Comment by Harborough churches: Where do you look to find a purpose in life?
Every week, the Harborough churches write for the Harborough Mail. This week, it is the turn of Derek Williams, communications officer for Churches Together
Viewpoint by Derek Williams, communications officer for Churches Together
Fiction often mirrors reality. It can pose deep questions about life, as we watch characters face their challenges. Recently I read the five volumes of Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s Long Earth science fiction series (available to borrow through our local public libraries).
They depict an infinite number of parallel earths that humans can “step” into almost at will and without the hassle of space travel. People escape this earth’s wilful destructiveness of greed and war, and create new communities without paranoid authorities battling to exercise control. At least, that’s the theory. It doesn’t prove idyllic, even in fiction.
To some of the characters it’s also confusing. They repeatedly ask about the purpose and meaning of their strange life. What is it all for? It’s also what many people are asking today.
Five years ago TV presenter Jeremy Paxman declared in an interview that he is more interested now in asking “Is there a purpose? What do things mean? What is the right way to live?” than catching out politicians. Renowned cook Delia Smith announced this summer that her next book (to be published in 2022), You matter, will explore “the fullness of human life”.
So where do we find that? When nightclubs reopened in July post-lockdown, one young woman was filmed by the BBC saying “People are dancing, we’re all drinking again, no social distancing. This is what life’s about”.
But is that really what life is about? People have danced and partied since time immemorial, but clearly there’s more to life than that. Working, for example, not just to earn money to enjoy ourselves, but also to use our skills and contribute to the social fabric. Caring for family and friends.
Protecting the environment, supporting vulnerable people, educating the young. For some, that’s enough. Yet many relatively successful people feel that something is still missing which material comfort and “having fun” can never fully satisfy.
In the novels, answers are partial and inadequate as characters grope their way forwards. There are time-honoured Christian answers however, that are more explicit. In the words of the 17th-century Westminster Shorter Catechism: “The chief end of humankind is to glorify God and enjoy him for ever.” Or, if you prefer Jesus’ two commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbour as yourself.”
It’s tempting to agree with the second part – loving one’s neighbour – and to downplay putting God first. But the two go together. When we look to God he can provide us with a bespoke purpose in life, plus the wisdom and guidance to fulfil it. We don’t need to wait for a new earth; God’s purpose embraces life as it is now in all its complexity, and gives it fresh meaning.
Derek Williams is Churches Together in Harborough communications officer