My maternal grandmother just recently passed away after Christmas. This is my first experience of witnessing the process of someone dying. Obviously, previously I have lost several acquaintances (my high school and university friends and pastor), relatives (my paternal grandmother). However, during that time, I was not beside them to witness their struggle during their last moment.
Her process of dying was looked very painful for me, although her cause of death (heart attack) is supposed to be relatively fast compared to more horrifying causes such as cancer or torture in concentration camp. It lasted around 9 hours, considerably faster than my previous pastor who had lymphatic cancer. The process of dying for later part took around 1-2 years and I can see his regress towards his death.
After her death, I started reviewing my time spend together with her, especially during her last moments. Since both of us stayed together, there are quite a lot of memory about her inside me. Although she has gone, I have no regret since I feel that I have used my available time to talk with her especially after office work.
However, her death serves as a reminder of probably most important question in our life: what is the purpose of life since all of us will eventually die anyway? Is it just believing in God so that you can enter heaven? Having fun with your life while you can? Acquiring wealth and success through determination and diligence? Improve society so that earth may look like heaven?
This complicated question has no straight forward answer. King Solomon, probably the wisest men in ancient times, also struggled with this in the Book of Ecclesiastes. In this post, I also will write several things come out from my mind as purpose of life.
Achieving success for self during my lifetimes
During my teenager, what inside my mind was to acquire success by hard work so that I can celebrate it and be satisfied when I reach retirement. However, I realized, just like Solomon, that it seems diligence is just one small factor in success. In fact, success (having large wealth, social status or recognition) come to people regardless of strength, speed and intelligence (Ecclesiastes 7: 22).
In fact, a lot of people with great recognition do not receive it during their lifetimes. Some very good classic musicians receive no widespread recognition during their lifetimes whereas today, just by dancing like prostitute on the stage like some Hollywood actresses can earn you worldwide fame. Some very good social reformers were hated and demonized by literally entire world (and some of them were even assassinated) and only become famous after their death.
The same thing was also experienced by characters in Bible. Abraham was promised good land and countless offspring even though he died before seeing the fulfillment during his lifetime. Our Lord, Jesus Christ was crucified as criminal of Roman Empire before earning His status as Savior of largest religion on earth 2000 years later.
I also learned by experience that in addition to intelligence and hard work, one crucial factor which enable people to achieve success in short term is ability to tell lies and half-truths convincingly. Obviously, intelligence helps. However, even smartest people have deficiencies. If given chance to choose between honest smart person and liar smart person, majority will choose later most of the times.
So, apparently, if you want to achieve success during your lifetime, disregarding God’s Law about honesty is a must. Since it is not option for faithful believers in God, we should look for another option.
Improving society to be more like heaven
After success for self, improving society is usually also one of most common things motivating people to make difference. This is usually the purpose for those who believe in perfect society (utopia) on earth can be created by human effort, whether it is religion based (fundamentalism) or secular based (freemasonry and humanism). The former rely on evangelism and implementation of theocratic law to transform morality whereas the later rely on development of science and technology to improve human life.
This purpose used to motivate me to participate in evangelistic effort and inspire me to become politician. However, it also bring me to unnecessary arguments with people when I criticize whatever that can be criticized whether it is corporate policy, government, and religious institutions although I sincerely believe the condition will be better if those things are changed.
I also used to believe in this purpose because it is looked more noble than first option since it is focused on community instead of self. However, after awhile, I realized although this purpose is looked noble at first times, it is quite impossible to achieve this. Why, you may ask.
First of all, each people have their own definition of utopia and what kind of people should be included or excluded inside their ideal world. Since no human can have exactly the same mind, it is pointless to talk about ‘improving’ society since improvement is quite subjective depending on your worldview.
Of course, most people will agree on the condition of ideal state such as peace and prosperity. But even so, there will be disagreement on how to achieve such condition. Some people believe that utopia can be achieved by top-bottom approach by choosing correct leader and then he will enforce law and justice. Others believe in bottom-top approach by transforming of people’s mind and heart by education and religion. So, which way is more effective?
On the top of all these disagreement, there are even more fundamental question. Is utopia even achievable in the first place? Of course, there are some doomsday prophets and religious fundamentalists who believe that God will rule at the End of the Times, casting out all wicked people and devil to hell and miraculously, all people will have heavenly body which will immune from pain, aging and death.
But of course, this is not the first time ‘doomsday’ about to happen. In fact, global catastrophe happened already during Noah’s flood. After the flood, Noah and his family are the only people on earth. However, instead of transforming Noah’s body into heavenly body which immune from death, he still died like normal human being.
This fact, combined with God’s promise that he will never destroy all living creatures (Genesis 8: 15) after Noah and also cyclical nature of history of Isrealites and human civilization in general lead me to conclusion that God never intend earth to be heaven in the first place. For as long as humans and animals continue to breed, new free being will be created and have ability to choose between good and evil. Evil will eventually come towards these beings and thus there will not be perfect society on earth no matter how hard any religious or secular leaders try.
There are also secular version of utopia. This worldview believe that humanity can achieve heaven by improvement of science and technology. Just like religious version, this idea is not achievable, as I explained in my previous article.
Love God and keep His Commandments
So, since success is hardly achievable during our lifetimes without throwing away integrity and society cannot be improved and will even degrade, what should we do with our life?
My current conclusion is the same as King Solomon: Just love God by keeping His Commandments for He will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil (Ecclesiastes 12: 13-14).
This alone gave me security and contentment. For although I cannot achieve success during my lifetimes or all my charitable deeds for society achieve no impact, at least I know that God will care and will take into account all my goodness and forgive my sins. For me, it is enough reason for living.