. . . . . .

Is There a Better Answer to “What On Earth Are You Here For?”

by Tommy on February 15, 2014

Earth from Space 300x169 Is There a Better Answer to What On Earth Are You Here For?You may recognize the article’s title as borrowing from the title of the second-best selling non-fiction book in American History, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Are You Here For? (November 2002) The author is Rick Warren, the now-famous pastor of a mega church in California. Selling millions of copies, the Bible is the only book it has not outsold.

I bought the book. At the time I considered myself an evangelical Christian. The first line of the book reads “It’s not about you.” I asked, if it’s not about me then why am I reading it? The more I read the more I felt I was being manipulated. The disparity between the book’s title and its contents reminded me of the old bait-and-switch trick.

The book never answers its own question unless you see it for what it really is, a book teaching you how to be a good church member. This explains its commercial success. Churches bought them as fast as the publisher could print them. For someone expecting more, the book could not have been more deflating.

I bought another book, The Reason Driven Life (2006) by Robert Price. Price began his career as a Baptist minister and has a PhD in systematic theology. He says he never quite bought into the traditional church. He has even gone so far as to become a crusader against the traditional church and has authored a number of books. This book is a point-by-point, chapter-by-chapter rebuttal to Warren’s book

In the introduction, Price writes “for Pastor Warren, the purpose of all human lives is to be a fundamentalist Christian. That, he says, is why God created you. Pardon me for wondering if the many fans of The Purpose Driven Life are like the Israelites rebuked by the prophet: ‘Why do you spend money for what is not bread and your wages for what does not satisfy’ (Isaiah 55:2)?”

Like many others I’ve asked myself questions like the one posed by Warren’s book. “What is the meaning of life?” “What is my purpose in life?” “Why does God let bad things happen?” Many turn to their religions for answers. Most of the time the answers from them aren’t answers at all. Others may try the latest New Age guru’s flavor-of-the-month spirituality. After the buzz wears off we’re right back where we started. We still are left empty and yearning.

To the above questions, here are some traditional replies with the follow up questions I have. “The meaning of life is to be saved and go to heaven.” To that I ask, “That’s all there is? ““Our purpose is to serve and please God.” To that I reply, “We were made to be God’s slave? To what end?” “God allows bad things to happen because we are sinful.” To that I protest, “What kind of loving God is that?”

Perhaps we can all agree that no answer is better than a wrong answer. The rational mind we have been given, if we are trying earnestly in our humanness to reconcile these things, may give up. The stubbornly religious may decide to hope for the best, while the disillusioned may become agnostic or atheist. I’m not judging. I get it. And none of us have all the answers. To paraphrase Lao Tzu from the Tao Te Ching – the know-it-all knows nothing. I also quote our gnostic apostle Paul, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

When the New York Times bestseller [g]od is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (November 2007) by Christopher Hitchens was released, the provocative title got my attention. I wanted to see what he had to say. He said a lot. One of his lines made me stop and think. “Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it.” I had never looked at it that way before.

Hitchens had a brilliant mind and was a successful journalist, activist, author and speaker. Hitchens saw the world’s religions, all of them, as co-conspirators against the human race. He saw wars, racism, poverty, greed and all kinds of injustice as proof there could not be a God as described by the religions. If the religions are wrong, the rational mind thinking inside the box says there must be no God at all.

If we’re honest most of us are empathetic with this reasoning if not the conclusion. Hitchens chose the cynical path, and perhaps he never saw an alternate path. Hitchens passed away from cancer in December 2011. Though I disagree with his view there is no God, which he threw out with the bathwater, I hated to see such an earnest genius go. Challenging the status quo can reveal the ‘truth’ or at a minimum expose a lie.

On one extreme we see a faith turned commercial enterprise with its mega churches, vapid bestsellers and rock star evangelists. On the other extreme we have people, like Hitchens, either not tuning in or tuning out God or some notion of God entirely. This is a serious matter if we are going to participate in the healing of our race and our planet. We must participate. This is why you and I are here – our purpose on planet earth.

We can’t talk about purpose and the meaning of life without at least mentioning happiness. Our wish in this lifetime for ourselves and for others is to be happy. I don’t mean happy as in Disneyland magic kingdom happy or perfect life without worries and cares happy. I mean happiness as contentment in a deeper spiritual sense. Can we ever be happy when we are left wondering is this all there is? Knowing our purpose and being happy go hand in hand. We cannot be truly happy until we know our purpose.

Happiness, or contentment, can have its ups and downs. Returning to our gnostic apostle, Paul said he had learned to be content both in times of plenty and times of need (Philippians 4:10-20). Is he speaking of ‘plenty’ and ‘need’ only in material terms? No, he also is speaking in spiritual terms. At times we feel close to God. Other times we feel very distant. This is only natural in the predicament in which spiritual beings find themselves. It is part of the growing process.

