Saturday, January 28, 2006

What am I doing here?

No, not here at the computer, or here on the San Francisco peninsula, or in the United States -- I mean here on earth. I have been thinking about this question, which a friend raised the other day -- the other month actually. He was offered an early retirement package, which he declined.
What would I do? I might take some time to just loaf, but then I'd get bored and probably go do more of the same thing and end up right where I am now. So why not just stay here? Besides, there's the entertainment value.
The topic came up again this week, and as we discussed (very briefly -- the Caltrain segment of my commute is maybe 10 minutes) some alternative scenarios, he asked me this:
What's the cosmic significance of all this stuff I'm doing, anyway?
What, in other words, is the meaning of my life? The purpose? The point? What am I here for?
If you figure it out, you let me know, OK?
Well, as I think about it, I think I have an answer. It's the only one I have, and I hope it'll make sense to you -- if not now then someday not too long from now. It has to do with God.

What's God got to do with it?

A friend of ours gets annoyed when we bring God up in discussions about the meaning of life. Except for once. We were decrying the exploitation of human beings for purely economic ends, and I asked why. "Why is that so bad, to treat people purely in terms of their economic value? I mean, I know why I think it's so bad, but I don't know why you think it's so bad, or what the basis is that you use to determine that it's so bad."

I didn't get much of a response, but they did ask me to explain my thinking. Basically, I said, human beings were created in the image of God, and to treat them that way (i.e., in purely economic terms) is to miss what they're about and to dishonor their creator.

I think my position made some kind of sense to them. Not that they agreed with the entire system of thought, but I think they saw how it was at least somewhat self-consistent. I think they didn't like the part about the Creator. Because if there is a creator, there might be instructions that we have to follow. Think about all those labels that say "It is a violation of Federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling."

Give me no orders

We were in Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan, on a volcano, when we happened to meet an older man who was a sort of caretaker for the place. We were on a more or less deserted trail, and he drove up on a service road. I think he was going around emptying the trash cans and such. We admired the beauty of the place, and asked him a little about the recent eruptions. I don't remember exactly how this came up, but he started complaining about people coming up there on motorcycles and going where they shouldn't. Not only did it mess up the landscape, he said, it was downright dangerous - they could lose a limb or their lives (parts of the crater rim were quite jagged, and there were some sheer drops). There are signs all over the place; why can't these clowns follow them? The signs are there to keep them alive, not to spoil their fun!

I replied that perhaps God feels the same way when he looks at us. He gives us instructions like to remain faithful to our spouses, not to drink too much, etc., and these are so we can have good lives; they're not there to spoil our fun!

He sure changed the subject quickly!

I think a lot of us are that way. We don't like to think that somebody else has a claim on our lives. I was that way myself, and I still want to think like that sometimes, truth be told.

OK, so what's the answer I'm thinking about? Well, it's like this.

What's the purpose of my life? Who can say what the purpose is besides the one who made us?

Time for a really bad analogy

What's the purpose of Drano? To unclog stuck drainpipes, right? That's what the manufacturer says it is. That's what the label says. And it's a violation of some law to use it in other ways (to poison someone, for example).

Yet a can of Drano can be used for lots of different things. If you wanted to draw a circle of a certain size and the can happened to be handy... if you were in the kitchen and saw a cockroach that you wanted to kill, the can might serve as a hammer (or maybe a temporary holding pen if, as I recall, the bottom is concave upward).

And there were a few years when, according to urban folklore, Drano would tell a woman whether her yet-unborn baby was a boy or a girl.

So what's the can of Drano for? Circle template (sorta), hammer, cage, fetus gender indicator -- those may be reasonable uses for the can, but the one that the product is judged by is the purpose on the label -- the purpose of its maker in making it.

Maybe the analogy wasn't so bad after all


A human being can have many objectives, many purposes. Dare I say it, many uses? Or maybe "jobs" or "roles". Engineer, politician, nurse, doctor, laborer, lawyer, accountant, heavy equipment operator, firefighter, ranger, pastor, counselor. But what does the Maker say that he made us for?
Let us make man in our own image, according to our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky, and over... every living thing.
And soon afterwards
Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it
Now somebody might be thinking, "This is the part where he mentions the ten commandments." Well, I almost did. But I'd rather mention a few things Jesus said.
Come, you who are blessed by my father... for I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, i was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me... I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.
(from Matthew 25.34-40)
So surely, part of the purpose is to help those less fortunate than ourselves.
The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent. (from John 6.29)

Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17.3)
That's pretty abstract, but some of the outworkings are very practical.

Practical? Pretend I'm from Missouri...

As I ask myself, "What am I believing God for today? How can I believe in Jesus (the one God sent) today? How can I know God better today?" I come up with a couple of simple things.
  • First, and this may be just too obvious, is to trust. In some ways, this is very easy but in others it isn't. But when tempted to worry I can worry and brood and fret and pace and try to take control of too much. Or I can pray and decide to trust God instead. This morning my do-list included breakfast, repairing a leaky pipe under the kitchen sink, starting on the income taxes... the list expanded to incude unsticking a sliding door, diagnosing a furnace problem, washing the cookie sheets... I didn't think I'd get to blogging today (turns out that I did, though it's now after midnight as I write this).

    Today, the thing for me to to trust God for was that it's possible to please him while doing these "mundane" tasks.

  • Second, and this is the part that most of us don't like much, is to obey. Obedience brings further knowledge and insight about God. Here's Jesus again:
    If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (from John 14:23)
  • Third, well, it looks like love is it. Come to think of it, Jesus told one guy that the greatest command is this: Love the Lord your god with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.

    Tonight at bedtime Sheri asked for something from Colossians, and I read chapter 3. Here's part of it:
    Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.... you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices.... [A]s God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (selected from Colossians 3.5-14)
    I said that this looks pretty elementary -- not much rocket science here. Sheri said, "But to do them..."

    Indeed. That's the hard part. But there's some good news in there too. This very important part: "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved" -- chosen, holy, loved. That sounds pretty good. If I really believed that, how would my life be different? I guess I wrote about this a few weeks ago
That's it for now. Not really complete, but it's time for sleep.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

maybe you should check out the book: "Purpose Driven Life" it is very good!

collin66 said...

Thanks for your comment. I enjoyed the book.