Reflections on the Purpose of Life at 60
I just turned 60. This milestone causes me to think about the rest of my life and specifically what life is all about.
I've received numerous well-wishes and humorous comments, such as "The Senility Prayer: Grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway, the good fortune to run into the ones I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference."
Then there was this this inventive comment on Facebook, "Jerry, you should donate your body to science fiction."
But seriously, what is the purpose of life?
It's natural to assume that life has a purpose, a meaning to it. But that itself is an assumption — predicated on a Judeo-Christian concept that God made us, and, therefore, life has meaning.
But evolutionists, for example, believe life ultimately has no meaning. Therefore, they can live as they please. Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World. He was the grandson of Thomas Huxley (Darwin's bulldog, who did much to champion the cause of evolution).
In a 1944 book, The Perennial Philosophy, Aldous Huxley wrote, "The liberation we desired was…liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom…The supporters of these systems claimed that in some way they embodied the meaning (a Christian meaning, they insisted) of the world."
Christian philosopher Ravi Zacharias once told me what Huxley was essentially saying, "I want this world not to have meaning because it frees me to my own passions and to my own sensually-driven life."
Having purpose in life is critical. The great Christian novelist, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, once wrote, "If you want to utterly crush a man, just give him work that's of a completely senseless, irrational nature."
In his book, Man's Search for Meaning, Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl told about one of the most demeaning assignments in the concentration camps.
Workers were forced to dig piles of dirt and move them with wheelbarrows over to another part of the camp. Then the next day, they would be forced to move all that dirt back to where it had been the day before. Then the next day, they would be forced to repeat this meaningless task. And so forth. This was psychological torture, and it drove some of the prisoners mad.
Some of them even lost the will to live because of it.
Frankl said, "I can survive any 'how' as long as there is a 'why.'"
We were created for a meaningful purpose and when we live lives apart from true meaning, we can end up living lives of "quiet desperation," as the phrase goes.
So does life have ultimate purpose, and if so, what is it?
The oldest city in North America is named after St. Augustine, who lived in the 4th and 5th centuries. By all accounts, he was a brilliant philosopher and theologian.
As a young man, he ran away from God, but his mother's prayers brought him to true saving faith. Interestingly, her name graces a city on the West coast — Santa Monica, in California.
Most of us live between the two cities named after mother and son.
When I first read The Confessions of St. Augustine — written about 380 — I couldn't believe how great a book it was. He shows clearly that there is a purpose to life, and it is bound up in God.
In that book, he said, "You have made us for Yourself, Oh God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You."
Knowing God is the purpose of life.
Centuries later, Blaise Pascal, another Christian thinker, would state that there's a God-shaped vacuum in the heart and soul with every single person.
Ultimately, the question — what is the purpose of life? — can only be answered by the author of life, that is, God Himself. Surely, if there's a God, there is a purpose to life. I like the purpose that the Pilgrims gave us in the Mayflower Compact of 1620. They said that their voyage was "for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith." What a noble purpose, and what an interesting way to begin the American experiment — to the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.
Two decades later, the divines who met at Westminster in London and produced the Westminster Confession of Faith said that the purpose of life was "to glorify God and enjoy Him forever."
And so, as I get older and hopefully wiser, I have come to the conclusion that the Apostle Paul was absolutely right in his no-lose approach to life: "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain."