Chapter 1:

Does Life Have Any Purpose?

Do you ever dream of a perfect world? Imagine the whole earth at peace: the land is clean and beautiful, with many friendly wild animals. None of them are afraid of man, for no one ever hurts them. All the people are honest and kind to each other. Mates are faithful, and children are cherished. Everyone gladly serves for the good of everyone else. People are responsible and take care of their things, and they never litter. No one works long hours for low wages, and those in authority are fair and kind to those they lead. Of course there is plenty of work to do, but it is shared fairly. No one has a luxurious life on the backs of a servant class. Products are made to last and easy to repair, then are fully recycled when no longer needed. There are no landfills, dumps or pollution. Everyone has time to travel and visit, to develop artistic interests and hobbies. Everyone is healthy, so doctors, medicines and insurance do not even exist. In fact, in this perfect world, everyone stays young! Can you imagine a world like that?

Throughout history people have dreamt of making the world, or even just a nation or merely a community, ideal. They even give it a name: "Utopia," which means "No such place," because it just seems impossible. Yet we dream, and we keep trying. Politicians keep promising everyone a better life if they win office, but all they manage to do is spend a lot of money, with little to show for it; in fact, the world gets shakier and less secure as they stoke division and not unity. Scientists hope wonderful things will come from their research, and it is true, modern technology has improved life for many in some ways. Yet science has also brought devastating weapons of war, high-pressure working conditions, and pollution that threatens civilization. Society worldwide is also sinking into moral decadence, even depravity. Sexual perversions and disloyalty are widely accepted, and many children are neglected and abused. Even young children commit crimes of unbelievable cruelty, with no trace of pity or remorse. Vicious ethnic and religious wars smolder on for years. Billions of decent hardworking people live in miserable poverty, while a few who do very little work live in extreme luxury. Yes, the world is now in serious trouble. So, is it foolish and naïve to dream of a perfect world? Yet we cannot help but yearn for such a beautiful life. Why does life have to be so insecure, so troubled, so short? What prevents real progress?

Bright blue bird

A look at the natural world makes us wonder. There is so much that is beautiful: intricate flowers with delicate colors and delightful scents, brightly colored birds singing cheerful songs, glorious yet subtle shades of magnificent sunsets! Have you watched kittens or puppies playing, or studied the wings of a butterfly? What potential life has for enjoyment and delight!

Yet even in the natural world there is predation, parasitism, pestilence, poison and pain. No, wilderness is not a paradise. So is it foolish to think it could ever be made so?

Why We Can Believe

For an answer we must turn to the question, why does life exist at all? Is there a purpose to existence? Or are we just a product of chance, of mindless evolution? Perhaps you have asked that question at some time. If we are not the random result of blind physical forces, but are designed, then there must be a Designer, who surely had some purpose in mind for his work. As has been observed long ago, "every house is built by someone." A house is just too complicated, and too obviously purposeful, to be a geological accident. What about everything else?

Running foal

When we examine living things, do we see evidence of design? Indeed we do. As the science of biology advances, scientists have become more and more impressed by life’s complexity, its intricacy of interconnecting materials and processes. Some scientists even dare to confess, despite an environment in the scientific community that is openly hostile to such heresy, that surely there must have been a Designer for what they see.

Let us consider two examples of design: First, think about reproduction. Two special cells, a sperm and an egg, join and merge their DNA material. This creates a "plan," like a software program, that controls rapid growth that is both precisely timed and positioned. Organs, nerves, bones, muscles and other specialized tissue all develop to form a new living being. Not long after being born, some creatures (such as antelope) are able to get up and run faster than a man. This requires vision and coordination that scientists have yet to imitate even in a clumsy fashion with their robots. Surely this requires a Designer!

sleeping baby

This DNA "plan" also creates the brain, our second example. A human brain occupies only .05 cubic foot (1.4 liter), yet all our awareness, imagination, and understanding is contained in it. All the knowledge we have learned fits in there. All the skills we have mastered are controlled there. Scientists have no idea how that is accomplished; yet we certainly do not deny that it happens. Nor does it appear that we have begun to challenge our brain’s capacity in a full lifetime of 80 years; if its health is maintained, our mind can be as sharp and active and able to learn at 100 as at 20. This alone should convince us that life was not meant to be so short. Surely such a marvelous creation would require careful design!

Another marvel about the DNA "plan" has recently been discovered: there is an amazingly reliable repair system constantly guarding the integrity of the code. When damaged DNA is detected, molecules that act like micromachines go to work, snipping the damaged segment out, fetching a copy of the correct replacement, and stitching it in. Those who look at this and say "it designed itself by hit-or-miss" are marvels themselves— of blindness!*

The fact that the genetic code contains a "plan" is substantial evidence that there must be a Planner, a Designer, a Purposer. We can rightly call this One "God", which means "powerful one." Believing he exists should give us hope, for such a God would surely not abandon his creations forever to wonder and grope blindly for its purpose.*

Has This God Made Himself Known?

