At some point in our lives, we ask the question most people make: “What is the purpose of my life?” This is particularly true when we feel depressed and are not happy with our lives. For most of us, life is really bur a task – a life full of suffering and devoid of any meaning. Others extremely wish that they don’t have to live on with all these troubles and pain. “It is better never to have been,” one can simply say. Not coming into existence means one will not experience pain. Do we have any hope of ever finding happiness in life? Has life any meaning at all?
Finding meaning in life has produced much philosophical, scientific, theological, and metaphysical speculation throughout the history of mankind.
Secular Point of View
Researchers in psychology suggest that we experience meaning and fulfillment as we master challenging tasks, and that the experience comes from the way we approach and perform such tasks. Neuroscientists refer to reward, pleasure, and motivation as determinants of happiness as they translate to pleasant neurotransmitter activities. Hence, if one believes that the meaning of life is to merely maximize pleasure and to have a generally easy life, then he/she must do things as are necessary to achieve this. Ethical naturalists on their part advocate utilitarianism for the ‘flourishing’ of every conscious creature through a ‘science of morality’. They promote the rights to abortion, euthanasia, and drug liberalization under certain circumstances, depending on prevailing collective human understanding.
All these can be ascribed to the prevailing secular humanism in today’s society. It assumes that as a natural effect of unguided evolution, humans develop ‘critical intelligence’ derived from human needs and interests as tested by experience. The human personality becomes a function of the biological organism transacting in a social and cultural context. The nature of the universe is what people discern it to be. Likewise, people determine “values and realities” as well as human purpose without supernatural influence. Humanism seeks to promote enlightened self-interest and the common good for all people. It is based on the premise that the happiness of the individual is inextricably linked to the well-being of all humanity. ^This is because humans are social animals who find meaning in personal relations and because cultural progress benefits everybody within their particular culture.
From a humanism-psychotherapeutic point of view, Paul T. P. Wong, a Canadian clinical psychologist has proposed a four-component answer to the question “What is the meaning of my life?” These are: purpose, understanding, responsibility, and enjoyment (PURE):
- You need to choose a worthy purpose or a significant life goal.
- You need to have sufficient understanding of who you are, what life demands of you, and how you can play a significant role in life.
- You and you alone are responsible for deciding what kind of life you want to live, and what constitutes a significant and worthwhile life goal.
- You will enjoy a deep sense of significance and satisfaction only when you have exercised your responsibility for self-determination and actively pursue a worthy life goal.
Christian Point of View
A Christian will see the meaning of life in another way. “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly”(Jn 10:10b). Man was formed in the Image of God, his creator. He was perfect, but the Fall of Man caused the progeny of the first Parents to inherit Original Sin. The sacrifice of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection provide the means to rise above that impure state (Rom. 6:23). The means for doing so varies between different groups of Christians, but all rely on faith in Jesus, his death on the cross and his resurrection as the fundamental starting point for a relationship with God. The Gospel maintains that through this belief, the barrier that sin has created between man and God is destroyed, and allows God to change people and instill in them a new heart after his own will, and the ability to do it. This is what the terms “reborn” or “saved” almost always refer to.
In the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the first question is: “What is the chief end of Man?”, that is, “What is Man’s main purpose?” Its answer is: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever”. God requires one to obey the revealed moral law saying: “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself”. The Baltimore Catechism answers the question “Why did God make you?” by saying “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.” Catholics way of thinking is expressed through the Principle and Foundation of St. Ignatius of Loyola:
“The human person is created to praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord, and by doing so, to save his or her soul. All other things on the face of the earth are created for human beings in order to help them pursue the end for which they are created. It follows from this that one must use other created things, in so far as they help towards one’s end, and free oneself from them, in so far as they are obstacles to one’s end. To do this, we need to make ourselves indifferent to all created things, provided the matter is subject to our free choice and there is no other prohibition. Thus, as far as we are concerned, we should not want health more than illness, wealth more than poverty, fame more than disgrace, a long life more than a short one, and similarly for all the rest, but we should desire and choose only what helps us more towards the end for which we are created.”
The process of becoming a real Christian is in learning to live life to the full, being cleansed from sin, and learning to fight spiritual battles. Through faith and the working of the Holy Spirit, God transforms a person’s desires to be more in conformity with God’s will (Eph 2:8–10; Rom 12:1–2). A Christian becomes a person who has the Spirit of God (Rom 8:9) received according to the Biblical formula (Acts 2:38). Becoming a Christian means transforming to a different way of life with a different purpose, for “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Gal 5:22\23) . Fulfilling this purpose and experiencing the fullness of life go together, as described in Matt 6:33, “But seek you first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
The Key to Happiness and Fullness of Life
Will purpose, understanding, responsibility, and enjoyment as suggested by psychologists really make us happy? In a sense, it can. This is for as long as our understanding of who we are and what we are destined for is based on authentic Christian belief.
Psychology can to some extent explain and keep track of the logical process we need to go through in our quest for happiness, but the real key lies in constantly being filled with God’s Presence. And this can surely be done through Prayer, Compassion and Prophetic Action.
PRAYER helps us be aware of our exalted dignity as CITIZENS of the Kingdom of God (Identity). Prayer instills in us a sense of God’s Presence in all that we do and are. In the process, we become People of CONSCIENCE, consistently listening and responding to the Voice of God in all of our decisions and in every situation we find ourselves in;
COMPASSION helps us appreciate our privileged membership and special role (Purpose) into the COMMUNITY of God’s people and of the whole of mankind. Compassion is the fruit of a sense of Communion that sees everyone and everything in this world as a family. This communion deepens as we build the structures of JUSTICE that can guide us in relating with one another; and
PROPHETIC ACTION helps us realize our true calling and mission as AGENTS of the Kingdom of God (Responsibility)– “to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”(Is 61:1-2). Prophetic Action is borne out of a deep sense of sin, seeing the prevalence of deceit and falsehood, poverty, injustice, violence, scandals and degradation of man, creation and the environment. Such action takes on a strong sense of Mission to actively share in bringing here on earth the Kingdom of Heaven.
Our times need AUTHENTIC CHRISTIANS devoted to spreading the Culture of the FULLNESS of LIFE.
Let us respond to this challenge as we wait with joyful hope for the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ: