A recurring theme that often flows from my pen is that of the purpose of life. Every year or two I review this vital topic in the light of my experiences of the recent past. And I am bound to say that my view of this topic is changing continuously as my horizons broaden.
So what is my contribution to be on this occasion? To tell you the truth, I haven't exactly crystalised my thoughts out yet. I have, rather, a new sense, as one would of a new aroma without having an adequate vocabulary to describe what one's olefactory organs are vainly trying to communicate to an over-taxed brain. And that sense is (as always) that the picture is even bigger than I imagined on my previous attempt to make sense of it all. That is, I discover that there are more and more variables in this complex equation of life.
One difficulty I face is squaring new experiences and thoughts with the Word. If you study the Bible on a particular topic that is broad (like salvation, for example) you soon discover that there are many angles to it and that without the whole picture -- without having all the pieces in -- it is possible to imagine that there are contradictions.
Let us say I have inherited a jigsaw puzzle. The box is long gone, so I have no picture, and half the pieces are missing. I know, however, that the title of the puzzle is Arctic Dawn. The plethora of white jigsaw puzzle pieces soon makes it clear that there is alot of snow and ice, and so the mind immediately conjures up an image of an arctic wasteland with, perhaps, some polar bears, penguins, and the like. And then the surprises come. First, a couple of pieces showing fire. No problem. Perhaps there is an arctic explorer in front of a roaring camp fire (though where did he get the wood? No matter. There must be an explanation). And then a piece showing the head of a very living dinosaur with tropical foliage clearly visible. What is our first reaction? That two puzzles have got mixed together? We assemble our picture, with what we have, and soon a snowy landscape appears. But there are two disconnected bits -- the stegasaurus with huge tropical leaves behind him, and the roaring fire.
I am sure you could come up with a dozen scenarios to explain this odd assembly. Piecing together the meaning of life is not at all unlike that. Life is full of polar opposites -- free agency vs. God's sovereign will, suffering for spiritual growth vs. apparently meaningless suffering (was the spiritual growth incidental or purposeful?), etc.. I will be totally honest with you -- sometimes I find it difficult making sense of some peoples' lives. What of the person born a complete vegetable and who remains a vegetable for the rest of his life, totally unable to communicate? What of the person born with a mixture of genders -- with both male and female reproductive parts? Blind chance sometimes becomes believable -- but only when the more difficult cases surface. Otherwise the "life with a purpose" model is infinitely more believable.
Sometimes I wonder why I try to untangle such a gargantuan problem -- indeed, I wonder why anybody does. Many perfectly honourable Christians retort that we are not supposed to know and that we ought rather to live our lives as fully as possible with a mind to giving God as much glory as possible. And whilst I would conceed that such is a perfectly valid (and probably more productive conclusion) I am not easily satisfied. Personal weakness? Maybe. But that I do not believe that every impulse to understand is from the Adam-nature. And, yes, I know Job tried, and failed -- all (and maybe that's enough) he discovered was that it was enough to stand in contrition before the Almighty. Solomon, for all his brilliance, reached another conclusion -- that it was enough simply to obey the commandments.
God bless Job and Solomon! But I am not them. Am I going the way of the curious cat? We shall see. In any case, I have some serious problems I want to resolve, problems that are not important simply because of intellectual curiosity (in which case the quest might justifiably be deemed selfish) but because certain unanswered questions lend justification for a religious system of belief which cannot be right.
Here is the challenge. An acquaintance recently argued that if the purpose of mortality is to spiritually grow then it is obvious that, because of the slow learning pace of the majority of us, we need several lives, not one, to make any progress. In short, reincarnation. Some exceptional people seem to change and learn fast but usually only after having gone through a living hell on earth (others, going through the same hells, end up devils, succumbing to anger and bitterness). But what of the ambling rest?
I have to agree. This short mortal span isn't enough. It may be an intensive course when compared with the spiritual life we had before, and it may confer on us certain contrasts necessary to solve various personal problems. But why the need for the infinitely complicated process of reincarnation? Think of all the trouble fitting into a new body, changing gender, even (some would claim) becoming animals (or, horrors), some mineral! Reincarnation is, for me, a bit like going through the same educational module again and again and again. Like repeating a particular year at school a thousand times until we score 100% on all our tests. What a nightmare! What a sterile, colourless way to learn. If there is one thing I am absolutely certain of, it's that I don't want to come back to this world again. It mightn't be so bad if we could remember all the mistakes we made the previous time round but not with a blank memory. That's like making me re-do the 9th grade over and over again, blanking out all memory of what I learned the previous times round. What perverse system is that? And what a perverted Originator of such a system. (Yes, he is perverse, because that's what he would create if he could. But he can't.)
But what if life is a modular system of growth and development where mortal life is but one learning module -- the most critical, difficult, and dangerous (yet, if one succeeds, rewarding) module? I am one of those who believes that "as above, so below", of repeating patterns in things, ways of being and experiencing, and of discovering.
I believe that this life is every bit as important as the Bible says -- and that we can't repeat the course if we goof it. But I do believe there are other modules to come (not in a physical world, mind you) and that we have already been through many modules before.
Now I know that there aren't many Christians who believe, as we do, in a spiritual pre-mortal existence. I think more will, in time, as they try to assemble the puzzle, though. I, for one, do not believe that a Mozart was assembled from nothing -- of mere genes. Many a genius has had progenitors who showed little if any resemblance to their progeny vis-à-vis giftedness. A miracle combination of genes? Maybe, but I doubt it. The mutation is just too big. Order does not arise out of chaos. And Mozart's spirit was pure genius. Mozart's ability was, I believe, acquired.