Chapter 1:

Does Life Have Any Purpose?

Do you ever dream of a perfect world? Imagine the whole earth at peace. The land is clean and beautiful. Wild animals are abundant and yet friendly. They are not afraid of man, for no one ever abuses them. Everyone is honest and kind. Mates are faithful, and children are loved. Everyone is happy to serve for the good of all. No one has to slave long hours for low wages, and no powerful elite exploits the weak. Things are made to last and are repairable, and are recycled when no longer needed. People are responsible and take care of their belongings. Of course there is work to do, but it is shared fairly. Everyone has time to travel and visit, to develop artistic interests and hobbies. Everyone is healthy, there is no need of doctors, medicines or insurance. In this perfect world, everyone stays young! Can you imagine such a world?

Throughout history people have dreamt of perfecting the world, or even just a nation, but no one has been able to do it. Politicians promise everyone a better life if they win office, but it seems that their greatest skill lies in spending a lot of money, with little to show for it. Scientists hope wonderful things will come from their research, and it is true, modern technology has improved life in many ways. Yet science has also brought fiendish weapons of war, high-pressure working conditions, and devastating pollution. In fact, the world is now in serious trouble. Sexual perversions and infidelity are widely accepted, and many children are neglected and abused. Even young children commit crimes of unbelievable cruelty, with no trace of pity or remorse. Vicious ethnic and religious wars rage on for years. Billions of decent hardworking people live in miserable poverty, while a few who do very little work live in extreme luxury. So you might dismiss ideas of a "perfect world" as foolish dreaming. Yet we cannot help but long for such a life. Why does life have to be so insecure, so troubled, so short? What prevents real progress?

Bright blue bird

A look at the natural world makes us wonder. There is so much that is beautiful: intricate flowers with delicate colors and delightful scents, brightly colored birds singing cheerful songs, glorious yet subtle shades of magnificent sunsets! Have you watched kittens or puppies playing, or studied the wings of a butterfly? What potential life has for enjoyment and delight!*

Yet even in the natural world there is predation, parasitism, pestilence, poison and pain. No, wilderness is not a paradise. So is it foolish to think it could ever be made so?

Why We Can Believe

For an answer we must turn to the question, why does life exist at all? Is there a purpose to existence? Or are we just a product of chance, of mindless evolution? Perhaps you have asked that question at some time.

If life has a purpose, then there must be a Purposer, One who brought life into existence for a reason. Further, in creating life, this One would have designed it able to fulfill that purpose.

Running foal

When we examine living things, do we see evidence of design? Indeed we do. As the science of biology advances, scientists have become more and more impressed by life’s complexity, its intricacy of interconnecting processes and materials. Some scientists even dare to confess, despite an environment in the scientific community that is openly hostile to such heresy, that surely there must have been a Designer for what they see.

Let us consider two examples of design: First, think about reproduction. Two special cells, a sperm and an egg, join and merge their DNA material. From this a "plan" is created, which controls rapid growth that is both precisely timed and positioned. Organs, nerves, bones, muscles and other specialized tissue all develop to form a new living being. Not long after being born, some creatures (such as antelope) are able to get up and run faster than a man. This requires vision and coordination that scientists have yet to imitate even in a clumsy fashion with their robots. Surely this requires a Designer!

sleeping baby

This DNA "plan" also creates the brain, our second example. A human brain occupies only .05 cubic foot (1.4 liter), yet all our awareness, imagination, and understanding is contained in it. All the knowledge we have learned fits in there. All the skills we have mastered are controlled there. Scientists have no idea how that is accomplished; yet we certainly do not deny that it happens. Nor does it appear that we have begun to challenge the brain’s capacity in a full lifetime of 80 years; if its health is maintained, one’s mind can be as sharp and active and able to learn at 100 as at 20. This alone should convince us that life was not meant to be so short. Surely such a marvelous creation would require careful design!

