What is the purpose of life? I believe this question is embedded in the heart of every person. We are all asking and answering it, even if we are not aware of doing so.
As I have written before, believing that God created the world and human beings is foundational to finding any real purpose at all. Furthermore, I believe that the God who created us has revealed himself in the Bible. And in the Bible, he has also revealed his purpose for us.
I remember the day I discovered the simple and powerful answer to this universal question. I was in college, sitting in a Sunday School classroom reading the Bible before things got started. In the Bible story I was reading, an expert of the Jewish Law asked Jesus a question: “Which commandment is the most important of all?” What an opportunity and what a question! God had given the Jews hundreds of commandments in the Old Testament. Here is Jesus, God in the flesh, and he was asked to boil it all down to the most important commandment of them all! His answer is no less amazing and satisfying. Quoting from Deuteronomy 6:4, Jesus answered,
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
And you shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart and with all your soul
and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
This is it. This is what God wants from us. God created us to have a personal, loving relationship with him. I’m not sure if I could have guessed what Jesus was going to say, but when I heard it, it answered the longings of my heart.
As I sat there in that Sunday School classroom as an 19 year old young man reading this passage, my life took a new direction. I had grown up in church and heard the Bible taught my entire life. I had undoubtedly heard these verses before. But that morning I understood them. I realized that I had been striving to “be good” or to “be a good Christian.” I was failing to see that there was something greater than doing the right thing. Jesus severely criticized the Jewish teachers for knowing the Scriptures, keeping the law, and failing to do what God really wanted. They failed to love him.
Hundreds of passages throughout the Bible reveal that God wants us to love him. The whole Bible, from beginning to end, speaks of relationship with God. We see it in God’s relationship with the Patriarchs, God’s covenant with Israel and hatred of idolatry, the sending of his own Son to take our punishment and provide forgiveness, the personal, indwelling presence of God by his Spirit, and the fulfillment of all creation in the marriage supper of the Lamb, uniting Christ and his Bride, the Church.
When we discover that God’s purpose for us to is love him, everything changes. Why we do what we do matters to God. Being good without loving God is empty. Loving God is the real good, without which being good doesn’t even count. And it is in love that we find the joy and satisfaction of life.