For the spiritual Christian influenced by Paul and the Gospels, contentment, even joy, is in knowing ourselves, our inner Christ, and knowing God, the Father of All. It is the contentment of knowing our beginning so that we know our end (Gospel of Thomas saying 18). This is a good topic for contemplation. Do you know your end? Do you know your beginning? Are you happy?

In our tentative existence here on planet earth there are opposites; good and evil, light and darkness, love and hate. The opposite of contentment is anxiety. No one likes feeling anxious. Not knowing our true self and separation from God leads to the kind of despair the 19th century existentialist Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) called the “Sickness unto Death.” The greater the distance between self and God the greater the anxiety we feel, even despair.

Kierkegaard’s psychological introspective as I understand it was that our anxiety and feelings of despair are the result of a conflict between our human nature and striving for moral perfection over against our innate inability to be perfect. He wrote: “in all despair there is an interplay of finitude and infinitude, of the divine and the human, of freedom and necessity.” Kierkegaard concluded in ironic fashion, “The cure is simply to die, to die to the world.”

We understand the words ‘world’ and ‘worldly to mean the people and institutions that place self-centered demands on us. These demands are ego driven. The world is the ‘collective ego’ in all of its expressions; political oppression, religious intolerance and social injustice, etc.

Dying to the world, or ego if you will, opens up life in the spirit. What can separate us from life in the spirit? Sin can. Paul writes “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) On one level sin is allowing the ego to rule over us. On another level, sin is unconsciousness of the Christ within. These cause separation from God. Separation from God is spiritual death, for God is Spirit. Contrary to the traditional definition of sin, sin is not an act of disobedience to God. Sin is the terminal condition of ego-rule over against the eternal condition of Christ-rule. Dying is living in the world without Christ. Living is dying to the world with Christ.

“For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

 “For you have died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3)

“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds….(Romans 12:2)

“If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as one of its own. You do not belong to the world. Because I chose you out of the world, the world hates you.” (John 15:19)

When we die to the world and begin living in Christ, we become members of the same mystical Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-14). In the Body we each have a part in bringing the created order back into harmony with the Divine, as it was in the beginning. We become woven together as fibers into the fabric of cosmic reintegration.

As Paul wrote about the end-of-time consummation in which we will participate, “God in Christ will be All and in All” (1 Corinthians 15:28). Our purpose isn’t to be a good church member. Our purpose is to be One in Christ, regardless of religion with or without church. It is about you, me and us. This is the answer to “What on Earth Are We Here For?”

About these articles, I try to allow the Holy Spirit to lead. They seem to write themselves. I’m just the fingers on the keyboard. In subsequent articles we will explore gnostic cosmology-mythology and its attempt to answer ‘what is God’, ‘why do bad things happen’ and ‘what is our beginning and end.’ Please bear with me as finding time to write isn’t always easy.

It might appear that I am hostile toward church. Critical, yes. Hostile, no. Church, synagogue, temple and mosque have a positive function. They provide a community structure where people can support one another and share their love with others. Where there is love there is God. Many do good things for the less fortunate and uplift their communities. For many, including myself, church is where we first heard the Savior’s call. I don’t want to paint with a brush too broadly, and the number of people seeking a spiritual life is growing. I don’t want to dismantle church. I want to change it.

May Christ be in you!

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Cynthia February 15, 2014 at 12:31 pm

Far too many times we ask so many questions to which we will not get answers because we determined to have a preconceived notions as to what the answer should be. If we spent our time enjoying what the creator has given us “life in abundance.”
But because we are so blinded to truth we focus on the most minute details that take us away from the Love that is so prevalent in nature and the beauty of it all we miss the mark.
Living is dying to the world in Christ. (When we no longer to listen to the thoughts of the world)

Reply

2 Tommy February 15, 2014 at 9:39 pm

Hi Cynthia,
I’m never more at peace than when I’m observing nature. I feel close to God when I’m outdoors, watching birds, walking trails, sitting by a stream, looking across mountains, listening to the wind blow through the leaves of big oak trees. In those moments the world grows very dim.
Tommy

Reply

3 Sheila February 15, 2014 at 12:41 pm

What a great article Tommy! Nice, easy to read style. Inspiring. Common sense. I am in agreement with you, and looking forward to hearing what else you have to say. Many blessings!

Reply

4 Tommy February 15, 2014 at 8:34 pm

Thank you, Sheila. I’m working on the next article and it digs a little deeper from the Christian Gnostic perspective.

Reply

5 Robert February 15, 2014 at 3:30 pm

Wow. Great article. From Rick Warren to Christopher Hitchtens. What a stretch. Now we know what doesn’t work. Look forward to your future articles about better answers.

Reply

6 Vic Proulx February 15, 2014 at 3:41 pm

Good reading, thank you. In the Messianic congregation I attended, there was (is) no thought of personal growth, beyond stopping bad behavior. Some of the great egos of our time are in the church, and what you write would be meaningless to them. Or if they did understand, you would – I suspect – be rejected. As you may know, I believe the Beatitudes were given as a method to step out of the ego into the kingdom. I would go so far as to say that to one living as “One in Christ,” the question “what are we here for?” becomes empty and pointless.

I ran into a definition that relates to God as spirit, and how we worship sans ego. I was looking at John 24:4 ” God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. ” ‘Truth” here is defined by the Blueletter Bible as: “that candour of mind which is free from affection, pretense, simulation, falsehood, or deceit.”

Shalom

Reply

7 Robert February 15, 2014 at 8:25 pm

Vic,

My experience in the Messianic culture was not as bad as you experienced, but after awhile I developed a conflict with my emerging spirituality and the vestiges of religious fundamentalism in the congregation. It was not so much with the leadership, who were kind, intelligent, and open-hearted. But it was kind of like a virus that came in with some of the various members who had once been members of different churches, and who were hooked on TV evangelists.

But there was always a spirit of joy at the Sabbath services,. The musicians were very talented, Everyone had a spirit of celebration when the Torah was carried around. I felt moved during singing my favorite hymns in Hebrew. The Rabbi borrowed a trick from Joel Osteen and always started his sermon with a joke. I don’t remember getting too deep into bad behavior. It was something you did on your own, reflecting on your faults, especially as Yom Kippur approached. The members of the congregation, including the youth, would put on a comedic 1 hour presentation of the story of Ester, and everyone would twirl the little gizmos when Haman got his due.

But I found I could not participate in a bible study discussion anymore without wanting to bust the fundamentalist bubble, even though I restrained myself (zipped the lip, actually).

The one time I did not zip the lip was at a very small, informal Christian fellowship with people I was good friends with, and who I felt I could be less guarded and a little more expressive. My comments made them suspect I was not saved or had gotten mixed up in a cult, and caused them anguish. The more I tried to explain myself the worse it got. I had very few diplomatic skills at the time. I’ve gotten somewhat better since then.

I especially learned a lot from presentation of the blueletter bible definition of truth. as used in John 24.4. By affection, I think it means predisposed bias rather than a physical display of warmth and acceptance..

Reply

8 Robert February 15, 2014 at 4:19 pm

The paraphrase from the Gospel of Thomas was a bit too enigmatic for my taste, so I am including a translation of the whole saying. It made a little more sense, but still enigmatic.

(18) The disciples said to Jesus: Tell us how our end will be. Jesus said: Since you have discovered the beginning, why do you seek the end? For where the beginning is, there will the end be. Blessed is he who shall stand at the beginning (in the beginning), and he shall know the end, and shall not taste death.

Some interpretation is at http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/thomas/gospelthomas18.html

Reply

9 Tommy February 15, 2014 at 8:30 pm

Hi Robert,
The Gospel of Thomas and the Gnostic gospels in general are very enigmatic. I have a difficult time understanding them, and often times do not. The translation of this saying I have by Marvin Meyer reads a little differently. Jesus is impatient with his disciples as they are so preoccupied, perhaps anxious, with what will happen to them. Jesus says with sarcasm: “Have you discovered the beginning, then, that you seek the end?” Some of them still don’t get a lot of things he has tried to teach them. We see Jesus’ frustration at times in the canonical Gospels as well.

Saying 19 gives additional light. Jesus said: “Blessed is one who came into being before coming into being.” Saying 49 helps even more. Jesus said: “Blessed are those who are alone and chosen, for you will find the kingdom. For you have come from it, and you will return there again.” To know ourselves is to know our beginning. I know this is a strange idea, but, hey, Gnostics are strange. I recommend Marvin Meyer’s edition of the Nag Hammadi Library. It’s a little more readable than other translations. The commentaries are very helpful. I’m glad you’re interested and digging in. I need a friend who shares an interest.
Happy seeking!
Tommy

Reply

10 Robert February 16, 2014 at 4:52 pm

I’m sure you can help me understand the Gnostic gospels. Thanks. Have to focus on other things right now, but will get back to you soon, friend.

Reply

11 adrianne February 17, 2014 at 5:03 am

Hi Josh as usual a great article. I think we have got so caught up in Religion that we miss the very simple reason Christ came. The Christ comes to heal the lost, does that mean the whole world is lost, I don’t think so. It means those who have lost sight of themselves and become fragmented. I was one of them so I completely understand this process and I experienced the light which is bringing me back to myself. If you take it as meaning the whole world you sit in judgement of the world and never partake in life, in the fullness of who you are. You end up having a mental picture of a figurative God instead of growing yourself in experiences (good and bad) and becoming a conscious living part of the Eternal I am. We mak it so complicated. Thank you for your wisdom in bringing for the true meaning of the Christ, which is consciousness of yourself as a part of God experienceing itself in human form. Born free as free as the wind blows as free as the grass grows born free to follow your heart. A great song! Adrianne.

