Daily, I see people pursuing things they believe will make them happy. They live lives where one must be sleep deprived to the point of exhaustion to really be taking advantage of all that this life has to offer. They are always looking for the newest thing-be it the newest movie, TV show or iPhone. Recently, Apple unveiled the new “iPod touch,” the self-proclaimed “funnest iPod ever.” Far be it from me to be a part of the grammar police, but I have been working hard at keeping my kids from using the terms “funner and funnest” (how hard is it to say, “most fun iPod ever?”) and, besides, who needs 32GB of RAM to hold 7000 songs? Who has 7000 songs? Clearly, you are not the “funnest” person around if you don’t have an iPod touch, and all of us want to be that. So, we end up taking an extra part time job to pay for our new iPod—sacrificing the physical and emotional rest we need.
Humanity has become trapped in a culture that cannot rest, because most of us do not have a destination. They are always chasing a moving target, and cannot find satisfaction. This moving target is great for manufacturers and advertising agencies, but horrible on human souls. This frenetic pursuit ultimately will lead to exhaustion, depression and disillusionment, because we cannot stop looking for fulfillment of purpose even when it is misdirected.
As Christians or followers of “the Way,” as the apostle Paul puts it, we understand that human beings are in one very clear sense in an unnatural state without a clear sense of purpose. The apostle Paul points out in Ephesians 2 that, before Christ, we were “dead in our trespasses and sins,” following the “prince of the power of the air,” and that we were “carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Our sin affects every part of our being, making us unable to know or pursue what is truly best for us. The prophet Jeremiah points out that the level of corruption in our own hearts makes it impossible for us to understand ourselves (Jer. 17:9). Our human state of sin causes us to vainly pursue true satisfaction. Swiss theologian Karl Barth states in his work Church Dogmatics that because of our sinful nature we are blind and deaf to the real source of truth, and that we live in a world of dreams where what we think we know only shows the depth of our ignorance. To put it mildly, sin compromises our capacity to clearly understand what we as humans need for our success and happiness.
Only by the grace of God and the atoning work of his son Jesus Christ, through his death on the cross, are we able to come to an accurate understanding of what it means to flourish as a human being. This is not something we can understand through the work of Plato and Aristotle or any modern psychologist who is attempting to explain why it is that our western lifestyle leads to depression. This salvation that comes through the work of Jesus Christ not only changes our position before God because of the forgiveness of sins, but also enables us, through the Holy Spirit’s labor, to be able to comprehend our humanity. Our ignorance about the totality of reality around us prior to our salvation is repeatedly illustrated in Scripture by the concept of darkness. First Peter 2:9 states that God “called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” In Acts 26:18 the apostle Paul, describing his conversion experience on the Damascus Road, quotes Jesus who tells Paul he is sending him to the Gentiles, “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” It is God who calls us out of our own intellectual and spiritual darkness into the illumined world of understanding.
If we are to have any notion about what our true purpose is, God must give it to us through his illumination of our minds. Karl Barth writes in volume IV of the Church Dogmatics:
Illumination, however, is the seeing of which man was previously incapable but of which he is now capable. It is thus his advancement to knowledge. That the revelation of God shines on him and in him, takes place in such a way that he hears, receives, understands, grasps and appropriates what is said to him in it, not with new and special organs, but with the same organs of apperception with which he knows other things, yet not in virtue of his own capacity to use them, but virtue of the missing capacity which he is now given by God’s revelation.
Barth is pointing out that God’s illumination enables us to gain knowledge that we could not have without his intervening revelation. Consequently, prior to God’s illumination, even our best attempt to craft a coherent understanding of true human purpose falls woefully short.
In our society we are driven by a desire to carve out our own destiny. We are encouraged to be our own woman or man. We are told if we only work hard enough there is nothing we can’t do. In reality there is a great deal of things that we should not do, and, yet, we doggedly pursue our “success” when it may very well destroy us. We would do well listening to the admonition found in James 4:13ff :
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.”
All of these empty pursuits, all of these attempts to find what truly completes us is just chasing after the wind—if they are done without looking toward God and His wisdom. We cannot just pursue what we want and throw a cursory prayer over our shoulder and say, “God, will you bless this endeavor I have decided to pursue?” And expect Him to bless our pursuits. Without petitioning the one who is complete wisdom we will be unable to tell dark from light, north from south or up from down, and we will be enticed by the siren songs of this world which only lead to destruction. So we all need to get some sleep, take time in prayer, His word, and, thereby learn to pursue His best for us.