Whatever It Takes
“Suffering isn’t a footnote to the true meaning of our lives, but the path for actually realizing the true meaning.”
I mean clarity not in terms of getting our theology in order, or knowing what to say if our pastor asked, but clarity in terms of the questions we should stop and routinely ask ourselves: “Why am I doing this? What is the goal? Where is this going?”
There is a straightforward answer to these questions, but let’s lay out the criteria before we get there.
Criteria for ClarityFirst, the clarity must answer the meaning of life truly. Clarity of any kind will do us little good if it doesn’t faithfully resolve our question. We don’t just need to know what to do, but how what we do fits in with the ultimate purpose behind all things. We need to know how the truest truth of all makes the difference.
Second, the clarity must be actual clarity. The truest of clarity will do us little good if it doesn’t actually help us connect the dots. When we ask the questions of “Why? What? and Where?” we will become increasingly discontent with hazy answers. We need to know what life is all about, not theoretically but earnestly. My life, your life—what are these lives about?
The more we press in here and put our answers to work, the more we will feel the inadequacy of our Christian clichés. We need an answer that works. We need an answer vivid enough to compel our hearts to say: “I want that, whatever it takes.”
The “whatever it takes” qualifier is important. If we can’t say that, it means there must be a greater meaning to which our answer serves. Unless our answer holds up under “whatever it takes,” it will only be an appendage to our lives, not an all-consuming vision.
Building the VisionPutting this criteria together, then, we need an answer to the meaning of life that lines up with the most important, all-encompassing truth there is and that is concrete enough to be a sincere rallying point for how we live.
In other words, how does the greatest truth in the universe effect a lasting vision for life that includes the ups and downs of real-life circumstances and is even achieved through them?
I think it goes like this:
The meaning of life is to experience and show Jesus as the supreme satisfaction of our souls.Seriously. I think that is it. That is the meaning of life. And now, referring back to the criteria, let me show you why.
The Big PurposeThe most important, all-encompassing truth of the universe is that everything exists for the glory of God. That is the resounding theme of the Bible.
That’s why God makes a people for himself: “the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise” (Isaiah 43:21).
That’s why he forgives them: “For my name’s sake I defer my anger . … For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it. … My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 48:9, 11).
That’s why he makes them righteous: “Your people shall all be righteous … the work of my hands, that I might be glorified” (Isaiah 60:21).
That’s why he leads them: “You led your people, to make for yourself a glorious name” (Isaiah 63:14).
That’s why he spreads their witness: “They shall declare my glory among the nations” (Isaiah 66:19).
New Testament scholar Greg Beale says that God’s glory is the grand end-time goal of the entire biblical storyline. He writes that the “goal of God in everything is to glorify himself and enjoy that glory forever” (NTBT, 961).
The Face of GloryTherefore, of course, clarity on the meaning of life must come from this. That is the first piece of the criteria. But how does it fit with the second piece? How is a true answer actual clarity?
It starts with understanding that the glory of God has a face.
This is when we must translate the glory of God from an abstract idea to a concrete reality. This is when we stop imagining God’s glory as just bright, blinding light filling the sky, and instead, let him draw the picture for us. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus is “the radiance of the glory of God, the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). Paul says that Jesus is the one in whom the “whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). The apostle John writes that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory” (John 1:14).
Jesus is the most vivid display of who God is, as he himself has said: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
And this means, in a deeply personal way for us humans, that the most important, all-encompassing truth of the universe is Jesus, the divine-human. Nothing gets bigger than the fact that Jesus is real and what he stands for.
What We SayTo live for the glory of God is to witness to the glory of Jesus. There is no way that we can glorify God by getting around Jesus. It doesn’t happen. We live for God’s glory by saying something about his Son. So then, what do we say?
We say, in word and deed, that Jesus is the supreme satisfaction of our souls.
That, like nothing else, exalts Jesus as the unique, glorious Savior that he is. The gnawing hunger of the human heart, the deepest part of us, indulges its feast only in his beauty. The insatiable search for where we belong finds its home only in his love. The tireless toil to earn God’s favor reaches its rest only in his grace.
This is the meaning of life: to live each day to experience and show Jesus as the supreme satisfaction of our souls. Now, does this work?
Putting It to WorkWe must press in here. Is this answer something we can rally around? Does it hold steady even through the roller coaster of real-life circumstances?
It emphatically does, and does so not despite diverse circumstances, but through them.
In fact, it is the various situations of our lives that invite us to witness to the abundance of Jesus’ glory. It is through the gains and losses, triumphs and setbacks, that Jesus shows himself enough for us. Suffering isn’t a footnote to the true meaning of our lives, but the path for actually realizing the true meaning. When we suffer, it’s because God has brought us there to show that Jesus is of surpassing worth, that his hope is beyond all comparison, that his nearness is enough (Philippians 3:8; 2 Corinthians 4:17; 2 Timothy 4:17–18).
The meaning of life is to experience and show Jesus as the satisfaction of our souls—and feeling that, showing that, saying that, living that, is the one thing we can rally around at all costs. This is the one thing that we can say, faithfully: “I want that, whatever it takes.”
To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. … I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (Philippians 1:21; 3:8)
Jonathan Parnell (@Jonathanparnell) is a content strategist at desiringGod.org. He and his wife, Melissa, live in the Twin Cities with their three children and counting. He grew up in a rural community just outside of Raleigh, NC and studied at The College of Southeastern in Wake Forest, NC and Bethlehem Seminary in Minneapolis. An aspiring pastor and writer, Jonathan hopes to plant a church in the Twin Cities and give his life to helping people see the glory of Jesus. More from Jonathan Parnell or visit Jonathan at http://www.desiringgod.org/blog