Another marvel about the DNA "plan" has recently been discovered: there is an amazingly reliable repair system constantly guarding the integrity of the code. When damaged DNA is detected, molecules that act like micromachines go to work, snipping the damaged segment out, fetching a copy of the correct replacement, and stitching it in. Those who look at this and say "it designed itself by hit-or-miss" are marvels themselves— of blindness!*

The fact that the genetic code contains a "plan" is substantial evidence that there must be a Planner, a Designer, a Purposer. We can rightly call this One "God", which means "powerful one." Believing he exists should give us hope, for such a God would surely not abandon his creations forever to wonder and grope blindly for its purpose.*

Has This God Made Himself Known?

Mankind has always instinctively sensed that there is a higher power or Deity. That is why there is no culture on earth lacking a religious tradition. There are thousands of religions worldwide, most of which are distinguished by rather minor differences of belief and ritual. The major branches of religion have greater differences, yet even these share some basic concepts. Can God be found in any or all of them?

Every religion has some kind of explanation for the purpose of life, although a few in effect say there is no real "purpose" as such. For example, the Hindu family of religions teaches reincarnation, in which life is a continual cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, ending, if ever, only in a state of nothingness or unconsciousness. In this view, any one individual cannot hope to live forever as himself, having a lasting purpose as an individual. Other religions say that the purpose of life is to get saved and go to Heaven at death, and be happy forever after. One teaches that we all may become mighty Gods in time, if we behave properly. The common thread is the belief that life goes on somehow, that death is not annihilation forevermore. Not all religions teach a unique Creator or Source of life, but all do involve reaching out for help from some kind of supernatural power.

The religious situation is so controversial and confusing that many today choose not to discuss it. They may say, "You believe what you want to believe, I’ll believe what I want, and we’ll both be happy." This is a tolerant, relaxed philosophy, and it is certainly better than fighting. But should we be satisfied with that as the best possible solution?

Jesus, known the world over as a man who claimed to be sent by God, said he had come "to bear witness to the truth." (John 18:37) This prompted a skeptical, worldly-wise man, Pontius Pilate, to retort, "What is truth?" Apparently he felt like many do today, that no one could claim to know the truth. Was he right?

Truth is definite. It involves drawing conclusions, and it excludes opposing opinions as untrue, false, wrong. Many today are uncomfortable doing that. Philosophers in particular seem to be uncomfortable coming to definite conclusions. They love dilemmas and paradoxes, such as "Everything I say is false." Some philosophers even doubt that there is any such thing as reality, that everything is just in your mind, we are all in a Matrix or something. "Truth is just what YOU believe," some teach. In effect, they are saying YOU are God, and there is no reality higher than YOU. Try thinking that next time a fly bites. Doesn't work very well. What you want and what is real can be painfully different.

Science is based on the assumption that correct and useful knowledge is attainable, that truth exists and can be discovered. Scientific inquiry is the search for understanding of the physical world, of things that can be sensed and measured. Men have put a great deal of time and energy into that search, and over centuries a considerable body of proven knowledge has been accumulated.

In the same way, there should be truth about God. Either he exists, or he does not. Either life has a purpose, or it does not. It is not reasonable to say both can be true. So we should not be satisfied with the relaxed philosophy "Just believe what feels right to you", that is so often applied in religious matters. (Some have a less relaxed attitude about it: 'My truth is whatever I believe, even if I contradict myself, and you are arrogant and insulting if you dare to suggest I could be wrong about anything.' That, of course, is no way to make progress.)

To some, faith and religion means fervently believing things that cannot be proven, even things that don't make rational sense. For them it is enough for religion to satisfy the emotions, to "feel right" or make them feel good. To try to understand it, to make sense of it, seems irreverent, impious. (Or just way too much work...) This attitude causes others to ridicule faith. But is this true religion?

Where and how should one search for truth about God and the meaning of life? A scientist doing research considers what he knows already, so as to establish a reasonable course of inquiry. We have already looked at creation, which tells us a few valuable things about its Designer. The Source of the galaxies must have tremendous power. The Origin of the laws of physics must be very precise; all parts work together with infinitesimal intricacy and consistency. The Creator of butterflies has a sense of beauty, of kittens a sense of humor. He surely is infinitely more intelligent than we are.

