Does Life Have a Purpose?

We all long for a sense of meaning in our lives. The Curiosity Collective brings together thought leaders, authors, philosophers, and theologians to examine whether or not life has a purpose.

Questions for Discussion and Personal Reflection

  1. Can you share both a time when life seemed like a random series of events and a time when it seemed like there was an intentional plan unfolding?
  2. If you believe we all have a purpose, what role does God play in that—if any?

[Background] I like these too. Yeah? Yes, please.

Um, I, I feel like, for the longest time, my, my purpose was to convince people that I'm good enough, convince people that I'm really talented, convince people that they should like me, um, convince people that if they make fun of me, I will punch them.

I think American culture teaches us to make it happen. I mean, if you're gonna be successful, you just got to make it happen. So it's all about your-- the strength of your inertia moving forward or higher. I think that's exhausting.

We all wonder about our place in life. You know, maybe it's because we're different, or maybe it's because we feel like we're the exact same as everybody else.

I think that our world is becoming more and more complex. Um, and, and our lives are becoming more and more accelerated. I think we're all trying to find— as human beings— meaning in all of our technological devices and gadgets, how we spend our time. I mean, I'm, I'm amazed at how much time we Americans spend just watching television and screens. And, um, this larger question of, like, Does this have any purpose? Like, what are we, what are we here for?

There was a famous little book written— really short— called "Here Is New York" by E.B. White. And he said, "What makes New York, New York is three kinds of people." Number one, you get, like, a person who's from New York. They are natives, and they hardly even notice the city. You get locusts. They're people who basically live outside of the city but consume its resources. And then the last person is the person who moves here with personal ambition, because they need a world stage for their perceived greatness to be realized. Los Angeles, for the most part, is about the veneer of beauty, but New York is about the pursuit of power. People take— they reroute their longing for God, and they just channel it towards something else. They invest, with holy religious zeal— uh, the same things that Christians or religious people do into religion— they invest that into their careers or their relationships or their parenting or whatever else that is.

One of the most popular rock songs of all time is Mick Jagger's song, "I can't get no... satisfaction," and, um, gosh, I really relate to that. For a long time, I just had this gnawing sense that if I could just discover the right thing, if I could just maybe get a better job or have enough financial blessing or find the right person that loved me or, um, maybe even have the right kids with the right accolades, so I could put the bumper sticker on the back of my car— My kid's a straight-A student. And then I'd feel satisfied.

The problem with answering, Is there a purpose for our lives? is that the question itself is driven by what I call utilitarian pragmatism— where we have to define everything and reduce it to a manageable piece before we can begin to play and explore. And as an artist, I don't do that. I start with a question, and I leave it unanswered. Um, so many times, I don't have an answer for why I am doing a particular piece of work, or why I'm involved in, in a, in a particular way of approaching my community, or, um my marriage, or lives of our children. But I'm comfortable with the mystery, um, and, and the open-endedness of that question. So, um, I, I often work backwards, and um, I try to find that purpose at the end of the journey, rather than at the beginning.

My son and I were working on a pinewood derby car over the last couple of months. We worked super hard. We sanded and, you know, cut the, the wood and painted it and polished the wheels and made the pinstripe and you know, you think about all the things that are wrapped up in that small, little 20-hour project. Um, you know, like, here's the goal, here's where we're headed, here are the tools we need to do this. The bonding and the relationship and the, the apprenticeship from, you know, me to him to use the drill press and to use the different tools— um, like, this idea of, like, having something— it, like, it, it brought us together in a way that was, was really cool. And when you think about, like, our larger purpose and you think about, like, how our lives are, are being lived, um, you know, is it possible that we're— like, God— it, it, like, like God's working with us to do some sort of project in the world, to, to, to do something good, to, to enjoy each other together during that process. It feels like, to understand even a small, little project like a pinewood derby car, you, you, you get the idea that our lives were made for some sort of purpose.

You know, I think, I think we each have a role to play in the world and that part of that role, uh, is that we're supposed to be here kind of fixing things that are broken. That part of our purpose is to participate with God, who wants to see things that are, um, wrong made right, uh, that are injustice made just. Uh, and I think each of us have a pretty unique story to play out within that. Uh, and a, and a lot of it comes down to understanding our own story.

If we lay our life out, if we look at all the pieces of our lives— where we were born, the suffering that we've been through, the gifts that we have, the personality that we have, the, the places that, that God's led us now, the places that we work, the things we do with our free time— If, if you just lay all of that out, all of a sudden, you start to look really unique. And I think that God wants us to see the pieces of our lives that, that he's given us— that we have— that are unique, and in that time and place with our gifting with our personality, use us.

No man knows his purpose until he knows the person who created him. I think people can't be fulfilled in what they're doing in life until they find the purpose that God has for them.

I had a friend in my life who I not so affectionately called, "my Bible friend." She was, all the time, giving me Bible verses, and honestly, it just— It got on my nerves. I thought, "How could one person have access to so many Bible verses?" Like, if I had a headache, she had a verse for that. But one day, she gave me this verse, and it was Jeremiah 29:11. It said, "'For I, I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you, not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future,'" and gosh, I remember reading that verse and thinking, "I've thought my whole life that I was a throwaway person, so this verse doesn't really apply to me," but I read it over and over and over, and something just deep down in my heart started stirring, and I read the verse again and just put my name in it, you know. "'For I know the plans I have for you, Lysa,' declares the Lord, 'Plans to prosper you, not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.'" And for the first time in my life, I thought, Maybe, maybe— even though I was a throwaway person to my real dad, maybe God looks at me a little bit differently, and maybe I should try this God thing. I didn't know the right words to say. I didn't know what to do, so I just lifted my hands up, and I just said, Yes, yes." And I guess, not to make it over-simple, but I've pretty much just been saying "yes" to God ever since, and I think, ultimately, that's my purpose.