.
But again, that only makes sense because a creative, personal and loving Creator God made us as relational beings, able to love and reason and enjoy the beauty of creation, music and creativity. Without God, love is just a biochemical reaction in your brain. Friendships are just an illusion created by our selfish genes to help pass on our DNA to future generations. Sunsets are just light reflections and nothing more. Without God, you can only enjoy these things if you suppress thinking about what they really are. For the Christian, these pleasures of life are good gifts from God that we can enjoy. They are clues, hint that point us to God who is the ultimate source of all joys.
The irony is this: we can have the courage to make the world a better place and enjoy the good things in life only because God makes all these things meaningful and beautiful. Everything is full of purpose. But without God, life is absurd, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Alright, I know what you are going to tell me, David, I need religion to give me purpose in life, right? All religions teach us to do good and if I live a better life, a less selfish life, I’d find the purpose of my life rite…
Actually, that’s not it. The Christian faith is much more radical than that. The problem is not that we don’t know stealing, lust, hatred, attachment to worldly things, selfishness, cruelty is wrong or sinful. The problem is we already know it but we still do it. We want to do good but at the same time, we also find another desire to do exactly the opposite. It’s like our parents say “Don’t touch!” and we purposely touch it. So just getting religious advice and teachings, laws and regulations, do’s and don’ts is not the solution. The diagnosis has to be much deeper than that.
Cause if we are really honest with ourselves, we can find selfishness, greed, pride, lust and fear hidden in the deepest core of our being. I want to be good but there’s a dark side inside of me. It’s like having a split personality.
Have you heard the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde? Once upon a time, a brilliant scientist named Dr Jekyll came to realize that his dark side is waging a war inside him. So he comes up with a potion that can separate his good nature from his evil nature. When he drinks the potion during the day, he will be his good self and free to do what is good. But when he takes the potion at night, his bad side comes out and he becomes 10 times more selfish and evil than he normally is. This evil side of himself is called Mr Hyde, because he is hideous and because he is hidden in the dark.
Even in the best, the most righteous and kindest of us all hide something hideous in the depths of our hearts. There is a strong tendency in you and I to seek our own interests above all others, to be self-seeking… Unless we realize that we are sick, we will not look for a doctor. Unless we realize how helpless we really are, we will not turn to God.
When Dr Jekyll realizes that he is this living contradiction of good and evil, he decided to do all he can to get rid of selfishness and pride from his heart. He devoted himself to charity and good works, to drown his selfish nature with acts of kindness and sacrifice and pay for the wrongs he had done before. You know what? And it worked! He became the most moral and kind person, and stopped taking the potion at night to become Mr Hyde.
Then one fine day Dr Jekyll thinks of all the good that he has achieved, and how much better a person he was compared to others. He says, “I can say with total honesty that my decision to do good has produced great results. You know how much hard work I spent to help suffering people… But as I smiled, comparing myself with others, comparing my acts of goodness with their lazy, cruel neglect to do good… at that very moment, a horrible feeling came over me and I looked down… I was once again Mr Hyde”. At that moment, just when he has achieved his standard of being good and righteous, Jekyll transformed into Hyde again, this time without drinking any potion at all. Unable to control his transformations any longer, Jekyll killed himself.
The moral of the story is this: Covering up our selfishness and pride with lots of good works and kind deeds won’t make us less self centered. Instead they only feed into our pride and self righteousness. Jekyll becomes Hyde, not because he is bad, but precisely because he is good. If you define the purpose of your existence in terms of performance, you do good deeds motivated by self-interest (in order to get to heaven, escape from hell or to feel good about yourself, to meet expectation of others). In the end, the ultimate motive is still ‘yourself”. If you achieve it, you end up with self righteousness and pride. If you fail to achieve it, you will end up with despair and fear. Either way you still end up becoming Mr or Miss Hyde.
Here’s the difference:
Religion says: “Do good, obey the rules – then I will be accepted by God”.
The Good News: “I am accepted by God because of what Jesus has done – therefore I obey”.
Imagine if your Father hugs you and tells you, “Girl, you are my daughter. Boy, you are my son. I love you because you are my child. Not because of your performance in exams. No matter how you perform in exams, you are still my child and I love you. Therefore I want you to do the best you can in the exams.” How would that make you feel? Would you turn around and say, “Thanks Dad, since you love me so much, I’m gonna fail all my exams this year”? No, this kind of releases you from fear and the crushing need to earn his love through performance. Instead it gives you a new motivation to perform i.e. because you are loved and want to please your father. You’d want to do even better. That’s exactly how God the Father accepts and loves us.
For the Christian, the purpose of life is LOVE – “ To love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves”. That’s why we obey God. Not out of fear, but out of love. 2000 years ago, God Himself came into the world and became a man. His name was Jesus the Christ. While we are still sinners, still disobedient and undeserving of God’s love, Jesus lived the perfect life that we should have lived and died the sacrificial death that we should have died. We should have died for our sins but the Lord Jesus laid down His life for us. This is the reason God came into the world. He came to rescue us. He came to be crucified on the cross to take all our guilt, punishment and shame upon Himself. Because He loves us, He opens the way so that we can be forgiven and accepted by God. The Good News is: “You are accepted by God because of what Jesus has done – therefore you obey out of love, not out of fear”.
So the Purpose of life is not an abstract principle, a theorem, a set of rules and regulations you can find in a book. The Purpose of life is a Person. You can have relationship with this person, to love and be loved by God. The good news is Christ loves us more than we ever dare imagine even though we are more sinful than we’d ever dreamed of!
That’s not the end. Next Sunday is Easter Sunday when Christians celebrate the historical fact that Jesus came back to life again! He was resurrected from the grave! He is the only Person to have conquered death itself. So Jesus is not just another human prophet or just a good moral teacher. He is God Himself! He has power over life and death.
Jesus said: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
If you will place your trust on Jesus with all your heart, and let Him shape your life, you will be transformed. You will love because God first loved you. You forgive others because God has forgiven you; and you serve others because God has served you. In a million years from now, you will have eternal life, caught up in wonder and awe in the presence of God forever. This is the purpose of life according to Christianity. Thank you very much.
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