Reply

12 Robert February 17, 2014 at 9:43 am

Josh, Tommy

“We’re here for the beer, dude.” :} (College freshman seeking initiation into Greek tradition)

Seriously, someone should do a post on the symbolic meaning of the reunification of the two houses of Israel, if it has not been done already.

Reply

13 Sparks February 17, 2014 at 1:28 pm

Thomas,
Another outstanding essay/article as you bring forth the difference’s of Orthodox Christianity and Gnostic Christianity and they are indeed two different aspects of the earliest organized understandings of God, Christ and why we are here…

All of the Gnostic teaching’s were not for gain; flip all the coins orthodox Christianity has earned, not only through purposely hiding many truths, but for persecuting orthodox Christians (to gain new recruits for blood sacrifices) innocents to an ungodly end to achieve their goals.
All in Christ’s name. I think not!
Orthodox Christianity has fed the religious machine/economy for thousands of years.
Creating an misaligned, confused society, it remains without structure for Spirituality to fully evolve.

We have to wonder? Why is all this knowledge coming to fruition now?
Possibly there may have been a divine reason for this, there is a duality of natures in orthodox & gnostic views, the former being worldly and the gnostic being heavenly/divine.

Keep up the great work Thomas, I certainly always appreciate your divinely inspired writings!
Blessings Always,
Sparks

Reply

14 Brian February 18, 2014 at 3:00 pm

The most memorable idea I have ever heard about the meaning of life is that “life is an opportunity to add value.”

I am here at the pleasure of all those generations of life that came before me; that struggled to add value to the genetic code. I have been given three score and ten years to add what wisdom I can intuit to the wisdom of the world.

Is it not marvelous to contemplate that as an embryo, I went through every stage of evolution (apart from a few redundent steps) from a single cell right up to thinking human being; half a billion years of evolution in just 9 months. Life is such an incredible gift. Why waste it speculating on whether you are going to get a second one after you die. That day, that problem is what I say.

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

“Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”
― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.”
― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

It is time to realise that belief, in the form tribal dogma, can only get us so far.

Belief is only a comforting resting place on the much longer journey in search of a more elusive deeper truth. Our job in life is to journey beyond the beliefs of our ancestors and refuse to ever accept half-truth, when we know the real truth is there; if only we can make the effort to use these amazing tools we have been given.

The Bible is static. Our Minds are dynamic. Think, don’t just believe!

This is a great thread, isn’t it. Thank you all for adding value to it; even if you just read it with an open mind.

Reply

15 Robert February 18, 2014 at 11:04 pm

Brian,

I like the contribution aspect your describe. It is fulfilling to add value. The Gnostic Christians in general (there are so many kinds) put less emphasis on the afterlife and more on the importance and joy ofe idea experiencing this one, moment by moment; and the more modern ones echo your sentiments “Life is such an incredible gift. Why waste it speculating on whether you are going to get a second one after you die? That day, that problem… is what I say.”

I get the idea of not being preoccupied with heaven after, but seek heaven here. I like the idea of not just continually bearing suffering in the hope of a better afterlife or reincarnation, instead of digging in and resolving issues to reduce the suffering here and now. I think that was Buddha’s intention to reduce suffering.

Evenso, the issue of afterlife does not disappear for me. Fundamentalists are convinced with mental certainty that they will go to heaven when they die, as sure as they believe they are saved; and they picture what it will be like. Whereas many esoterics seem to be more comfortable with not having to know the unknown; just experience it when we get there, just enjoy the ride. Maybe we’ll be worm food and that’s all there is. I might be alright with that today, but if that is what I could be thinking when I take my last breath, I hope I am too doped up on pain meds to think.

There is also some confusion in the way esoterics dance around new definitions of eternal life, a kind of spiritual life in the here and now that may or may not continue after the three score and ten. Is acceptance of potential non-existence after death a form of death denial? Death? What death? I’ll figure it out later.

There is a lot of ambiguity in the words life, death and eternity when you cross back and forth from exoteric to esoteric, from plain meaning to symbolic.

Maybe someone can do a post on the afterlife in esoteric and Gnostic thought. In the literature, the older Gnostics may not have emphasized the afterlife, but they did not ignore it either. If someone does decide to do that post, you might find this article helpful http://www.scribd.com/doc/58005754/The-Hereafter-in-the-Gnostic-Religion. Its kind of an academic article. There may be more exciting ones, but it’s a start.

Here, now and eternally,
Robert

Reply

16 Joshua Tilghman February 28, 2014 at 12:10 am

Tommy,

A well-written piece. Thanks for the contribution here at SOS.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: