“The life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” said Thomas Hobbes. In Macbeth, Shakespeare wrote that life is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” John Masefield expressed the opinion that: “Life is a long headache in a noisy street.” Pretty depressing stuff! Not a very encouraging note on which to start a new year!
But, entering a new year with all its potential for good or ill and all its uncertainties, is a good time to ask: What is the purpose of life? Why are we here? Why did humanity come into being? Are we just an accident of natural selection? Are we, to quote a very green New Age writer, a cancer on the face of Gaia (Mother Earth) – bringing ecological disaster?
On a more personal level, what is the purpose of your life? Why are you here on earth? Is there anything beyond domestic duties, family relationships, trying to keep healthy, working, having some fun, going on holiday? All of these things are important. But have you asked yourself: Is that it – and then you’re dead?
The Bible tells us that we are very special beings: we are “made in the image of God.” That means we aren’t just higher animals. We are creative beings, we appreciate beauty (in sight or sound). We are capable of great love. Above all, we are spiritual and eternal beings.
One excellent old definition of the purpose of life is this. “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” This gets forgotten, or ignored. Christianity is also about loving your neighbour. But first and foremost it is about loving God.
I firmly believe that you are here, first and foremost, to glorify God, i.e. to worship him, please him and serve him. Maybe you haven’t realised this. Maybe you are concentrating on all the other purposes I mention in the third paragraph, or on loving your neighbour. But the fact is that you were made to glorify God and, if you’re not consciously doing so then, deep down, whether you realise it or not, there is a fundamental frustration and dissatisfaction.
However, it isn’t only about glorifying God, it is also about enjoying him forever. Like many Christians, I really enjoy God. I look up at the universe on a clear night and enjoy knowing, and perhaps speaking to, the Creator. I walk alone in the country and sense God looking down at me. Sometimes (not always) in church, the worship lifts me out of myself, so I feel (as the Communion Service puts it) I am worshipping “with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven.” Sometimes when I am preaching in church or teaching a group, I experience a deep happiness that far transcends any other happiness because I am helping them understand God’s Word. Anyone who says that real Christianity isn’t enjoyable is greatly mistaken. Yes, there are difficult times too, as in all human life. But the enjoyment is out of this world!
In fact, literally out of this world, which is limited by time and death. We are created to enjoy God for ever. That’s why the Bible speaks of eternal life. The enjoyment of God does go on for ever.
What is the secret of enjoying God forever? Well, it isn’t a secret actually, it’s been well-known for 2000 years. It is by trusting in his Son, who came as a baby to live, die and rise again to make possible our forgiveness, and to bring us into a lasting relationship with God our Father.
Why not do that now, at the beginning of a new year. Then I shan’t need to wish you a happy new year: you’re bound to have one, whatever difficulties also come along (up to and including death itself because death is not the end).
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction