Purpose is a topic we confront a lot here at the Abbey. Our students are at one of life’s most tumultuous periods, and they are forced to wrestle with the reality that often the way forward is not as clear as we would like. Individual purpose is a strange facet within Christianity. We are called throughout scripture to be submissive to God’s plan and most of us would be willing to follow it if we knew what it was. However, this portion of our relationship with God seems to be often shrouded in mystery. I’ve heard many Abbey students (and the author of this post) cry out with frustration that if they only knew what to do, they’d do it! A way to think about purpose that I have found helpful is to divide it into three temporal realms. Doing this reveals that we have more clarity than we may initially think, and can help us rest in the portions that remain hidden.
The temporal realms are the immediate, the intermediate, and the eternal. We will begin with the eternal. For the Christian, there is no mystery here: we are to be transformed into the image of Christ. Based on 2 Corinthians 3:18, Romans 8:29, Romans 12:1-2, and scripture’s constant call to be sanctified, we stand on solid ground. At the end of “the day” our purpose is to be more like Christ. We were made to be in relationship with Him and to be made more like Him through the Spirit’s work within that relationship. Understanding this should be incredibly freeing for the Christian as scripture is clear that our sanctification is not up to us to accomplish, but is rather a work done in us by God. The implicit fear in questions of purpose is the fear of making a mistake. Take heart and be encouraged as your eternal purpose is not your burden to realize.
Next we move to the immediate – the moment in which we live. Purpose here is tied to the decision-making process that we face every day of our lives. While often stressful and difficult, here too we find clear direction on what is expected of us. One of the realities of life we encounter is that the consequences of our decisions do not always match the expected results. Good decisions and behaving well do not guarantee matching consequences, and the evil often seem to prosper in spite of their actions. Ultimately the results of our choices are in the hand of God. In light of this, our call is to be concerned with doing the good. Psalm 37 encourages the follower of God to not be discouraged by consequences and in verse three says, “trust in the Lord, and do good.” This is the Christian’s call: whatever decision we are faced with we are to find the good, do it, and leave the results in the hand of God. It is not my intent to trivialize the difficulty in living this out. Often it is hard to know the good, requiring us to practice and seek wisdom; but understanding purpose does not guarantee ease of execution. We should take comfort though, that in spite of this difficulty our purpose is clear, and in doing good we accomplish our purpose for that moment.
The most difficulties arise when we consider the intermediate realm. We have the ability to turn our gaze down the road and make choices that clearly impact our future. Who will I marry? What college should I attend? While scripture provides guidance for the immediate and eternal realms, it’s teachings regarding the middle section are less overt. In looking at the intermediate realm, we are simply called to trust God. Trust is necessary because God interacts with His people with a degree of hiddenness, but know that this hiddenness is not an arbitrary disposition but an example of His love. When God reserves things about Himself or His plans it is for our good. It is in His nature to reveal Himself to those He loves, but humans can’t handle God. Think about the story of Moses on Sinai, with God explaining that to see Him in His glory would kill Moses. I think in a similar way if God were to reveal all the plans He has for us and the impact we would have, we would be overwhelmed. Rather, God chooses to reveal His plan slowly over time as we follow Christ. This is not to suggest that living out of this principle is easy, but if we are willing to trust God with our eternal destinies and the results of our immediate decisions, should we not also trust the God who is good in the meantime as well?
- Micah Gibson