For so long I didn’t understand the purpose of life. Not in a “what is the meaning of life” sense, but much of what I heard about the purpose of life seemed to center not around life, but life after death. The sense I got from going to church was that life mattered only in as much as one went to heaven after you died. That the whole reason for life was to come to faith in Jesus so you could go to heaven and then you just waited until it was time to go (or if you were a Super Christian – try to get other people to go with you). I even heard one pastor say that life was like a camping trip – sure it’s kind of neat for a little while, but then you just want to go home. This didn’t sit well with me (as someone who loves camping or as someone who was living). To me, life itself mattered.It had to. I just didn’t always know why.
It seemed as if most Christian’s understanding of the life was to be reconciled to God so you could go to heaven. But if that were true then life had no meaning before the fall. Was there intrinsic value in life? What if there had never been a need for reconciliation – what was the purpose of life? Then one day, I heard someone talking about the original purpose of life. Genesis 2:15 tells us that God put man in the garden to work it and keep it (really to cultivate it) – this is commonly called the cultural mandate. People were created in God’s image – in the image of a creator – and placed in the world to cultivate it; to demonstrate the nature of God by working and cultivating beauty in the world.
If this is true, then reconciliation is not simply restoring us to a right relationship with God. It’s also about restoring us to our original purpose. And in this, we see the purpose of our lives – to demonstrate, work for, and cultivate the beauty of the kingdom of God – to display God’s nature through creative acts – whether that is cultivating beauty through the arts, restoring the dignity of lives around us by helping others, or caring for and protecting the world that God has created.
While being reconciled to God is essential to life, our purpose goes beyond our personal relationship with God to cultivating a world that reflects God – just as we were meant to reflect Him.
There’s a section of Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring where Sam is given the chance to glance into the Mirror of Galadriel – a magical mirror that can show the viewer what is happening, or will happen, or might happen. Sam looks in and sees his home in danger and longs to be home. But going home at this point would mean leaving his master and friend, Frodo, and not carrying out his mission. Although his desire for his home is great, he decides to follow his master and finish the work he set out to do. He would reach home again, but he was resolute to “go home by the long road, or not at all.”
While what awaits us when life is done is amazing, there is much to do that we were created for.