It seems to me that "the" question each person must ask and answer is this: "What is life's purpose?" At least three understandings serve as foundations for life in every American. Each understanding is produced by our answers to this question. "My" answers determine how I look at all people on earth. "My" answers determine how I look at "my" life in this world. "My" answers determine how I look at God. Consider two answers.

In the first approach, the basis of my answer is a conviction that my existence is the result of an accident. Random forces happened to be in the right environment at the right moment and accidentally produced life. When a person bases his or her answer on the concept that all life [including his or hers] is the result of an accident, his or her use of life tends to migrate in certain directions. That migration may be in the direction of forms of violence. It may be in the direction of personal indulgence. It may be in a direction that elevates human concerns to the status of a "god" agenda.

When I conclude the only purpose my existence has is right here right now, I become capable of deciding no morality issues are involved in harming other people. "The ultimate issue is what I consider best for me, not what is best for people." I become capable of concluding no morality issues are involved when I indulge myself in ways that please me. "If it produces personal pleasure, do it" becomes the focus of life. I become capable of deciding that the most significant moral issues are the issues of preservation of the world. "This planet is the only human reality that must be of immediate or lasting concern." Physical human continuation becomes the ultimate moral concern.

Contrast the first answer with this answer: life's purpose is infinitely bigger than any person's physical existence. While my physical existence has purpose, that purpose finds its meaning and significance in a purpose vastly bigger than me and "now." God has been and continues to be the source of life and the source of good. My purpose is found in and defined by God's goodness. Thus when I see people, I do not see beings to be exploited and hurt, but beings to be served and given hope. Hurting others is a moral issue -- whether it be family, neighbors, or strangers. Indulgence is a moral issue because selfishness attacks life's purpose. Abusing the earth and its people is a moral issue, but it is not to be confused with the highest moral issue -- God's eternal purposes. [There is an inseparable link between the physical now and the eternal.]

One answer allows [perhaps even encourages] deliberate hurt to others, indulgence, and the elevation of the "physical now" to the status of a god. The other answer declares hurting others, indulgence, and focusing on the "physical now" are moral issues that either cheapen or ignore life's purpose.

How do you answer, "What is life's purpose?" What impact does your answer have on your behavior and treatment of others? What impact does your answer have on your understanding of how to serve God?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Bulletin Article, 27 October 2002

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