Life is a trip. What better way to describe it? You’re in, you’re out, you’re up, you are down. The wicked prosper while the saintly suffer. Do something outrageous and the world beats a path to your door. Live a quiet dignified life and you die alone, broke and unheralded. There is simply no rhyme or reason to it and pain, loss and humiliation are unavoidable.
So what then is the meaning of life? The comedy troupe Monty Python made a movie about it, entitled what else, The Meaning of Life and even they couldn’t figure it out.
Yet, as bad as it sometimes gets, consider the alternative. Most prefer the beat down of life rather than the nothingness of death. So we cling to the here and now like alcoholics to a bottle. And while life offers few answers, it poses many questions, the most fundamental of which are:
· Who am I
· Where do I come from
· Why am I here, and
· Where am I going
The first question, i.e., “who am I” does not mean what is my name, first, middle or last. It is not a question of job, title or profession. The question has nothing to do with how others see or define us.
It is instead a matter of how we self identify; how we define ourselves. It is a question of one’s essence. At your very core, who or what are you? When you look in the mirror what do you see; what is reflected back at you?
The second question, “where am I from”, is not a matter of location be it nation, state, city or neighborhood. It has nothing to do with clan, racial or family heritage. The crucial inquiry is what caused me to exist? From what cosmic well do I spring?
The third question, “why am I here” goes to purpose. Why was I created? In my all too brief time here what must I accomplish, what was I made to do?
The fourth and final question, “where am I going” means when my life is over, what will become of me. Where will I go? Is this all there is or is there something more, beyond the veil?
Of these four questions, “why am I here” is the most crucial, extending far beyond the individual. The very story of mankind revolves around the search for purpose, the challenges and hardships endured in meeting one’s purpose, the avoidance of purpose and/or the abdication thereof.
Whether to make beautiful works of art, to free a people, to write the great American novel, to lead a nation, to teach the children or to hold fast, to remain resolute while the rest of the world stands at the mouth of madness, the question, “why am I here” is the search for spiritual relevance. My duty to the world is the core query we are all obligated to ponder.
A friend calls this duty the pursuit of enlightened self interest. He reasons that by pursuing a higher purpose we automatically act in our own self interest. This theory is supported by multiple studies which show that praying for another, profits the person who prays as much if not more than the person(s) for whom the prayer is intended. Making the world a better place therefore redounds to our own individual benefit.
Hence, we would do well to do more than just breathe. It is profoundly wise to accomplish more than merely live. Our self interest is deeply rooted in supporting each other, cherishing and protecting our families, contributing to our communities and to otherwise make this world a better place.
From both an individual and a public policy perspective, far too many fail to consider much less pursue a higher purpose. We tend toward aimlessness, with no sense of social responsibility. Our goals are the immediate, our attention span is ephemeral and we see no further than our own noses. We falsely believe that the world owes us something, when in reality, life owes us nothing. We owe life everything.
And while we may or may not have free will, God has a way of persuading us to justify our existence. He does so by endlessly asking us to find our greater purpose, to follow our greatest destiny, to do that which he desires until utterly exhausted, we eventually relent. I am often tempted to scream, “God quit poking me”. I resist this temptation only because it would do no good. God is nothing if not relentless.
It is telling that the subject of last weeks Blog, i.e., “Real Talk” recently dropped by my office. When I asked “why were you created, what is your purpose in life” he responded, “My purpose is to get a job so I can take care of my mother. Lord knows I have done enough wrong in my life.”
In conclusion, hell is not reserved for the dead and is neither a condition of nor conditioned upon our passing. It is not a place or destination to which we are transferred and confined once we die. Nor is it some Stygian netherworld of eternal damnation. Hell is to shamble through life absent purpose; without a reason to exist. True hell is to live a wasted life.
Addressing the fundamental question of life, “why am I here” does more than give us a reason to exist. It justifies our very existence.
Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO, Blackacre Policy Forum