Chapel 02.05.2019 – What is OUR why? (The Purpose Question)
I wanna speak to you about a subject that, you will not hear spoken about on probably 99% of the university campuses in America because it’s been sort of exiled from the university conversation.
I’d like to speak to you about the whole question of what is our why?
What is our, why? Not your why, not my why, but our why. Not so much what is the purpose of your life? But what is the purpose of life?
So last month when I had the privilege of speaking to you, I spoke about the identity question. Who are we? And these are questions, these are some of the biggest questions of life, right? Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? What’s wrong with the world? Can anybody fix it? Is there any hope?
These are big questions that philosophers talk about. Theologians talk about and everybody in their heart at one point or another asks, the question of what is our why?
And so often in life we get preoccupied, not with the why, but with the how and the what, with the means, right. And we forget about the why.
I heard the story of a pilot who came over the intercom as he was speaking to the passengers and he said, this evening I have some good news and bad news for you. He said, the good news is, we expect a very smooth flight and we’re making a great time. The bad news is that we’re not sure where we’re going and we’re lost.
Not The thing you wanna hear from a pilot, right. But that’s kind of the way it is.
What is our why? Where are we going? And one of the things that’s happened in our society is, now that’s not one of my slides. I like that. Whoever put it in there, I’m gonna get you. No, no, I won’t, I promise, I promise. I can’t wait to see what shows up next here. That’s the danger of, you know, anyway.
So, what has happened to our why? Well, a couple of things. In our culture, the wider view, the modern world, the postmodern world, lots of people have actually stopped believing that there is an answer to the question of what is the meaning of life.
They don’t believe there is any meaning or any purpose of life. Some of the more articulate people who have voiced that would be philosopher Bertrand Russell, who said, the universe in his book of Free Man’s Worship is purposeless void of meaning. Then he adds, “We must build our lives “upon the firm foundation of unyielding despair.”
Happy thought, right.
But that’s where a lot of people end up. Or more recently, Richard Dawkins in his book from River Out of Eden, he said, “In the universe there is, at bottom, “no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, “nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”
A lot of people, they’ve concluded there is no why. Stop looking for the big why or purpose.
I don’t think it’s any accident that we’re seeing in the western world, and especially in the United States, the suicide rate, go up rather dramatically. The Center of Disease Control last year said that we’re at a 50 year peak in the United States in terms of the increase of suicides, and it is now the second leading cause of death among Americans age 10 to 34.
Think about that. There’s a hopelessness and despair that sort of settles in after people have being told, you’re not significant, there is no reason you’re here. It’s all despair and hopelessness and that doesn’t lead to a good place. And people lose their way when they lose their why.
So some people, they’ve stopped believing in the meaning and purpose of life. Many people though, they have shrunken the meaning of life to just their life. So they say, “Well, there’s no ultimate purpose, “but I’ll make up my own, life is about me.”
Lots of people live this way, right? Maybe you live that way.
Life is about primarily discovering myself. It’s about reaching my potential. Sometimes it’s a little more lofty than that and you hear people say, “Well, there’s no meaning in life, “but life is about loving others and caring for others.”
But even there, they can’t tell you why that’s important. They too have lost their why.
One of the films I watched years ago that I particularly enjoyed were some of the films of Woody Allen and his film Manhattan. He has this scene where Woody Allen is laying on a couch becoming his own therapist and he’s speaking into a dictaphone and he said, “Hmm, why is life worth living?” And he said, that’s a very good question. “Well, there are certain things I guess “that make life worthwhile,” Allen says. “Like, what? “Okay, for me, I would say, Groucho Marx to name one thing, “the second movement of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony, “Louie Armstrong’s recording of Potato Head Blues. “Swedish movies, Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra. “Suzzane’s incredible pictures of Apples and Pears. “The Crabs that Sam Wo’s Restaurant, Tracy’s Face.”
Of course when he was saying these things, they were all good things that he was mentioning. But Allen is noted in his films for saying there’s ultimately no ultimate purpose, so you just make it up. In fact, he said, “Life is meaningless, “but movies keep me distracted.”
