Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Goal and a Mission

I read the itinerary in Numbers 33 for my daily quiet time.  What I'd like to write about today is the goal of life.

I started by thinking about the broad-sweeping history in the Hebrew Bible.  When did it come to be, and why?  At what time would a people develop a broad-sweeping history that would assert that she as a nation had a significant mission or goal as a people?  As far as I know, you don't see too many other nations in the ancient Near East that believed that they had a divine mission.  (Or did they?  The king of Egypt, to use an example, thought that he was supposed to uphold the stability of the cosmos.)

In my opinion, Israel developed a sense of divine mission in exile, as she was searching for something to keep her as a people together, when her national institutions had collapsed.  Israelites were now among Gentiles and were even ruled by other countries.  In the midst of this, I think, Israel embraced the view that God had a plan for her even in this situation----to bring the Gentiles to the worship of God.

Before the exile, Israel probably had a cult and worshiped a national God, like other nations.  Israel may have even had stories about her ancestors and her God, as other nations had stories about their gods.  Israel could have even believed that her God rewarded her for obedience and punished her for disobedience, as other nations thought about their gods.  But would Israel before exile have developed a large-scale narrative about her having a mission to bring the nations to the worship of God and a state of blessedness?  I'm rather skeptical, but I'm open to different ideas on this.

Then I thought about the goal of life.  Israel in Numbers 33 had a goal, the Promised Land.  That sort of story may have developed in exile, when there were a number of Jews who were away from their country and wanted to return to it.  Early Christianity, specifically the Epistle to the Hebrews, offered a spiritualized interpretation of the Promised Land, seeing it as a post-mortem rest that believers will enter (or so I understand Hebrews). 

What is the goal of life?  Is it to go to heaven or the good afterlife?  If that were the case, then why are we even here?  Why didn't God put us in heaven at the outset?   In my opinion, the goal of life is for us to become like Christ----to have a good character.  And I agree with something that C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity: that God wants to make us perfect, and he will spend as much time as it takes----in this life and, if necessary, the next----to realize this goal.

But do things work out that way?  There are many people with character defects even when they become old and die.  And there are people who don't even get a chance to develop character because they die early on in life.  And yet, in terms of coming up with a goal that can get me out of bed each morning----a goal beyond mere survival----I'd say that becoming like Christ is a worthy goal.


  1. Hi James,

    I like what you say about how Israel got its story, it looks very reasonable to me. I'm inclined to take it as a useful working hypothesis.

    What is the goal of our lives? I think it is to enjoy and explore God's creation for ever. That creation is bigger than we now know, and we will never exhaust enjoying and exploring it. We begin doing it now. Of course, the trouble is, this present world has awful things in it. I don't know what to make of that. If this world hadn't had awful things in it, I think my answer would be more evident.

    The Catholic catechism (at least when I learned it!) goes: 'Why did God make you? God made me to know him, love him and serve him in this world and to be happy with him forever in the next'. This looks to me to imply our goal is 'the beatific vision'.
    "Thomas (Aquinas) reasons that one is perfectly happy only when all one's desires are perfectly satisfied"

    I don't agree. We are finite beings and always will be, so we can only relate finitely to the finite. Unsatisfied desires don't necessarily make us unhappy, there's going to be a lot of fun enjoying and exploring things rather than there being a need to have everything all given to us together in a 'beatific vision'. (I would like to know why we have to go through this 'awful' life first, but I am inclined to think we will never understand why, but I don't consider the 'frustration' of not knowing that, or knowing or doing many other things, will be any big deal, when we are in the Kingdom/Heaven.)

    But another aspect of the Beatific Vision idea is that our fulfillment is supposed to be totally in a direct personal relationship (with God). This puts me in mind of the infant/mother relationship, or the man/woman 'in love' relationship. As important to us as is what might be put as the satisfactions of the gaze on one's beloved (with the attendant heightened feelings), it seems to me there is more to us than that, more indeed between persons than a gaze. There's a lot to enjoy and explore of that, and every aspect of personal relationship, and all sorts of things other than that, deeper and deeper and broader and broader and more and more for ever and ever.

    So, are we here to become like Christ. Yes, but what does that mean? Christ, after all, became like we are! What was jesus's relationship with God? What did Jesus think about God? What feelings were engaged of Jesus's towards God? What was Jesus's relationship, thoughts about, feelings towards people and the rest of the world? I take it Jesus was aware like all humans are aware, he didn't have a 'beatific vision' as he went about on Earth! He didn't have 'all knowledge', etc. He was enjoying and exploring the world like us (with his own 'mission', of course, though he might only have become aware of that at his baptism). I suppose Jesus got a lot of his knowledge about God from reading the Scriptures, like any other Jew. And he developed and enjoyed and shared his knowledge and powers of thinking and emotional scope by living his life, as we do.

    Anyway, I'll end here by saying I don't think the goal of life is just to acquire a 'character' of some sort (an ethical character?), important as that is.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Davey! I agree with you on exploring and enjoying.

    I'll be gone the next few days, so I won't be getting to comments then (even though my posts will still appear since they've been scheduled in advance).


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