This post will be a meandering stream of consciousness. It may not be cogent, coherent, or correct. But, it will, at the very least, have alliteration in the first paragraph.
I was speaking recently with someone who had renewed energy and a more positive outlook on life. Why? Recent months had been mired in a sense of purposeless-ness. And that saps motivation like almost nothing else.
With the immense and unstoppable human drive to find meaning in life, it’s hard not to conclude that we are hard-wired for purpose. This creates a curious conundrum for those with a purely naturalistic and evolutionary worldview, however. Because when you boil that perspective down to its core philosophical inevitables, a seeking of purpose is a vain attempt to assign meaning where there can (ultimately) be none.
Yet we do seek purpose, and those who accomplish much in life are driven by a sense of purpose. What a different historical view we have of World War 2 – which was brimming with noble purpose – and the Vietnam War, which seemed to have little real purpose, meaning, and direction. Companies like Apple and Google set out to change the world, and attracted people loaded with zeal (or created them!). Dying, legacy companies may have traded their purpose for mere survival in a shrinking market. The difference is palpable.
One of the appeals of a religious worldview is the framework of a greater purpose. So much in life seems random, counter-intuitive, or downright evil. A will to press forward can come from a sense of overarching purpose, which is hidden in the mysterious mind and heart of a benevolent God. And when it comes to the evil part, the mysterious element pops out in bold and italic type. Believers can be just as perplexed as unbelievers by the flow of events. They are sustained by the hope that something actually makes sense on the other side of the tapestry being woven – good sense. Sometimes that greater good is actually seen in the shorter-term, sometimes it is not. Faith is most seen when the mists of mystery are still around us.
Of course, that sounds like a total fantasy-land cop-out to others, and I get that. If God has been locked out of one’s worldview prima facie (at first blush), then appeals to sovereignty simply look like escapism. The alternative is self-created temporary purpose or, if you go the full philosophical mile, raw nihilism. Which, actually, is another way of saying honesty within one’s chosen worldview. And I respect honesty even if when I disagree on first principles. I’d far rather talk to an honest believer in god-less-ness than a disingenuous and corner-cutting “believer” in God.
But then, how honest is it to hold to a position that leads to purposeless-ness, when every intuitive element in our souls cries out for and seeks purpose? We all seek, and desperately need, love; yet shall we say that such a need is a mere artifact of superstition, a defect of evolutionary process? Or a mere survival mechanism for passing on genes to another generation? Really? Is that our higher purpose – genetic reproduction? I don’t know about you, but in my mind, that doesn’t carry a whole lot of motivational weight. “I exist to survive and propagate.” How ennobling is that?
I fully realize that there all kinds of mysteries and complexities to supernaturalism. I came to faith with a critical and analytical mind, and I can’t stand here and say that I have some buttoned-up, 100% airtight, fully-explained worldview. Actually, with each passing year, I feel more ignorant than ever. But purpose seems so deeply stamped into our souls, that I cannot believe it is other than the image of God in man; not some temporary app to help us survive, but the operating system that reflects a brilliant programmer who means for us to do much more than, “eat, drink, and be merry; for tomorrow we die.” Perhaps others will dismiss such a perspective as wishful thinking – but then again, where do even get the imagination, the capacity, the soul-ish drive for wishful thinking?
I believe it’s hard-wired. I see it at the operating system level. To try to divorce ourselves from purpose is to try to divorce ourselves from inescapable, existential reality. The seed produces, inevitably, the plant buried in its genes. Pluck off the pedals, chop off the leaves, spray paint the stem – a sunflower remains a sunflower.
And we seek purpose. Even when our purpose is, ironically, to deny our purpose!