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Pastoral Reflection: Purpose of Life (Part 2): How We Got Here

Last week we began a series contemplating the meaning and the purpose of life. We gave several criteria by which we can evaluate what would qualify as a good purpose of life. This week, we will examine what scripture reveals to us about what life is about. But the way the Bible tells us our purpose is in a bit of an unusual way for our culture. The Bible tells it to us by using a story.

One of the first major points that the Bible makes is that God is the center of everything. Humanity is not self-existing or self-sustaining. We need God. God created everything that was created. Nothing that exists can exist apart from God (Genesis 1:1, Psalm 104:27-29, John 1:3, Acts 17:28). But one question is naturally asked. Why did God create us?

In Genesis 1, we see God act upon creation. He created a world that could sustain and perpetuate life. But at the pinnacle of God’s creation was mankind. Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created us in a special way: in his image. Theologians have had many insights on what being created in God’s image could mean. The most convincing for me is to understand the text the way a person in the Ancient Near East would likely have understood it to mean. Kings and Rulers often would put statues of themselves throughout their empire. The reason for doing this is to let people know what the ruler looked like and reflect his authority and power in the territory he or she ruled.

In the same way, God put on each person an aspect of himself to represent himself to the world. This is seen again in God’s command to the first couple. He commands the two to be fruitful and multiply and to have dominion over all creation. Some theologians call this “the cultural mandate”. To make and create things out of the earth that leads to flourishing.

Theologians like G.K. Beale point out that the work of and the priests in the temple in Jerusalem parallel Adam and Eve in the garden. Adam was to function as a priest, a mediator between creation and God. Like the priests, who were tasked with caring for and keeping the temple, Adam and Eve were called to do the same. They were the lead worshippers in creation.

Let’s review for a moment. God created us in his image. God also gave humanity a mandate to build a culture. Simple enough isn’t it? Not quite. The story doesn’t get very far before revealing that something wrong happened. Humanity rebelled against its Creator. Instead of using our gifts and abilities to reflect God, humanity desired to take the place of God. We ceased to worship God. This does not mean that we stopped being worshippers. We just exchanged the worship of God for something else.

What does this have to do with the understanding of our life’s purpose? It means that we are still looking for purpose in our lives, but because of our sin it has been tainted. Because our worship has been disoriented, our purpose has been disoriented as well. Instead of being oriented toward God and God’s glory, our purposes have been oriented toward ourselves. We pursue our own comforts, our own glory, and our own reputation. We have tried to pursue purpose without God.

In this conversation about purpose, we have started off in a bad spot. It doesn’t seem as if there is much hope for us to find the purposes of our lives. According to this narrative, our purpose is in God, but we have cut ourselves off from God. From my experience as a Pastor, I have met many who sense that something is off. Many have lived their lives as if God is not important or relevant. Some simply go on, assuming that this is just the way life is. Others have started to sense that this paradigm of God being irrelevant is not satisfying. There has to be more. In this situation the Bible speaks Good News.

The good news is that God did not leave us to our own devices or abandon us. The story of the Bible is that God sought us out and has been working in the world to reclaim this world for himself one heart at a time. Our God is a warrior who was brave and risked himself to rescue his people. Jesus came into this world to be God’s true representative. He came to show us what it looks like to live under God’s rule. He also came to die to restore God’s rule over our lives. He came to restore our purpose. This purpose is to put God on display in every moment of our lives.