But here we have an advantage over the scientist. God is no mere rock or dumb animal, even though some religions depict him that way. (Romans 1:22, 23, 25) He can rightly be expected to speak up and make himself known. So in our search, it is quite reasonable to look for actual communication from him.

We can reasonably assume that God’s communication should have begun long ago and by now be widely available. Further, since the truth we are seeking is not the kind that changes with time, we should look for a message that has been recorded, written down, rather than at shifting oral legends and traditions. Of all the "holy writings" that claim to be God’s revelation to man, is there one which meets our reasonable expectations?

Most "sacred texts" do not even directly address the matter of who God is, nor do they offer hope for a better future. Some depict their deity as having rapacious qualities, such that if we were to follow the deity’s example, the world would be worse than it is. This is clearly not what we are looking for.

About one quarter of the earth’s population belongs to the "Judeo-Christian" branch of religions. Like the others, it is fragmented into thousands of contentious sects. The one book they all purport to accept is called "the Holy Scriptures" or the "Bible". This common confession has not united them. Even so, the Bible itself is a very unusual book.

As we would expect of a book from God, it is widely available: 98% of the world’s population can obtain one in their own language. Hundreds of millions have been printed. It has profoundly affected human history. For their loyalty to it, many have been forced to die; rather than deny it, many have willingly died. Its principles have been a source of wisdom in establishing the constitutions of nations. Truly, no one should consider himself well educated if he has never read it.

It depicts a God who is loving, compassionate, kind and forgiving, yet fear-inspiring, powerful beyond measure; a God we can appreciate and admire, even though he is beyond our full comprehension. He is exactly what we would expect, and more. If everyone carefully imitated this God and followed his counsel found in his book, this earth would be a rather nice place to live, even if we still had a limited lifespan.

The Bible describes God as having an active interest in his creation. Besides helping those who look to him now, it says he will take dramatic action to remove evil, and establish a new world. (Rom 2:4-11; 2nd Peter 3:9-13) This should interest us greatly, particularly since this event is depicted as near at hand. There is a surprisingly large amount of material on this in the Bible, which we will consider at length in chapters 6-9.

If the Bible is from God, we should expect those who are now using it as a guide in their everyday lives to be more peaceful, honest, industrious, and purposeful. Yet many who claim to live by the Bible are not good examples of these things. Besides the divisiveness already mentioned, professed Christians have at times used the Bible to justify war, racism, slavery, and colonialism. (For proof that this is misuse of the scriptures, see James 4:1-3 and 5:1-6, Acts 10:34, 5, Philippians 2:1-4.) All too often, men who preach and praise the high ideals of the Bible are found to be hypocrites. —Compare Rom 2:17-24.

This sorry state of affairs has convinced many that the Bible is not God’s book and that perhaps there is no God at all. But the fact that there are evil and hypocritical men who use a veneer of righteousness to advance their own selfish ends cannot bury the evidence that God exists. The Bible itself firmly condemns such men. —Matthew 23.23-28.

A Reason to Live

On the other hand, those who truly learn and earnestly apply Bible standards find their lives transformed. They find contentment, a clear conscience, protection from many troubles, and ability to cope with stresses common to life. Their life has a purposefulness that helps them make decisions with good results. They show genuine concern and compassion for their fellowman. From the Bible we learn the simple purpose of living: to enjoy life together in a way that honors and pleases our Creator.* This involves our work, our leisure, our education, our relationships, the very focus of our existence. Chapter 13 of this book, "Wisdom from God to Guide Your Life", shows how God’s Word gives much better advice on relationships and priorities than the selfish, faithless thinking common in today's world.

This book will take you on a study of the Bible in a simplified yet comprehensive way. After a brief history and outline (Chapter 3), we will consider what it reveals about God himself, its explanation as to why mankind is in such a miserable state, its promise of a better future, and the way we can assure ourselves of a place in it. But first, a warning: if you try to draw close to God, you must face an opposer who does not want you to succeed. Who is he? How can we stand fast against him?

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