Every intentional act implies a purpose. We must be driven by purpose to get up every morning to eat, to build a life, even to think and feel. If a person stumbles or is knocked out of that current, the vacuum would leave them spiritually slain. Inert. Wasting away in a ditch somewhere. We need purpose as a condition of our existence, and we need it to be a good one. It must captivate us with beauty and inspiration. It must be secure. It must be within reach.
There is a reason why people don’t often ask the big questions, or when they do, settle for the most comfortable one too quickly. We can’t handle being suspended. What we are left with is hoards of people clutching to their respective balloon and hoping it doesn’t pop. They vest the treasures of their love, dreams, and identity in shifting sands. Wanderers, like ships in the night, passing each other, crashing into each other, and breaking.
It is a good thing to let yourself reflect on that pain. To wake up to the tragedy of futility, and to begin in earnest to place your treasure in more secure ground. You get a preview of futility when your dream is threatened. Your options then are pain or despair. You can keep holding on to an attachment afraid to lose it, or let go of yet another dream.
Let us take this to the extreme. You live in a world where you learn that every possession may disappear, where every task may be disrupted, and where every person treats you like an object, doing unthinkable things to you unalarmed and with a smile. As part after part of your heart breaks, you begin to look out into the world—plain, barren, and boring. Perhaps sometimes you can go through the motions of relating to people. Maybe they experience some emotion because of it. But an invisible hand will come up behind them at any time and hit an off switch, and what you had will be lost so completely that they do not feel the wound of its absence. They are behavioral routines unanchored to a constant soul. Like androids.
Why go on? You can twiddle your thumbs and keep busy. But then what? Now imagine being alone on an alien world. A wealth of things lay about you. You can look them over and move them around. The androids go about their tasks, and although they are programmed to respond, no one is hearing you. Now imagine that if you wanted to, you could live forever in this world. You could build anything you wanted. You could enact as many varieties of possible conversations as you wanted. You could stand on one end of the world, or the other. But you would be speaking to a void. Forever. What do you want to do?
People who are facing death can already tell you. They want to be real to someone. They want to hold on to each other and face the harrowing dark together. They want the suffering and the beauty in their own heart to reach the heart of another, and to rest there. To be true to each other. Be it for an hour, for a year, or forever. The knowledge that we are together, is enough.
What is most tragic then, is that what is in our hands we do not take. I have learned the truth about the world. People are faithless. They live a lie that they are not. Maybe they believe a lie that they are not. But there it is. We have taken from ourselves that which we most desperately need. We have made the trade of rash fools, fearful of losing our world of things and tasks and long life, of the behavioral routines that may give us emotions for a while. But we have lost each other. There remains a switch in our backs, ready to turn us off.
I have searched for a light in that dark room. I have found only one. I looked for someone to feel grief at my pain. I looked or someone to see the villains for what they really are. I looked for someone to hold on to me, no matter the cost to them. To drink in my hell, and to give me courage to fight on. Someone who finds me bereft of purpose, and tells me over and over again that He never stops moving. That is who He is. Someone who can bear the ocean of indifference and contempt, and can stand above it, calm and steady, grieving for betrayers who were meant to be friends. Like a loving parent in the face of senseless screams, knowing in spite of what He sees, how much better they are than this. I looked for someone whose gaze was firm, who could not be moved. Over and over and over, I could look nowhere but at Jesus. All else was hideous, disgusting, petty, and pointless. All I could do was acknowledge the beauty of that soul, and yearn for it. The world without Him is nothing. It is a fool’s babbling. Entrances and exits and things in between.
For those of us who know the rest of the story, we know what waits for us in the world beyond this one. It is perfect. It is the consummation of vengeance, washing filth away. It is, for the few who make it, never ending joy. We will get to know each other. We will get to enjoy each other. We will be strong. We will see beyond the mysteries that now darken our eyes. Forever.
If that world is so perfect, what is the purpose of this one? What do we have here that we will never have again? What must be accomplished in this brief window of opportunity? We have these things: our suffering, our failures, and the failures of others.
Our suffering teaches us the difference between what is strong and weak. Here we must prepare our souls to know what we are to hold on to. What we are to pursue. And what is the price to be paid for those pursuits. Some things are worth everything. It burns off of us the dead and dying, and drives what needs to live to thrive within us.
You will learn to wait. You will come to understand your strengths, and their limits, and that when God wants to accomplish something through you, He will pick up where you left off. You have to be patient.
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
There are two ways the world can be right. One is to have a perfect system that makes everyone act properly towards each other, even if they are inwardly devils. The other is to have perfect people, who will act properly towards each other even if the system does everything to make them into devils. It would be much better to have the second than the first, for a system has no soul to save. This is why it is important to realize the value of temptation and persecution. While you cannot endorse or aid such a system, if you find yourself in it, you can seize the opportunity to see where you stand before God and strengthen your faith.
“Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.”
— Luke 17:1-2
Our failures ought to teach us to look beyond ourselves. To look for perfection. In the gracious hands of God we are reformed into that perfection. And we know to Whom it is owed.
“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”
–1 Corinthians 10:13
In heaven there will be no lost souls. There will be no enemies to love. There will be no reason to sacrifice yourself for them, to show the hope that you have for them. The form of perfection waiting for the hand of God to carve in them. You can’t know the triumph of redemption. The sweet reunion of the prodigal son. You won’t see the power of God move a person’s soul from weakness and disgrace to relentless courage. You won’t see the meekness and severity of God sovereign in a world in rebellion. You won’t know what it means to walk by faith, when you hold in your heart the confidence of a brighter future, and the inevitability of God unfolding His will in a world where all seems lost. How short a life this is to do so much.
We who know God, who are captivated by His steadfast love, justice, and goodness, who bear His Spirit within us, reflect that purpose to the world.
As much as I continue to reflect God more and more, I must not be confused with Him. I cannot save anyone. And so I do not ask for your confidence. I only hope to impart this wisdom: that the only thing worth following is God and His character. In so far as we do, we will know purpose.
Faithfulness starts here. Kindness starts here. Courage and truth and righteousness start with us. We may be in a faithless world, empty and meaningless. But here stands one side of the equation. An open invitation. To value each other. To uphold each other. To love and serve. To be Christ to each other. There is no other reason to live.