You can’t answer the everyday questions with any hope of consistency until you grapple with the big ones. Why am I here? And, by “here”, I mean 21st Century United States – the most economically and culturally fluid society in history. Why was I born to the parents I inherited? Why was I or wasn’t I born with great athletic skills, mental acuity, inherited wealth, and on and on and on?
My experience is likely not the same as yours. My interpretation of what I’ve seen and experienced, may or may not be the same as yours. In fact, your answers to the big questions might well radically depart from mine. But my personal experience is all I’ve got the ability to honestly communicate, so here goes. Convincing you is not the goal. If you disagree with me, that’s totally understandable but stop and figure out why you disagree with me. Otherwise, what’s left to discuss?
I grew up in a middle class, American neighborhood. My family was a typical church-going family. My dad dropped us off in time for Sunday School every Sunday morning and got back from “work” just in time to pick us up at the end of the Sunday morning service. In our liberal denomination, respectability equaled Godliness and non-conformity was a grave sin. I became a sinner.
In seventh grade, I got a job at the local donut shop, working Saturday and Sunday mornings from 5:30am until noon – no more church. I earned money to buy my own clothes and eventually my own cars. Growing up in the 60’s, I worshiped the holy trinity of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. Junior High and High School provided some of the most entertaining years of my life. I had no worries and even fewer responsibilities.
June 27th of 1973 rolled around and the scales tipped. Three weeks out of high school, with money in my pocket and a fairly new Mustang convertible beneath me, I went to pick up the hottest girl I knew for what promised to be the hottest date of my life. Unfortunately, her parents ambushed me; they had invited their Southern Baptist youth pastor to do his laundry at their house at precisely the hour I was collecting their daughter for a night on the town.
He and I spent the next six hours locked in verbal tug-of-war. (Strangely, at that age, winning an argument was even more important to me than the prospect of sex.) Somewhere in the midst of that melee, Shirley kissed me on the cheek and whispered that “she was going to bed and we’d try again tomorrow.” The pastor spoke of a benevolent Creator and I countered with all the pain, suffering, and chaos in the world. He regrouped with the fallen nature of mankind and I came back with the judgmental nature of religion. He spoke of intelligent design and I volleyed with evolution (though I knew few of the specifics). But in the end, it was the concept of a God who loved mankind (and me) despite our constant demand to sit in His place that drove the truth home. He had just described me to a tee, right down to the struggle I had in my deepest thoughts – I really wanted to be the god of my personal empire. At 2:00am on June 27th, 1973, in the living room of a house where all the residents had since fallen asleep, I prayed with a total stranger to a God I wasn’t entirely sure existed.
For the past 48 years, I’ve continued that tug-of-war. I’ve studied the Bible. I’ve read the writings of very intelligent people, some of whom agree with the Bible and others who detest it. I’ve studied the people I’ve come to know – those who grew up in religious homes and rebelled like me as well as those who grew up in homes that wanted nothing to do with religion or God. I’ve even met a tiny minority who absorbed their parents’ belief in God. I’ve studied the sciences that I enjoy – astronomy, genetics, physics (micro-biology and nuclear fission/fusion are still above my pay grade), and I’ve studied the world I live in. At the end of the day, the only way I can rationally interpret the evidence is to concede that there is an actual Creator. Furthermore, the extra-biblical evidence substantiates that this man, “Jesus of Nazareth” was more than just another good guy or a myth.
So, that brings me full circle to the big “Why”. What are we here for? I have to believe the answer is to seek to know the living Creator of the universe and to intentionally treat our neighbors (even the ones from the other political party) exactly as God would treat them. Everything beyond that is just details.
You might see it differently.
“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt