by Ernest O’Neill
Peggy Lee was a famous jazz singer. One of her hits was entitled `Isthat all there is ?’ It referred, of course, to life and its many experiencesand implied that it’s all rather disappointing and `a bit of a let-down’.Whether you think this or not, you’ve probably wondered what its purpose reallyis.
Why is There Suffering?
This sentence is so well-known that we often refer to it simply as the`problem of suffering `! Usually it crops up in a discussion of the origin ofthe world. Someone says something like there must have been a Supreme Being tomake whatever produced the `Big Bang’ or there must have been an IntelligentMind to program purpose into the process of evolution from simple to complex.But another person protests “how could a good God make a world where there isso much suffering ?”
What we have been saying so far is that this is the whole point of thispresent life — to show us what life is like without God. Jesus of Nazareth wasnot just a Jewish carpenter who became a travelling rabbi — he existed as ahuman being long before that. He was (as Paul writes in Colossians 1:15-17)`the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation — he is beforeall things’. In other words, Jesus is not only the unique Son of God whoexisted with the Creator before there was any universe, but His Fatherconceived Him not only as his divine Son but also as the human-being who wouldexpress outwardly his mind and character. That’s why `in him all things werecreated through him and for him’.
It’s also the reason why (as in Ephesians 2:10) `we are God’sworkmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has preparedbeforehand, that we should walk in them’. We exist only because `in him allthings hold together’ (Colossians 1:17). When we human beings live the way wehave for thousands of years — as if these things aren’t true — the result isthis present world ! But why would our Creator allow that to happen ? Whydoesn’t He step in and stop it ? Because he wants us to be like himself — havea choice — have freedom to choose the best because we can see the worst. Goddoes not want `goody-goodies’ who are good because they cannot be otherwise; Hewants children who are like Him because they want to be like Him.
How Then Should We Live?
Strange though it may sound — we are not here to `make the world abetter place’ — as we so righteously say. Our Creator knows that our presentpreoccupation with ourselves cannot achieve that. This is why Jesus said `if mykingdom were of this world, my disciples would fight’. Only the first and greathuman being will change this world-system — and Jesus Christ will do that onlyafter the human race sees that life is impossible without God. Should we thennot even try ?!
It’s vital that we spend our lives letting the life of Jesus touch theworld through us. Only then can the effects of his life and attitude be seenclearly — and only then can the huge contrast between God’s life and ourgodless one be plainly demonstrated. This is the purpose of this present lifeand world — and the purpose, therefore, of our own personal lives.
Is there any difference, then, between this kind of living and ordinaryliving of useful lives ? Much in many ways ! Often we measure the usefulness oflives by the visible improvements in building or commerce or science that areknown and publicized. But Godly lives are often unknown and apparent failures.The emphasis is the difference between the world and heaven rather than theirincreasing similarity. The purpose and motivation of the one is this world’sbetterment; the purpose and motivation of the other is the other-world’sreality. The dynamic of the one is human need while the dynamic of the other isGod’s will.
How Can Such an Other-worldly Life be Lived?
How can you live like this ? After all, we live in the midst of thetyranny of the urgent and the incessant ringing of the cell-phone. Everywherewe look we are faced with the needs of the world and its obvious imperfectionsclambering to be removed. How can you live above all of this and be used toclarify the difference between living in the light of God’s existence andliving as if he’s dead ?
Only if we can tell what our Creator is thinking and planning for useach day. He alone knows how his cosmic plan can be forwarded each moment byhis Son in each of us. The reality expressed in the sentence we quoted above isthat we will `do the good works which he has prepared beforehand that we shouldwalk in them’. Only Christ has the infinite foresight to have already donethose works in eternity taking into consideration the way we would exercise ourfree wills. So, only as we take seriously the fact that we are `the members –or limbs — of his body’ and that he is the `head of the body’ — only then canwe find out daily the life we are meant to live.
Moreover, this life can be directed by God himself only if there is someway that He can transmit his thoughts to us moment-by-moment. And this ispossible only if we ourselves possess and develop the capacities to receive andexecute the directions. Let’s talk about these capacities next.