“I live to serve God.”
“The Lord gives my life meaning and direction.”
“I am His hands and feet on Earth.”
“The point of life? To know, love, and serve God.”
“I can’t imagine getting up in the morning without knowing I was made for a specific purpose.”
These sentiments took me no time or research to come up with because, frankly, I’ve heard them dozens of times. I may have uttered something like them at some point during my belief. In fact, I almost certainly did. When I was younger, I used to hold a firm belief that I existed for no other purpose than to serve my fellow humans. I was a tool in the hands of my Maker. There was nothing else I wanted or, as I thought at the time, deserved to do with my life. This viewpoint lasted up until the middle of college, when I finally began to think that perhaps I was getting stepped on by a few too many of my classmates and “friends”. That, however, is a story for another time.
The above outlook on life—and the problem of God-given purpose—is the topic of today’s post. What does that mean? Why would anyone want to hold that belief, and what effects does it have on their lives and the lives of those around them? Purpose is a huge topic, so I won’t get into more than the slimmest portion of its surface, but nonetheless: let’s explore.
Everyone wants their life to have meaning. Everyone wants their life to have a purpose. Without purpose, what is the use of living? Without direction, what does one work toward? Even the most hedonistic of lifestyles conforms to this rule, for the purpose of the hedonist’s life is to experience as much pleasure as possible. This is why they exist. Asking anyone on the street what the purpose of their life is will yield responses as varied as the winds. Overall, however, one thing is for certain: religion heavily influences the sense of purpose in the lives of Christians.
So let’s think about that a little bit. For many Christians, their life has only one purpose: whatever God tells them it is. To be more cynical, their purpose is whatever they think God is telling them to do, or more often, whatever someone whom they trust tells them to do from a position of authority. This view provides two very important things: a sense of direction, and comfort. But it’s intellectually unsatisfying, in my opinion.
There’s a lot of talk among Christians about giving themselves over to God for His use. The reasoning is thus: if God made me, He must have had a reason. My job, then, is to figure out what that reason is, and fulfill the purpose I was made to fulfill. For after all, I must have a purpose, or else God wouldn’t have made me. This is the question a Christian feels compelled to ask, and it’s a (somewhat) logical extension from the basic concept of creation: A tool in your kitchen drawer may look cool, but if it has no purpose, why did you buy it? Similarly, a person may be beautiful, talented, and charismatic, but if they have no purpose, why did God make them?
To summarize and/or get myself off this wandering track: Christians find purpose and meaning in their lives by doing what they think God wants them to do. They surrender their wills to their Lord, and act as servants in His service. Look no further than scripture for evidence of this view (Matthew 20:28 “In the same way, the Son of Man did not come to be served. He came to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many people”). Christians relinquish control of their lives. They discard the mantle of autonomy and self-direction in favor of a yoke of obedience. If God wills it, so it shall be. The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. I am at your service, my King.
But as an atheist, I have to ask the big question: why would you do that?
We subject ourselves to the wills of others all the time. When a friend asks me for a favor and I comply, I’ve subjected myself to her desire over my own. My actions are for her purposes. This is not a problem, nor is it abnormal. Where I find things strange, however, is when the lens zooms out to focus on the bigger picture.
If the purpose and meaning of your entire life is granted by the whims of an invisible God, and the only real way He communicates is through feelings you get when praying and a book written thousands of years ago… aren’t you reaching a bit? Isn’t that just trying to find meaning where none exists? Moreover, doesn’t that make your life seem… less valuable? Less important? Doesn’t that diminish you as a person with thoughts, feelings, ideas, and dreams? I find it all somewhat saddening, now. What has this person given up by choosing to follow the whims of a petty, jealous tyrant God? What could he become, were he to loose himself from those reins and run free?
I’ll try to put this succinctly, because I think I’ve drifted: Christians find purpose for their lives by letting God tell them what to do. I think that’s unfortunate. When I first became an atheist, I struggled with the idea that my life had no purpose, other than the purposes I set forth for myself. Once I accepted this truth, however, I discovered a remarkable sense of liberation. No longer was I forced to live my life for someone else’s reasons. I could do what I wanted to do, and try to arrange things in a way that made sense to me.
I was taught that “giving myself over to God” was beautiful. Now, I see it as a cop-out. Christians, you don’t need God to tell you to be good; you can just be good! You don’t need God to tell you where to go or when to go there; you can just go!
Maybe next time I’m in a snarky mood and someone tells me “I have a God-given purpose for my life”, I’ll retort with, “What, you couldn't up with something on your own?”