Expanding upon the ideas set forth in the previous Page, “The Qualitative Theory of Truth”, and applying this approach to our existence, a response is compelled from us whether to think and act in accordance with the purpose of our lives. It asks whether we will live consistent with or contrary to our purpose. Of course, it is unlikely that anyone would seriously propose an argument which advocates a manner of living at odds with our purpose. While understandable differences exist between people with respect to what constitutes and how to attain our purpose, there is at least consensus that we desire and seek it. But it can’t be denied that the things we seek are commonly misguided.
What then, is our purpose in life? In search of this, we need take into account one of God’s Qualitative Attributes coupled with a Principle of Creation. Respectively, these are His Perfection and the Fact of Creation – simply that God Created. Because of God’s Perfection, He lacks and hence wants nothing. Therefore, Creation cannot be stated to benefit God in any way. It is is purely contingent and unnecessary. But for His Creative Act and its continual Sustenance, nothing would exist – not us, our thoughts, or the world. So then, why would He, a Perfect and Unlimited Being, Create to begin with? Despite this fact, God Created nonetheless. But if not for His benefit or purpose, then for whose shall it be considered? The only other available option is that Creation is for us. With His Creation, reality no longer consisted of God alone but was expanded to also include the existence of us and the world as well. Once He existed alone but at once Creation then did as well. Although God’s Perfection was not affected or compromised by His Creative Act, it did give rise to a duality of existence – God as He has always existed and will forever exist, and the world and us which God caused to exist. Other than for our benefit, whose else might Creation be considered? Thus, it exists solely for us – as a benefit to contemplate and enjoy. Appreciating these fruits, His Creation is a means through which God may be known. And with this, we are finally able to arrive at the purpose of His Creative Act – to be known. Thus, our purpose in life as part of Creation emerges as well – to know God.
But might our purpose in life be other than to know Him? It need be pointed out that knowing God rightly requires of us certain things that are commonly referred to as representing life’s purpose. However, recognizing this is different than stating that these things are the underlying purpose. What we are concerned with is the most basic and fundamental purpose – that to which all other thought and action relates. Take Love, for example. Some argue that to Love is our purpose in life. Therefore, they rightly seek to align their thoughts and actions with God’s Loving values of acceptance, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding with respect to self, others, and Him. These individuals should be praised for their selflessness and service to others. The pious and righteous manifestation of Love is undoubtedly a good thing. But it, like any other rightly directed thought or action, is only good to the degree by which it allows for our ability to know God. However, it is misguided to consider their desire to Love as representing their purpose in life. Rather, the Love they sow and develop should be viewed as a means to the further end of knowing God.
Other examples exist of common alternative viewpoints on the question of what is our purpose in life. While much time could be devoted to identifying these and explaining how they are instead actually means of achieving our true purpose, the idea of happiness warrants specific attention. As is the case with Love, happiness as the end of all thought and action is misguided. Additionally, it is a category mistake – i.e. not a purpose at all. Here, clarification is needed regarding the concepts and definitions associated with the question of life’s purpose. These consist of the “what? question”, “how question?”, and their cumulative result. Of course, the “what?” is to know God. This is the purpose – the end toward which all else is directed; the goal strived towards; the Final Cause.
The “how?” involves identifying the specific things that need be undertaken and accomplished to fulfill the purpose. To use a more straightforward example, consider the question of how one is to lose weight. “Losing weight” represents the “what?”. The “how?” involves what needs be done – eating right and exercising, perhaps. Thus, the “how?” is the means employed; the action taken.
Finally, regarding the “result”, it represents what follows from either obtaining or falling short of the endeavor undertaken. This, we will see, is the domain of happiness. Having sought fulfillment of a goal, the “what?”, through specific means, the “how?”, we are left with thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of how we are affected. These are the results. Furthering the above example of attempting to lose weight, a person is impacted by their efforts and the outcome. If successful, they feel accomplished; if unsuccessful, a sense of having failed. Extending this process to the question of life’s purpose, we see then that happiness is not a purpose in itself. Instead, it is the result of our having attained that purpose through the required means. Happiness, as a result, is something that we pursue for its own sake. In fact, it is the only thing. All else, including fulfilling our purpose in life, is pursued for the desired result of happiness. But again, it is a result and not a purpose.
Much is sought in pursuit of happiness – accolades, fame, family, knowledge, Love, money, power, and prestige. With these examples, the point is further reinforced – all represent things sought for the greater result of happiness. In light of the myriad of things to pursue for the sake of our happiness, the question becomes incredibly obscured. With so many options present and potential means to employ, the pursuit of happiness can be an alienating, difficult, and frustrating endeavor. But surely, the primary question to address is whether our thoughts and actions are aligned with our true purpose. For what could make us happier than to pursue and fulfill our purpose in life?
Thankfully, against this backdrop, all material and worldly endeavors prove to be irrelevant and nothing but distracting tangents. They seem to always take on such significance but, in themselves, do they really matter at all? Many items on our list are usually rightfully identified as good things – family, knowledge, and Love, for example. But even these are only good to the degree that they allow us to fulfill our purpose in life – to know God. Pursued for their own sake in absence of their ability to develop and further our relationship with Him, they represents our missing the mark.
The insight that our purpose in life to know God is refreshing. It’s rather simple, really. But the challenge begins when faced with how to pursue and fulfill this purpose. This question will be addressed in the next Page, “Purpose, Meaning, & Means”.