Mankind has always instinctively sensed that there is a higher power or Deity. That is why there is no culture on earth lacking a religious tradition. There are thousands of denominations worldwide, most of them having rather minor differences of beliefs and rituals. The major branches of religion have greater differences, yet even these share some basic concepts. Can God be found in any or all of them?

Every religion has some kind of explanation for the purpose of life, although a few in effect say there is no real "purpose" as such. For example, Hinduism teaches reincarnation, in which life is a continual cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, ending, if ever, only in a state of nothingness or unconsciousness. In this view, any one individual cannot hope to live forever as himself, having a lasting purpose as an individual. Other religions say that the purpose of life is to get saved and go to Heaven at death, and be happy forever after. One teaches that we all may become mighty Gods in time, if we behave properly. The common thread is the belief that life goes on somehow, that death is not annihilation forevermore. Not all religions teach a unique Creator or Source of life, but all do involve reaching out for help from some kind of supernatural power.

The religious situation is so controversial and confusing that many today choose not to discuss it. They may say, "You believe what you want to believe, I’ll believe what I want, and we’ll both be happy." This is a tolerant, relaxed philosophy, and it is certainly better than fighting. But should we be satisfied with that as the best possible solution?

Jesus, known the world over as a man who claimed to be sent by God, said he had come "to bear witness to the truth." (John 18:37) This prompted a skeptical, worldly-wise man, Pontius Pilate, to retort, "What is truth?" Apparently he felt like many do today, that no one could claim to know the truth. Was he right?

Truth is definite. It involves drawing conclusions, and it excludes opposing opinions as untrue, false, wrong. Many today are uncomfortable doing that. Philosophers in particular seem to be uncomfortable coming to definite conclusions. They love dilemmas and paradoxes, such as "Everything I say is false." Some philosophers even say there is no such thing as reality, that everything is just in your mind, we are all in a Matrix or something. Or that there are infinite universes, and everything is true somewhere. "Truth is just what YOU believe," some teach. In effect, they are saying YOU are God, and there is no reality higher than YOU. Try thinking that next time a bee stings. Doesn't work very well. What you want and what is real can be painfully different.

Science is based on the assumption that correct and useful knowledge is attainable, that truth exists and can be discovered. Scientific inquiry is the search for understanding of the physical world, of things that can be sensed and measured. Men have put a great deal of time and energy into that search, and over centuries a considerable body of proven knowledge has been accumulated.

In the same way, there should be truth about God. Either he exists, or he does not. Either life has a purpose, or it does not. It is not reasonable to say both can be true. So we should not be satisfied with the relaxed philosophy "Just believe what feels right to you", so often applied to religious matters. Some have a less relaxed attitude about it: 'My truth is whatever I believe, even if I contradict myself, and it is an insult to suggest I could be wrong about anything.' That, of course, is no way to learn anything.

To some, faith and religion means fervently believing things that cannot be proven, even things that don't make rational sense. For them it is enough for religion to satisfy the emotions, to "feel right" or make them feel good. To try to understand it, to make sense of it, seems irreverent, impious. (Or just way too much work...) This attitude causes others to ridicule faith. But is this true religion?

Where and how should one search for truth about God and the meaning of life? A scientist doing research considers what he knows already, so as to establish a reasonable course of inquiry. We have already looked at creation, which tells us a few valuable things about its Designer. The Source of the galaxies must have tremendous power. The Origin of the laws of physics must be very precise; all parts work together with infinitesimal intricacy and consistency. The Creator of butterflies has a sense of beauty, of kittens a sense of humor. He surely is infinitely more intelligent than we are.

But here we have an advantage over the scientist. God is not a rock or an animal, even though some religions depict him that way. (Romans 1:22, 23, 25) He can rightly be expected to speak up and make himself known. So in our search, it is quite reasonable to look for actual communication from him.

We can reasonably assume that God’s communication should have begun long ago and by now be widely available. Further, since the truth we are seeking is not the kind that changes with time, we should look for a message that has been recorded, written down, rather than at shifting oral legends and traditions. Of all the "holy writings" that claim to be God’s revelation to man, is there one that meets our reasonable expectations?

Most "sacred texts" do not even directly address the matter of who God is, nor do they offer hope for a better future. Some depict their deity as having rapacious qualities, such that if we were to follow the deity’s example, the world would be even worse than it is. In fact, people imitating their god is one reason why the world is so polluted and divided. This is clearly not what we are looking for.

About one quarter of the earth’s population belongs to the "Judeo-Christian" branch of religions. Like the others, it is fragmented into thousands of contentious sects. The one book they all purport to accept is called "the Holy Scriptures" or the "Bible". This common confession has not united them. Even so, the Bible itself is a very unusual book.

As we would expect of a book from God, it is widely available: 98% of the world’s population can obtain one in their own language. Hundreds of millions have been printed. It has profoundly affected human history. For their loyalty to it, many have been forced to die. Many have been willing to die rather than deny it. Its principles have been a source of wisdom in establishing the constitutions of nations. Truly, no one should consider himself well educated if he has never read it.

It depicts a God who is loving, compassionate, kind and forgiving, yet fear-inspiring, powerful beyond measure; a God we can appreciate and admire, even though he is beyond our full comprehension. He is exactly what we would expect, and more. If everyone carefully imitated this God and followed his counsel found in his book, this earth would be a rather nice place to live, even if we still had a limited lifespan. There are some today who would dispute this, because they believe the Bible depicts an angry and petulant deity, utterly self-absorbed and quick to take offense. They think this because they pick a few verses out of context and refuse to consider the complete picture that related verses would give them. We cannot do that if we want to understand the Bible correctly.

The Bible describes God as having an active interest in his creation. Besides helping those who look to him now, it says he will take dramatic action to remove evil, and establish a new world. (Rom 2:4-11; 2nd Peter 3:9-13) This should interest us greatly, particularly since this event is depicted as near at hand. There is a surprisingly large amount of material on this in the Bible, which we will consider at length in chapters 6-9.

If the Bible is from God, we should expect those who are now using it as a guide in their everyday lives to be more peaceful, honest, industrious, and purposeful. Yet many who claim to live by the Bible are not so peaceful or honest. Besides the divisiveness already mentioned, professed Christians have at times used the Bible to justify war, racism, slavery, and colonialism. (For proof that this is misuse of the scriptures, see James 4:1-3 and 5:1-6, Acts 10:34, 5, Philippians 2:1-4.) All too often, men who preach and praise the high ideals of the Bible are found to be hypocrites. —Compare Rom 2:17-24.

This sorry state of affairs has convinced many that the Bible is not God’s book and that perhaps there is no God at all. But the fact that there are evil and hypocritical men who use a veneer of righteousness to advance their own selfish ends cannot bury the evidence that God exists. The Bible itself firmly condemns such men. —Matthew 23.23-28.

A Reason to Live

On the other hand, those who really learn and earnestly apply Bible standards find their lives transformed. They find contentment, a clear conscience, protection from many troubles, and ability to cope with stresses common to life. Their life has a purposefulness that helps them make decisions with good results. They show genuine concern and compassion for their fellowman. From the Bible we learn the simple purpose of living: to enjoy life together in a way that honors and pleases our Creator. This involves every part of our life: our work, our leisure, our education, our relationships, the very focus of our existence.

Solomon put it this way: “I have come to know that there is nothing better for them [mankind] than to rejoice and to do good during one's life; and also that every man should eat and drink and see good for all his hard work. It is the gift of God.” —Ecclesiastes 3:12, 13.

While those who do not know their Creator often try to "enjoy" life in selfish and harmful ways, God designed us to find satisfaction in good ways: by experiences, learning, achievement, and relationships. By "experiences" we mean doing things that give sensory pleasure, such as tasting delicious food or seeing beautiful things and places. But were we to center our life around only experiences, we would soon feel empty. We were also designed to learn, to be curious, to explore and seek understanding. We take delight in creativity: it is very satisfying to design something useful, or to make something beautiful. And we were not meant to be loners; we need to feel needed, and loved, and we instinctively offer the same support to others. Not so perfectly at present, but it is in our design nonetheless.

So it is that in this troubled world, one purpose for our life is to help others deal with burdens and reverses so that they can enjoy living also, to the extent practical at this time. We do this first by being as responsible for ourselves as we are able, so that we need less help from others; then we reach out to those who are struggling. Some may only need education and encouragement, so that they will be more responsible for themselves; others require actual physical aid, which we do not begrudge, although our means may limit us. We are not required to completely destroy our own quality of life to benefit others, but neither should we have a self-centered "I've got mine" attitude. (See <2 Corinthians 8:9, 12-15, Luke 3:11.) Those who understand our Creator's purpose for providing us life do not callously advocate a selfish sink-or-swim "free market" where each person must struggle on his own to live or die. See <Micah 6:8. Chapter 13 of this book, "Wisdom from God to Guide Your Life", shows how God’s Word gives much better advice on relationships and priorities than the selfish, faithless thinking common in today's world.

The evolutionist says that life is all about competition, the survival of the toughest or the most cunning, until it can fulfill its only real purpose: to reproduce itself. The common man translates this as, "the purpose of life is sex." That is NOT correct. It may be that horses are for riding, cows are for milking, and cats are for petting, but our purpose is clearly greater. It calls on us to utilize the wonderful brain we were given, and sex clearly does little of that.

Religious people like to say that our entire purpose in life is to worship God. That makes God look like a narcissist who makes sentient beings solely to get praise for himself, who gets irritated if everyone is not continually bowed to the ground before him. No, God enjoys seeing us properly enjoy the life he has given us. That in itself honors Him. Of course, consciously praising him in word is also appropriate. Repetitive formalistic "worship" does not please him. See <Isaiah 1:11-20.

This book will take you on a study of the Bible in a simplified yet comprehensive way. After a brief history and outline (Chapter 3), we will consider what it reveals about God himself, its explanation as to why mankind is in such a miserable state, its promise of a better future, and the way we can assure ourselves of a place in it. But first, a warning: if you try to draw close to God, you must face an enemy who does not want you to succeed. Who is he? How can we stand fast against him?

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