Theology 101

Are You Asking the Right Questions About Life’s Purpose?

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You know the big questions of life:

Who am I?

Why am I here?

How then shall I live?

No matter how far we have come technologically, scientifically, socio-economically, and politically, we can’t get away from these questions.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Jonathan Sacks works from this premise. Although historians dared to declare the death of religion and competing political ideologies with the end of the Cold War, Sacks tells us, the new order, informed by science and ruled by “the market economy and the liberal democratic state…,” has failed to answer all our questions and offer peace.

What the secular historians forgot, or at least ignored, is that men and women were made in such a way that we will always be looking for meaning that goes beyond the answers provided by modern institutions and scientific discoveries. Sacks goes on to observe,

Science tells us how but not why. Technology gives us power but cannot guide us as to how to use that power. The market gives us choices but leaves us uninstructed as to how to make those choices. The liberal democratic state gives us freedom to live as we choose but refuses, on principle, to guide us as to how to choose.

Enter the role of religion. I agree with Sacks’ starting point but would end in a different, yet important place—one that finds the answers not simply in our shared humanity but more specifically in the story God has revealed to us throughout scripture.

Nothing New Under the Sun: “Meaningless”?

The book of Ecclesiastes tells us, “God has set eternity in the human heart” (3:11), which implies human beings possess a distinctive knowledge that there is something more to life.

The problem is that many people, including Christians, are looking for meaning in all the wrong places. For the Christian, the answers to these three core questions can be found in the opening chapters of Genesis.

But I would suggest one more core question that rightly belongs between “Why am I here?” and “How then shall I live?” It is, simply, “What happened?”

At IFWE, we talk a lot about a biblical metanarrative we call the four-chapter gospel. This is a way of seeing the whole of redemptive history told in the Bible in four parts: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. Creation shows the way things were; the Fall explains the way things are; Redemption shows the way things are going to be; and Restoration demonstrates the way things will be. This four-chapter gospel is the most appropriate framework for assessing all worldviews and answering the four (with our addition) core questions all human beings ask.

Who Am I?

This question is literally answered in the first chapter of the Bible, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27).

While volumes have been written over the centuries by scholars trying to define what it means to be made in God’s image, the majority agree on several things. It at least means that we were made to be relational beings who have the ability to reason and creatively solve problems. It means that we can operate in our own biblical self-interest to improve our situations. And finally, as God’s image bearers, we were created for a purpose and are driven to make decisions that improve our situations, moving us toward our goals. Which brings us to the second question.

Why Am I Here?

The Bible story tells us that on the sixth day of creation, God comes to Adam and Eve and tells them they are here to do two things: fill the earth with his images and to subdue the earth. According to scholars Barry Asmus and Wayne Grudem, the word kabash in this context literally means to go out and make the earth “useful for human beings benefit and enjoyment,” or as we often suggest, a place for human beings to flourish.

What Happened?

The rebellion of our first parents, Adam and Eve, against God in the Garden of Eden broke the command he had given to them and introduced sin into the world (Gen. 2:16-17). Since the Fall, sin has plagued how we relate to everything and everyone. Nothing goes untouched.

Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, in How Now Shall We Live?, describe it this way:

Every part of God’s handiwork was marred by the human mutiny…At the Fall, every part of creation was plunged into the chaos of sin, and every part cries out for redemption.

In this fallen state, humans are unable to realize the calling that they were made to fulfill. While God designed work as a good thing, sin corrupted it, ensuring that humans toil and sweat in their labor (Gen. 3:19). In response to the brokenness and chaos, we try desperately to break free from the bondage of sin, without success.

How Then Shall I Live?

After the Fall, God did not abandon his creation and the human race. He did not leave us to die in the sin and misery brought on by Adam’s act. Instead, out of his great love and mercy, God delivered his people from sin and brought them into salvation by grace through faith, administered by his son Jesus Christ: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). In our sin and wretchedness, we deserve death—the penalty for our sin—but instead, God graciously gave us the free gift of eternal life through his son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:23).

Redemption is necessary to prepare for the full restoration of God’s creation. Just as the Fall adversely affected all of the creation, redemption found in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection has the power to redeem all of the creation. Just as Jesus’ sacrificial death gives us unmerited access to God, it changes our relationship with the world.

Man’s discoveries and inventions aren’t enough to redeem creation and answer the big questions—in the 21st century and beyond. We need to look back to God’s grand metanarrative for creation—the four-chapter gospel—to understand our purpose in life. This is how we should live.

Editor’s Note: Read more about the meaning and purpose for our lives because of the four-chapter gospel in our booklet, All Things New: Rediscovering the Four-Chapter Gospel.

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