I was listening to a podcast on my drive from Murfreesboro to Nashville this morning that really got me thinking. The host of the podcast was talking with the owner of a hotdog restaurant in Detroit who has worked there since the late 1960s. He makes the same chili recipe every morning—7 days a week. Last year, aside from the five holidays when the place is closed, he only took three days off. Think about that. The man worked 357 days last year. And from the sound of it, that is a typical year for him.
So here is what I pondered: Why?
Why invest your entire life into making chili and serving hotdogs? I’m sure they are great hotdogs, but is that really how you want to live your entire life? When this man’s life is over, does he really want to look back and see that he spent the bulk of it in a hotdog joint?
And that takes us to this week’s session, Solomon Thought about Life. (Unit 12, Session 1) Solomon didn’t know anything about hotdogs, but he asked the same type of questions. Here was his conclusion in Ecclesiastes 1:2-5.
2 “Absolute futility,” says the Teacher. “Absolute futility. Everything is futile.” 3 What does a man gain for all his efforts that he labors at under the sun? 4 A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. 5 The sun rises and the sun sets; panting, it returns to its place where it rises.
Now, that’s cheery, isn’t it?
But Solomon wasn’t just having a bad day when he wrote this. He is absolutely right. Life is pointless. It has no meaning whatsoever. We are all born with nothing, live a certain number of years accumulating some things and doing some things, and then we die—with nothing. Even the notion that we should leave the world a better place begs the question of to what end? So what if the next generation has a better world in which to live for a passing moment before they too die with nothing. Life is pointless… that is, apart from Jesus.
To explore the meaning and purpose of life, we need to go all the way back to Eden in Genesis 1-2.
As we read through the created order described in Genesis 1-2, we can find three main purposes of life:
- We Exist to Enjoy Perfect Relationship with God. God has enjoyed perfect relationship within His triune nature of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit so God did not create people for relational needs. Put another way, God was not lonely. Instead, God created people so that we could be brought into this perfect relationship and enjoy Him. It has been said that God has always enjoyed a perfect and beautiful relational dance of Father, Son, and Spirit and we were invited into that dance. This is implicit in Genesis 3 where God is described as walking in the Garden in the cool of the day. God was coming to earth to walk with Adam and Eve and enjoy fellowship together.
- We Exist to Enjoy Perfect Relationship with Others. Relationship with God was not God’s only intention for mankind. He also designed us to enjoy perfect relationships with each other. We see this in God’s declaration that it was not good for Adam to be alone. Remember, this is before the Fall, so it was not a concession because of broken relationship with God. This is part of God’s ideal plan. God’s intention was for Adam and Eve to enjoy an intimate relationship of complete acceptance. This is why we read they were naked and unashamed. There were no barriers between them.
- We Exist to Enjoy Perfect Service and Worship of God. Adam was to rule over creation and work the ground. Eve was to be part of populating the earth. This was their service to God and it was how they worshiped God. We often think of worship in a more technical sense—what we do when we gather corporately on Sundays or at least what we do in our personal times of prayer and Bible reading. However, worship is more broad than that. It is anytime we enjoy God’s provision, and reflect on His goodness to us with gratitude. So Adam and Eve worshiped God by enjoying their work and their relationship and declaring God’s goodness in providing for them.
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? An eternity of enjoying God, others, and meaningful service to God.
But then it all came undone when Adam and Eve rebelled. Notice what happened to our purpose as God described the consequences of sin in Genesis 3:16-18.
16 He said to the woman: I will intensify your labor pains; you will bear children in anguish. Your desire will be for your husband, yet he will rule over you. 17 And He said to Adam, “Because you listened to your wife’s voice and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘Do not eat from it’: The ground is cursed because of you. You will eat from it by means of painful labor all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 You will eat breads by the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground, since you were taken from it. For you are dust, and you will return to dust.”
All of what God designed fell apart.
Adam ruling over creation and working the ground now would be difficult.
Eve’s role in producing children and population the earth would be difficult.
Adam and Eve’s relationship with each other would now have conflict.
Adam and Eve’s relationship with God was now severed.
Because of our sin, we messed everything up and were not able to do anything about it. And this is where we echo Solomon: Absolute futility. Everything is futile.
Pretty bleak, isn’t it?
But it is right here in this darkness where light stepped in in the person of Jesus.
The first glimpse of how Jesus would make everything right again—the gospel—can be found in God’s judgment of the serpent in Genesis 3:15.
15 I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.
Satan would strike Jesus on the cross, but Jesus would in turn crush him on that very cross and through the empty tomb. Jesus would undo the curse. He would restore all things and recover our purpose. We see another snapshot of the gospel a few verses later in Genesis 3:21 as well.
21 The Lord God made clothing out of skins for Adam and his wife, and He clothed them.
When Adam and Eve sinned, their eyes were opened and they saw they were naked and felt shame. They tried to cover their shame with leaves. But God rejected that attempt. It wasn’t because God was concerned about fashion. It wasn’t like leaves were out of season or you couldn’t wear leaves after Labor Day. God’s point to Adam and Eve was two-fold. First, they could not cover their own shame. It was out of their control. But God could. Second, not any covering would do. Adam and Eve’s sin and shame required a certain kind of covering—a blood covering. The animals killed for their clothing were most likely the first deaths in history. God had said death would come about because of sin and here it was. But think about the amazing word picture shown here. God covered Adam and Eve’s shame by sacrificing an animal on their behalf. The imagery of Jesus and the gospel are clear.
That moment all the way through Revelation 20 is the advancement of that gospel story—how Jesus made everything right again through His obedience, sinless life, His death, and His resurrection. Revelation 21-22 describe what it will be like when everything is finally restored once again. In eternity, we will again realize our ultimate purpose—perfect relationship with God, perfect relationship with others, and perfect service and worship of God—forever.
As great as that news is, there’s even better news. We don’t have to wait. We can experience purpose and meaning of our lives in Christ right now as we spend time with Him, others, and serve and worship Him. While all of these are still shadows of God’s intention, they are saturated with meaning and hope. What we do today matters—for eternity. And that is good news.
How does the gospel help you find meaning and purpose even in the seemingly mundane and ordinary aspects of life? Leave a comment below.
Here is more help for leaders preparing for the August 14, 2016 session (Unit 12, Session 1) of The Gospel Project for Kids.
Brian Dembowczyk is the team leader for The Gospel Project for Kids. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to LifeWay. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Brian, his wife, Tara, and their three children—Joshua, Hannah, and Caleb—live in Murfreesboro, TN, where Brian enjoys drinking coffee and teaching 4-5 graders at City Church.