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Sep 08, 2019 08:00am
What is the Purpose of Life?
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The Bible Confirms Our Struggle

The author of Ecclesiastes says that life is “meaningless” almost forty times over the twelve chapters of the book. The Hebrew word hevelis where we get the English word meaningless, but this doesn’t translate well for the author’s intended metaphor. In Hebrew hevelmeans “smoke” or “vapor.” 

So the author is saying that life is like smoke. 

It’s beautiful and mysterious and can take one shape then before you know it, it changes shape. Smoke looks solid, but if you try to grab it, it’ll slip through your fingers and keep moving. You can’t control it. 

When you’re stuck in the thick of it, fog is impossible to see through it clearly.1It’s fleeting and fades quickly. On the cosmic scale, our lives are a blink, like “hevel.”

So the Bible is clear that humans are going to struggle with finding purposeful meaning in their lives. The reason we’re here may seem unclear and if everything under the sun eventually dies and goes away we may wonder if anything really even matters? 

Personal Struggles

I have had bouts of depression where the same question rings inside my mind: “What does it even matter?” It’s easy for me to downshift into a bitter spirit because of a repetitive and mundane lifestyle, folding clothes, changing diapers, making sandwiches, and a 46-hour work week with the same responsibilities and conversations. I can hear my boss asking me the same questions week in and week out, and I have the same answers . . . week in and week out. 

As a stay-at-home mom, my wife has felt the same way. She would often say the only reason she feels like she exists is to cook and clean and wipe butts. She would often say she feels like she has no purpose and not contributing to the family in a significant way. 

My wife was fulfilling foundational and critical roles for the quality of our home life, but she couldn’t see it, even as much as I told her I loved and appreciated everything that she did. 

We need hope “beyondthe sun,” as Ecclesiastes says, something eternal. Nothing really matters without some sense of eternity. 

Clearly, then, what matters are the things that exist in light of eternity. 

This is why God’s plan for us is invaluable, and this is where we must start for our purpose and meaning. 

God’s Plan For Our Purpose

The first page of the Bible clearly states that we are made in God’s tselem,his “image.” Humanity is made B’tseem Elohim, in “God’s Image.” Thousands, if not millions, of pages of scholarship have been written about what it means to be made in the image of God, but the Bible is very clear and concise on this matter: 

In verse 28 of Genesis 1 God blesses his newly created humanity and tells them to “rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

In short, humanity is commissioned by God to be stewards of his earth by bringing order to it and by dealing with others in a way that is godly in a loving, relational, and peaceful way. 

We are representatives of God and we’re made to reflect his character and goodness, so we are stewards on God’s behalf, tending and cultivating his good creation. This is what we do and who we are. 

Therefore, work in our homes and in the marketplace has transcendent value. As image-bearers of the Creator who made us to work, we contribute to society, bringing order out of chaos and loving God through loving others. 

That means there is glory in every moment, even in the mundane.2

We Have Rejected God’s Plan

The bouts of depression and meaninglessness that I feel don’t come from a healthy relationship with God, they comes from being out of touch with God and out of touch with the community of God: The church. 

We spend our lives working too much and when we’re finished we come home and, like zombies, we feed our brains countless hours of social media and television. As twenty-first-century westerners we live our lives autonomously because we don’t need anyone or anything. 

We have a million distractions that keep us away from the one, true, life-giving source . . .  God. We have violated and gone against the only thing that can really give us life and fulfill our purpose: To live in complete harmony and shalom(peace) with our Creator.3

We have chosen to continuously run on empty. But God is too committed to his good creation to leave it in the mess it is in. He will bring a new earth, and the people that will dwell in it will belong to him fully. 

This is where Jesus steps onto the scene of the human narrative.

Jesus Gives Back What We Have Rejected

Jesus steps onto the scene of humanity in an act of total redemption for us and our purpose and meaning as individuals. Although we have rejected God’s design by going our own way and declaring autonomy over our lives, God still pursues us to fulfill his promise that one day humanity and God will be united and God’s people will be flooded with his personal presence. We will have a new awareness of his reality and obediently walk with him in harmony.4

It’s in this way that Jesus restores what we walked away from, a perfectly good and harmonious relationship with God. Now in following him, a new Spirit will be given to us that empowers us to the life God wanted for us in the beginning. 

As God’s plan unfolds and his Spirit fills us, we become more like humans that bear his image and fulfill our purpose. 

Glory in the Ordinary

God’s original design is for humans to work. It’s woven into our personhood and the fact that we’re created this way is a direct reflection of God, the one whose image we bear.

Our work is preparing us to rule with Christ in a new earth, where we will work toward the glory of God always. So in all of our work we can find peace and fulfillment knowing that we’re fulfilling God’s plan that we should steward his creation. 

There is purpose in folding laundry, doing dishes, cooking dinner, changing diapers, mowing the lawn, and all things included in the mundane work routines, because we’re stewarding God’s creation through them. 

As we steward God’s creation we are reflecting His image. 

As we reflect God’s image we are putting on display his infinite value to the whole of creation. 

As humans, we are made to put on display God’s infinite value by how we reflect his image through our character and work. 

So do everything for God’s glory. In this you will find peace, purpose, fulfilment, and meaning knowing that you are bearing his eternal image through all of your work at home or vocation. God’s plan and purpose is not “hevel.”  It does have meaning.

It is of infinite value, and he gives us the highest honor to share in it as we follow Christ in faith, and reflect God’s good image to his good creation. 

by Jason Pierce

Notes:

1. The Bible Project,Tim Mackie and Jim Collins, The Book of Ecclesiastes

2. Glory in the Ordinary, Courtney Reissig

3. Tim Mackie Podcast, God’s Kingdom Has Arrived

4. Tim Mackie Podcast, God’s Kingdom Has Arrived

5. Glory in the Ordinary, Courtney Reissig

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