The Struggle for Purpose and God’s Plan for Ordinary Lives

I occasionally experience bouts of frustration and sadness, and often a similar question rings inside my mind, “What does it even matter?” It’s easy for me to downshift into a bitter spirit because of the repetitive and mundane lifestyle that I have. Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning in a repetitive motion of folding clothes, changing diapers, and making sandwiches, and not to mention the 50-hour-plus workweeks that consists of the same responsibilities and conversations.

I can hear my boss ask me the same questions week in and week out, and I have the same answers… week in and week out.

My wife had significant fits of depression from being a stay-at-home mom. She would often say the only reason she feels like she exists is to cook and clean and to wipe butts. She would often say she feels like she has no purpose because she wasn’t contributing to the family in, what she thought, was a significant way.

My wife was fulfilling foundational and critical roles for the quality of our home life, but she couldn’t see it, even as much as I told her I loved and appreciated everything that she did.

The Bible Confirms the Human Struggle for Purpose

The author of Ecclesiastes says that life is “meaningless” almost 40 times over the 12 chapters of the book. The Hebrew word “hevel” is where we get the English word “meaningless,” but this doesn’t translate well for the author’s intended metaphor. “Hevel” in Hebrew means “smoke” or “vapor.” So the author is saying that life is like smoke.

Like smoke, life is beautiful and mysterious. But it can take one shape, and before you know it, it takes a new shape. And smoke looks solid, but if you try to grab it, it’ll slip through your fingers and keep moving. You can’t control it. When you’re stuck in the thick of it, like fog, it’s impossible to see clearly.1 It’s fleeting, and fades extremely fast. On the cosmic scale, our lives are a blink, like “hevel.”

So the Bible is not ambiguous or lacking in the fact that humans are going to struggle with finding purposeful meaning in their lives. It’s unclear a lot of times why we’re here, and if everything under the sun eventually dies and goes away, then what does anything even matter?

We need hope beyond the sun, something eternal. Nothing really matters without some sense of eternity, but then this must mean that the only things that matter are the things that exist in light of eternity. God’s plan for us is invaluable, and this is where we must start for our purpose and meaning.

God Has a Plan for Our Purpose

The first page of the Bible clearly states that we are made in God’s “tselem” or His “image.” Humanity is made “B’tselem Elohim” in “God’s Image.” Thousands, if not millions of pages of scholarship have been written about what it means to be made in the Image of God, but the Bible is very clear and concise on this matter. In verse 28 of Genesis 1, God blesses humanity and tells them to “Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

In short, humanity is commissioned by God to be stewards of His earth by bringing order to it and by dealing with others in a godly way, in a loving, relational, and peaceful way. We are representatives of God, and we’re made to reflect His character and goodness, and we are stewards on behalf of God, tending and cultivating His good creation. This is what we do and who we are.

So now our work in our homes and the marketplace has transcendent value. As image-bearers of the Creator who made us to work, we contribute to society, bringing order out of chaos and loving God through loving others- meaning there is glory in every moment, even in the mundane.2

We Have Rejected God's Plan

The bouts of depression and meaninglessness that I feel doesn’t come from a healthy relationship with God; it comes from being out of touch with God and out of touch with the community of God- the church.

We spend our lives working too much, and when we’re finished, we come home, and, like zombies, we feed our brains countless hours of social media and television. As 21st century westerners, we live our lives autonomously because we don’t need anyone or anything. We have a million distractions that keep us away from the one true life-giving source, God.

We have violated and gone against the only thing that can really give us life and fulfill our purpose, which is to live in complete harmony and shalom with our Creator.3 We continuously run on empty, and we choose it this way. But God is too committed to His good creation to leave it in a complete mess. He will bring a new earth, and the people that will dwell in it will belong to Him fully.

This is where Jesus steps on to the scene of the human narrative.

Jesus Gives Us Back What We Rejected

Jesus steps on to the scene of humanity in the act of total redemption for us and our purpose and meaning as individuals. And although we have rejected God’s design by going our own way and declaring autonomy over our own lives, God still pursues us to fulfill his promises that one-day humanity and God will be united once again and that God’s people will be flooded with His own personal presence and a new awareness of His reality, and will obediently walk with Him in harmony.4

It’s in this way that Jesus restores what we walked away from, a perfectly good and harmonious relationship with God. Now in following Him, a new Spirit will be given to us that empowers us to live the life that God wanted for us in the beginning.

Now, as God’s plan unfolds and His Spirit fills us, we become more like humans that bear His image and fulfill our purpose and meaning of existence.

There Is Glory and Dignity in the Ordinary

God’s original design is for humans to work. It’s woven into our personhood, and the fact that we’re created this way is a direct reflection of God, the one who image we bear.5 Our work is preparing us to rule with Christ in a new earth, where we will work to the glory of God, always. So in all of our work, we can find peace and fulfillment knowing that we’re fulfilling God’s plan that we should steward His creation.

There is purpose in folding laundry, doing dishes, cooking dinner, changing diapers, mowing the lawn, and all things included in the mundane life routines that we find ourselves working in, because it’s in these acts of work that we’re stewarding God’s creation.

As we steward His creation we are reflecting His image. As we reflect His image we are putting on display His infinite value to the whole of creation. As humans, we are made to put on display God’s infinite value by how we reflect his image and we do this through our character, and our work.

Now, you can find peace, purpose, fulfillment, and meaning knowing that you are bearing the eternal image of God through all of your work at home or vocation. God’s plan and purpose is not “hevel,” but yet of infinite value, and He gives us the highest honor to share in it, which is following Christ in faith, and reflecting His good image to the His good creation.



Notes:

  1. The Bible Project, Time Mackie, and Jim Collins, The Book of Ecclesiastes
  2. Glory in the Ordinary, Courtney Reissig, back page
  3. Professor Tim Mackie Podcast, God’s Kingdom Has Arrived
  4. Professor Tim Mackie Podcast, God’s Kingdom Has Arrived
  5. Glory in the Ordinary, Courtney Reissig, PG 138,139

Be a light.