Pondering purpose and, more significantly, the lack of it. I am persuaded that the greatest threat to civilization today, is purposelessness. “Surely not,” you demur. “What about Islamic extremism, terrorism, human trafficking, alcoholism, addiction, greed”… the list goes on and on and on.
I propose that all these are symptoms rather than causes. They are the physical evidence of a far greater, hidden, internal malaise, affecting the entire body of mankind. And it is a malaise unto death.
Purpose: without it we are adrift in the ocean of time. Disconnected beings chasing fulfilment that can only be found when we rediscover our purpose.
We mistake work for purpose. We mistake the pursuit of happiness for purpose. But purpose cannot be found in the daily repetition of waking and working and sleeping.
Make no mistake, work is important. No, more. It is essential. It gives us structure, discipline focus and finance without which life in the 21st century is unsustainable. However, to derive all our purpose from doing is fundamentally flawed for the simple reason that our ability to do is finite at best.
Milton, whose creativity gave birth to those great classics of English literature, “Paradise Lost” and “Paradise Found”, discovered this truth to his despair. Blinded at the age of 52, he penned the words:
“And that one talent which is death to hide, lodged with me useless.” (Milton “On His Blindness” 1652).
Who can read those lines and not feel the agony of losing one’s ability to do that thing that has become one’s purpose? And we all encounter these losses (perhaps not as dramatically as Milton) throughout our lives. It is a fundamental truth of being human. Each new age brings new loss.
One has only to think of the athlete whose ageing muscles can no longer run at world record pace (Yes, it will happen to Usain Bolt) or the surgeon whose hands become gnarled with arthritis.
The psalmist who penned Psalms 103 describes our condition so eloquently with these words:
“As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
16 For the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
And its place remembers it no more.”
The bottom line is that this tent we inhabit for our mortal days, is flawed and finite and, while we may find purpose in doing, activity in and of itself (even from the noblest of motives) is not enough. So, how do we reconnect with purpose?
Not through the pursuit of works. Nor through the pursuit of self-gratification. And, dare I suggest that it’s not even to be found in religious fervour. At best these provide a pleasing escape from the anguish of purposelessness.
No, in finding our true purpose, we have, I believe, to go back to Blaise Pascal and his description of the “infinite abyss” in all of us – an abyss that nothing else can fill but a reconciliation with our Creator – the first Father, since he who designed us knows full well the purpose behind the design.
“No one comes to the Father except through Me.”- Jesus Christ (John 14:6 New King James Version (NKJV)
“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?
This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself”
Pondering Purpose References & Recommended Reading:
For further reading: