Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Purpose of Life

People have always wondered why people exist.  It's not good enough that humans evolved, or that random chance made life the way it is.  People crave a real reason for being, a purpose in their lives that makes them unique and special in the fabric of things.  The flaw, however, in this type of thinking, is that it assumes that what we do in life gives us value.  It does not ask the precursor question, "what makes me valuable as a person?"  Some would say that being alive gives value, other say that being a human gives value.

If you can put up with the perspective of a theologian, then keep reading.

Recently I finished reading Lewis Grizzard's book I Took a Lickin' and Kept on Tickin', And Now I Believe in Miracles.  I do recommend this story, sort of, despite the fact that it describes with a little too much detail Grizzard's medical history.  Considering he spends much of this book dealing with the weaknesses of his innately damaged heart, as well as how undignified life in a hospital gown can be, there are points where this book is not for the faint of heart.  However, there are good parts as well.  For example, he briefly touches on a visit to the Soviet Union (yes, this book is that old), and his perspective here is hilarious.  His humor is everywhere in this book, and if you want to read a southern comedian, Lewis Grizzard is your guy.

However, as pertains to my overall point, Grizzard also includes his thoughts on life, death, and miracles.  Through the course of this book he describes two heart surgeries, because his heart has a valve that doesn't close properly.  This condition apparently leads to a whole slew of associated problems, and Grizzard had to be very careful to keep himself from getting an infection.  However, one of his teeth got infected while he was in the Soviet Union.  Upon his return to America, he went immediately to surgery on his heart.

I'll move on to my point now.  Grizzard was a very popular writer in his time, and when he went in the hospital there were many that prayed for him to live.  Grizzard's condition, however, steadily got worse despite hours and hours of surgery.  At one point the doctors could only conclude that if Lewis survived, then it would be with severe brain damage.  However, not only does Grizzard live, he's mentally fine afterwards, and able to finish his book.  He literally makes a miraculous recovery.

However, you'll notice I refer to him in past tense.  Lewis Grizzard is in fact dead now, of that same heart condition he had in the first place, and only a few years after his miracle.  You might then wonder why in the world God would bother with a miracle if Grizzard was just going to end up dead anyway.  Did this comedian do something really important with himself in those few years he had left?  Did he save someone's life?  Did he inspire good in his fanbase?  Was his last book so amazing that it was worth him living simply to be published?

At the near end of his book, Grizzard talks about a woman he once knew.  She was a devout atheist until she reached her fifties, when she ended up with cancer.  At this point she had lived a decent life, but she had always put off her dream of starting a publishing company because she figured she'd do it later.  Cancer has a way of putting things into perspective, though.  So this woman asked God to give her five more years to live, so that she could concentrate on bringing her dream to life.  And you know what?  She did live, exactly five more years.  And she did create her own publishing company in the meantime.  Grizzard told us nothing about her company and what she published.  He didn't say she did anything heroic.  All we know is that she got to live and complete her dream while she was on this earth.

When reading this, I had a revelation: God likes us.  He cares about what we care about.  When we have a dream to do something, God isn't simply going to say no because it's something we want and doesn't necessarily fit into his plan of how the world is going to work.  God is sensitive to our desires, allowing us to use our talents simply because we enjoy them.  He doesn't have to gain something from our work to allow us to do it.  While we should of course obey God when he asks us to do or not do things, the truth of it is that God puts our dreams in us when he makes us, so many of the desires of our hearts aren't in and of themselves wrong.

Think about it.  Why do people decide to have children?  Because they can have someone to love on and delight in.  God delights in us as well, whether or not we are doing anything.  All those years of atheism in no way hindered God from saving the woman, and Grizzard confessed that his miracle wasn't going to stop him from drinking and smoking.  Was Grizzard's confession news to God?  No.  He knew perfectly well that Grizzard would drink and smoke when he lived.  But that's just the thing.  You don't have to be perfect for God to love you and want to bless you.  His love for you is not about your ability to work for him.  Maybe in our human-ness we tend to think that we have to earn our miracles and extra years, but that's not the way God sees it.  We're his little ones, and no good parent bases his love for his child on that child's ability to be perfect or pay for the parent's retirement.

That, I suppose, is the value of Grizzard's extra years: the knowledge that they did not have to be paid for.  The God who sent his son to die for us isn't going to be put off by the sin nature he already knows we have.  God knows us, and still likes us.  That's the purpose of life: we have value because God values us, not because we do anything extremely important.  We don't have to earn our value, no matter what human nature may tell us.

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