TLimS Week 4: John 6
Alright, so this is part two (of three) on how the Lord is our shepherd in that He provides for (not just our needs, but also) our wants and desires. Last week, I attempted to break down the structure of desire and to argue that really, our wants and God's wants shouldn't be thought of as separate and distinct. Instead, as we know God, our thoughts and His thoughts become one and the same, and we can hear God inside our own thoughts and desires. This week, I want to deal with the important question of why would we ever want to want the same things as God? Isn't it better to want what we want? How does God reveal Himself as our shepherd by "brainwashing" us?
These are completely valid questions, and I think the best way for me to tackle this is simply sharing a struggle that I've faced for most of my life: a struggle for significance.
For as long as I can remember, I've valued efficiency. I just always liked getting the most out of my time. In high school, I remember my goal every day was to finish all my homework before school was over! I'd often succeed just by sneaking in a few minutes here, and a few minutes there, during class and passing period. Well, along with my obsession with utilizing my time efficiently came a desire for my life and my time to be meaningful--I mean really meaningful.
So a natural question that I thought about, even in high school, was the meaning of life. It's a bit cliche but I really wanted to understand what life was about, because I thought if I knew the answer to this, I could orient my life towards this goal and really maximize the meaningfulness of my life. Of course, this is really wrong in a lot of ways, and since my college days, I've grown a lot in this area (at least I'd like to think so... but if you ask Elanor, my wife, she might [read: definitely would] say differently =P).
In high school, the answer I ran with was really simple and straightforward: God. I didn't really know what else to add to that answer, but I knew that if God was the creator of the universe, then well, the meaning of life must be to serve and glorify God, right? Seems simple enough.
In college, my answer to the meaning of life evolved a bit, but not much. Instead of being a vague "serve and glorify," I began to believe that concretely, this meant loving other people, and especially sharing the gospel and discipleship.
Post-college, my struggle with existentialism (meaninglessness) really grew and developed. I think this was because I had far more time than I knew what to do with and because suddenly, my life was wide open--there were so many choices that I had the freedom to choose! This really made it hard to understand the meaning of life, because I realized I could serve and glorify God anywhere, doing almost anything! The same goes for loving people, sharing the gospel, and discipleship--and even in the midst of my many existential crises, I never really stopped doing any of this.
If the meaning of life is supposed to be these things, how come I could do them but still not feel like my life was full of meaning? The feeling of meaninglessness is something I still struggle with periodically.
A quick note: I'm not implying here that any of these answers are necessarily wrong. Instead, I am going to suggest that they are answers to a slightly different questions. Maybe the question, "What does God want for us" or "What does God want for the world," but not, "What is the meaning of life?"
I began to really investigate the answer to all this--and that meant reading the Word! And what better book to go through than the book of Ecclesiastes. This book was written by King Solomon (at least most historians believe it was him), a man described as the wisest man who ever lived, and a man who had literally everything (we're talking concubines, bling bling, power, palaces, respect, love... everything). King Solomon is not some mythical storybook character--archaeologists and historians alike have documented his immense wealth and are still digging up artifacts that they believed belonged to him!
I don't really have time or space to go through the ENTIRE book of Ecclesiastes (nor do I think you would want me to), but let me give a very quick synopsis and then skip to the end. The general gist is that Solomon decided to go on a quest to figure out the meaning of life. He used all his resources and all his powers to try just about everything, from helping people and doing good deeds, to eating awesome foods and drinking incredible wine. From working really hard, to just chilling and doing nothing all day. From sleeping with thousands (literally) of women, to diving into deep, genuine love (Song of Songs). This is his conclusion found in Ecclesiastes 12:13-14: "Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil."
Umm... what? Huh? I don't know if you caught that, but he didn't answer the freaking question! After twelve chapters, with all this testing and doing crazy things, philosophizing and Solomon talking about meaninglessness and the temporary nature of wisdom and foolishness and all kinds of everything, he ends up with... love God, pursue Him, and He will judge it all in the end. I've heard some commentaries conclude that this is Solomon's answer to the meaning of life... that in fact, Solomon is concluding (along with other passages in Ecclesiastes) that the meaning of life is to serve and glorify God.
I don't really think that is what Solomon is saying. I mean, yes, he is saying that, but he's not answering "the meaning of life" question. Instead, (and read in context of the entire book) he's admitting that there is nothing of meaning on this Earth. And because Solomon has ruled out everything (again, being absolutely literal here) on Earth, in our physical and tangible world we live in, then the only thing left is God. It's a process of elimination. The only thing left, is above heaven... the things we can't touch or see. These are the things that can give us meaning, but in the end, only God, who judges at the end, can determine who, what, where, when, and how meaning is given to us in our life.
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is found in John 6. It is where Jesus tells a large crowd of thousands of disciples that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life, the life that keeps on giving. Of course, even the twelve closest disciples have a tough time swallowing Jesus' insinuation that they should all become cannibals, and many from the crowd decide to stop following Jesus. Jesus turns to his twelve and ask if they too will now leave, and Simon Peter says, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God."
Why should we want what God wants? Why should we submit ourselves to brainwashing and why should we give up our desires for God's desires? Because the truth is, there is nothing for us here on Earth. Nothing here has meaning. It's been tried, tested, and true. The only place for us to go is God, our shepherd. He is the only one with eternal life. He is the only one who can give our lives meaning.
When we trust that God's wants are better than our wants, He provides meaning for us. And what we'll interestingly find is that when our desires line up with God's, both vertically and horizontally, He provides us a life worth living--one that is all us and all Him. We are not brainwashed in the end... instead, we become partners in Christ, partners with God in creating meaning for ourselves and meaning for our lives and even meaning for God's kingdom. When we want what He wants, the Lord becomes our shepherd and He provides desires that are beyond our wildest dreams. This is what I'll talk about more next week, in the last part of this section looking at God providing for our wants.
Thanks for reading! Hope God blesses you through this, and in general in your life!