And isn’t that true of a lot of people? Life is meaningless, but we distract ourselves. We, let in the noise so we don’t have to think about it.
More seriously, The French philosopher, Albert Camus, the existentialists, he was preoccupied with this question of the meaning of life, and he said, and he concluded, Life has no meaning, the universe is cold and indifferent. Life is absurd, but we must embrace the meaninglessness And with a brave face and a smile embrace the despair.
I don’t know about you, that leaves me rather cold as well. He’s really saying, let’s just pretend it has meaning, but he doesn’t get to the why. And the good news is that in our loss ness, scripture speaks a word from God and provides answers to these very important questions including the great question of purpose.
Why are you here? We ask ourselves and the Bible answers, you are here because God wants you here, that’s why. You exist because the God of the universe wants you to be here. Your life is not an accident. You are not dust, you are not a mishap. Your birth was intentional and you are conceived in God’s mind before you were conceived by your parents. That’s how important you are. That’s how scripture comes back at us In the Psalms and other places.
We had a birthday celebration in our family last weekend. We do a big thing for birthdays. In fact, we come in. We usually, if somebody is at home and the kids are at home, we come in and we sing to them early in the morning and sit on their bed and give them gifts and cards, or if they’re not home, we do that in the evening. And we make a big deal because it’s just another way of saying your life matters and you are here for a reason, for a purpose. And of course in scripture, scripture tells us that purpose starts with God. And the Bible’s answer to our why is, is I think best summarized this way. Life’s ultimate purpose is to know, love and serve the Lord. That’s why you’re here. That is the point of it all.
Now this is really important, if you remember nothing else from today, this morning, just write that down. Write it down, remember it, the purpose of your life, of my life, of life, our why, is to know, love and serve the Lord. That’s, the key, to know him. That’s the primary thing.
Now, there are lots of secondary things. So you might say, well, I’m designed to be a scientist or I’m built to be an artist. And that may be true, but the ultimate purpose of your life, the reason God created you is so that you might know, love and serve him.
And of course the story of scripture is very interesting because it shows how God created us for a purpose. And then we lost it, we went off track, we decided to go our own way.
Isaiah puts this rather brilliantly in Isaiah 53:6, it says, “We’re like sheep, we have gone astray. “Each of us has turned to our own way.” And then scripture continues the story saying that God sent his Son into the world to rescue us, to show us how to get back home, to show us the way to bear our sins and open a way. And so let me just say it again.
The primary thing in life, your primary purpose, your primary calling is not to be a pastor, a teacher, an engineer, a nurse. These are all good things. But the primary reason is to know, to love and to serve the Lord. And as long as you live, no matter what happens, career wise, health wise, location wise, that remains our why. And knowing this is so helpful, it’s tremendously helpful because it gives meaning to everything.
One of my other favorite Woody Allen films is Annie Hall. And there’s a scene at the beginning of the film where a Woody Allen reflects on his childhood and you get this cut into a scene from his past when he’s a little boy Alvy, in Brooklyn at a doctor’s office during World War II. And his mother brought him in because she’s got a problem and she stands near the sofa and the doctor’s there, and the mother says, “Alvy is depressed. “All of a sudden he can’t and won’t do anything.” And the doctor says, “Well, why are you depressed Alvy?” And Alvy is quiet. And his mother says, it’s something that he read. I know it’s something that he read. And Alvy mutters finally with little courage, “The universe is expanding.” And the doctor says, “The universe is expanding!” And Alvy replies, “Well, the universe is expanding “and if it’s expanding, some day it’ll break apart. “And, that would be the end of everything.” And disgusted, his mother looks at him and she goes, “Alvy, what does that matter?” And she looks at the doctor and says, “Now he stopped doing his homework.” And then Alvy interrupts. He said, “Well, what’s the point of homework then? “If the universe is expanding?” And his mother says, “Well, what’s the universe “got to do with it? “You’re here in Brooklyn. “Brooklyn is not expanding.” And the doctor says, “It won’t be expanding “for a billion years or so. “Alvy do your homework.”
Well maybe Alvy had a point. If there is no purpose, why do your homework? Why University for that matter? I mean if there is a purpose, it affects everything. It affects our drive, our motivation, our staying power, our health. It simplifies and focuses our life. It’s tremendously helpful.
Now what I wanna show you in the next few minutes briefly is that the Bible has various ways of communicating this great purpose to us, our why. And we look at these so often separately and we don’t put them together. In other words, we look at them and we think there are five different things when in fact they’re talking about the same thing. So for example, one of the ways that scripture speaks about purpose, is it says the purpose of life is to first of all, it’s to know God. It’s to know God, and that’s sometimes how scripture speaks. Knowing not just in your head, knowing in the fullest expression of it, deep, personal knowing heart, soul, mind, knowing him.
You think of John 17:3, this is eternal life. That they may know you, the only true God and know Jesus Christ whom you have sent. Or Paul writing in Philippians 3, “That I may know Him.” Or Jeremiah in the Hebrew scriptures that God says, “This is the covenant “that I’ll make with the house of Israel. “I’ll put my law in them and I’ll be their God “and they will be my people and no longer “shall each one say to his neighbor and each to his brother, “you must know the Lord for they show all know me “from the least to the greatest.” You see, one of the great ways the Bible puts this purpose is we are made to know the Lord. Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed “for a lack of knowledge.” Hosea 6:3, “Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord.” So in the Bible we discovered that God longs for his people to know him. We’re created to know the Lord. And ignorance of God and his ways, and communion with him is a way of sentencing ourselves to being lost in sort of aimlessly wandering around in things that aren’t ultimately significant. But the second way that scripture speaks about our great purposes. sometimes it speaks about the purpose of life is serving God. Life is about serving him. This is helpful too, you go back to the first part of Genesis, Genesis 1 where God creates Adam and Eve and he says, “Now you will have dominion over the earth.” And then Genesis 2:18, the Lord took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. So part of his dominion is God says, “Under me, I give you this real estate to rule and steward, “for me, but you’ll be my representative. “You’ll be my vice regent.” A vice regent is a person who acts in the name of another and rules on their behalf, that’s what you’ll do. Or Psalm 8, puts it this way as well. It says Lord, you gave humankind dominion over the works of your hands and you put everything under his feet. So serving God, that’s another way to put it. We were made to serve him. This was the first Great Commission given in the Bible to the human race. It’s one of the ways to put the purpose of life. But a third way to put it, there are five that I wanna show you. There’s another way that scripture puts it, is in speaking about purpose, it sometimes puts the focus on glorifying and enjoying God. You may hear that language like in 1 Corinthians 10:31 whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God. We’re to glorify him. We glorify God, God is glorious. Scripture says he’s majestic in his holiness. And the ultimate goal of the universe is to show forth the glory of God. The reason for everything including you and me, is we’re made for his glory. And when we glorify something, we, praise it. We make it large in our lives and that’s what God wants us to do. He wants us to live for the praise of his glory. And I had somebody ask me one time when I was talking about this, they said, “Well, is God an egotist? “That he wants our glory and worship?” And the Bible’s answer is absolutely no. He doesn’t need, our praise or glory. He doesn’t need anything from us. It’s that we need to worship and praise and glorify him because we were created for Him and our deepest satisfaction is found in Him. And God knows when we worship other things, we go off course and destroy ourselves. We were made for Him. And so that’s why scripture will command us, delight yourself in the Lord. That’s where true joy is found. Psalm 16:11, “You make known to me “the path of life in your presence.” I love this verse, “There is fullness of joy “and at your right hand, there are pleasures forevermore.” The joy of the Lord is so deep, so vast. We’re just tasting the beginning of it now. The Westminster Confession, I grew up, I didn’t grow up. I became a Presbyterian and one of our confessional standards as the Westminster Standards. And one of the best summary statements ever written about purpose, I think comes from the Westminster Shorter Catechism. And it’s on the screen. The question is, what is the chief end of man? Meaning, what is the highest purpose of life? This was written in the 1600s. And the answer is man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. That’s a wonderful way of putting it. That’s not dour at all, is it? That means your happiness, your deepest joy can be found only only in Him. So scripture sometimes speaks in that language of glorifying and enjoying the Lord. Another way it speaks, it’s about the purpose of life is to please the Lord, and there are many verses. Ephesians 5:10, learn what pleases the Lord. Romans 12:1, “My friends by the mercy of God. “I appeal to you, offer yourselves “as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service “and pleasing to him.” There are many verses like this that speak about pleasing God. And the truth is we can’t please God on our own because we’re in the first Adam. And unless we’re in the second Adam who perfectly obeyed the commandments of God and was the true sign of Israel, unless we’re in him, we can never hope to get there. But in Christ, through his life, death, resurrection, and by his spirit, we can please Him. And so the purpose of our lives, it’s appropriate to say is to, to please the Lord. Isn’t that a proper way to speak? You speak that way sometimes.
And then there’s one more way, main, primary way that the Bible speaks about this, the purpose of life. And that is sometimes it speaks about purpose, and it uses the language of loving God. And of course, this is the passage to me that stands out above even the others. The purpose of life is to love the Lord. You think of that wonderful passage in Matthew Mark and Luke, but especially, in Matthew. And Jesus is approached by this pharisee and he says, what is the Great Commandment of the law? In other words, what is the most important thing in the world? And Jesus said, the most important thing in the world is to love the Lord your God with all your soul, with your heart, all your heart. And with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. That’s an echo of this Shamaya and the Old Testament. This is the first thing Jesus is saying, don’t lose the first thing. There are second things like loving your neighbor as yourself, and that’s very important in a way of demonstrating your love for God, but don’t lose sight over the main thing, the main purpose of life. And so when you think about it, these different ways that scripture puts it, knowing him, serving him, glorifying him, pleasing him, loving him, I challenge you to look at them together. There’s simply five different ways of saying the same thing that you and I are here to know, to love and to serve the Lord, that’s the purpose. That’s our purpose, that’s our why. And so I ask you what is your why? Are you clear on this? And perhaps you never thought about that this way. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you are near the point of despair for lots of different reasons and you’re wondering what is the point of it all. Or maybe you’ve been living for lesser things like your own glory, which is so easy to do. And so through his word today, God is calling all of us to lift our sights to something higher, to Him. That we’re here to know, love and serve Him. I wanna close by just saying that this is not only a biblical truth, but this is a message that higher education has lost. I have to read a lot of books about higher education. That’s part of what a president does, to know what’s going on, to understand the issues in higher education. One of the most striking to me has been this book by the former dean of Yale Law School, Anthony Kronman. His book is called Education’s End. Why are colleges and universities have given up on the meaning of life? And Kronman, he says, in the past, and he’s not a believer, and not a Christian. I don’t know what he believes in actually, but I know he’s not a Christian. He said, “In the past, the aim of education “was to teach students at the university level “the meaning of life. “The aim of virtually all higher education “was not just intellectual,” he says. “But moral and spiritual formation, to teach students “about the purpose of life, to shape students soul’s. “But then,” he writes, “Once upon a time, “and not all that long ago, many colleges “and universities and teachers, “especially in the humanities, believed “they had a responsibility to lead their students “in an organized examination of this question. “And they felt confident in their ability to do so.” But he said, “Then a shift came. “Few colleges or university teachers today “believe that they have either the right or the duty “to offer students any instruction “or that there’s any value “in talking about the purpose of living.” Kronman says, “This is a question “that is out of bounds now.” He said, “Sadly, most of the 6,000 institutions “of higher learning.” This is all Kronman. “Have given up teaching on the meaning of life. “The question of the meaning of life,” he says, “Has been exiled from the university.” And he goes on to lament the directionlessness that prevails in most colleges and universities. And he calls it the demon of meaninglessness. And he says, “We face a crisis of meaning.” All the while people are searching for the answer to the why question. They want a sense of purpose. And this is why I think it’s one of the blessings for me to be at CCU, let alone I think for you to be at CCU because thank God we can teach unabashedly that there is a why, there is a purpose. And so today I’m just simply calling you back to the sources, ad fontes. Back to the basics, back to our why, so that you have clarity, not just on your identity but you and I have clarity on our purpose, on our why that you were made by Him. And for him to know him and serve him and love him. May God drive that deeply into our souls.