I have spent a lifetime in the classroom*. I have assigned literally thousands of reading assignments. I have asked countless questions of students about classroom subject matter. Over the years I grew accustomed to students who weren’t quite prepared for attending class. Experienced teachers will tell you that when you ask a class a question and students have no clue what the answer is, you will see the tops of their heads. Eye contact is minimal. Some may start a frantic search in their books as if the answer will magically jump out at them. Others will just find something to look at on the desktop. They can’t come up with the correct answer; they are not prepared. They are not familiar with the subject matter.
What happens when you ask tough questions of Christians, you know maybe questions they should be able to answer.
Here’s an important question. As a Christian, what is the purpose of your life here on earth?
Let’s say you have a truly “prepared” class of Christians and they come up with some answers. “To bring glory to the Lord!” says one. [Good sounding answer but most teachers would want a definition of glory]. “My purpose is to live a righteous life.” [That’s pretty good if you know what living a righteous life entails]. “My purpose is to run the race, all the way to the finish line.” [Sounds like Paul, so I guess it must be pretty acceptable]. “Share my faith with others.” “My purpose is to live by faith.” [Vague answers seem to be very popular in this Christian class]. “My goal is to die to self and learn to love others.” “Grow in my knowledge of The Word, learn to pray and attend worship with other Christians.” “Learn to love God more than sin.”
Wow this class has lots of answers but none really agree with the purpose of life that J.I. Packer says we should have.
To know God…
That is the title of his book.
How does he defend his answer?
John 17:3 says: “This is eternal life: that we may know You [referring to God], the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.” We all want eternal life and the way this scripture is worded, it sounds like achieving eternal life is a commendable goal. Knowledge of God is the way to attain that.
Jeremiah 9: 23-24 gets even more particular: “This is what the Lord says: let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows Me [God].”
Packer says this about Hosea 6:6. “What, of all states God ever sees man in, gives God most pleasure?” These simple words: “I desired . . . the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”
Packer feels that knowing God provides a foundation for the Christian’s life. Knowing God can shape a Christian’s life and give one a goal. He goes even further. Knowing God can give one a sense of priorities and a “scale of values” [Packer, 34].
We all know of individuals who are at a loss for how to live their life; they have no meaningful reason for living. Packer invokes the absurdist, existential philosopher Albert Camus who wrote that life is merely a bad joke [maybe this truly is the attitude of the one who is “at a loss”]. Of course there are many people who live like that, hoping to find some meaning but meaning and goals for living elude them. Interestingly, he also cites Marie Antoinette who was so bored with life that she declared that “nothing tastes”.
Packer writes that Christians who know God don’t have these problems. “Once you become aware that the main business that you are here for is to know God, most of life’s problems fall into place of their own accord.”
Maybe Packer is right; living life needs a big objective, something which captures our imagination, something that “lays hold of our allegiance.” Knowing God does this. “What higher, more exalted, and more compelling goal can there be than to know God?”
Here is when he does what I would do if I was his teacher. He asks the follow-up question, but what does knowing God mean? I like his metaphor of “having a check is not much good if you don’t have a way to cash it.” Knowing God is meaningless if it does not actually “mean” something. It seems that he recognizes that “knowing God” is just another vague answer that Christians can give to the purpose of life question.
Is knowing God an emotion, a shiver down the back, a floating feeling, exhilaration? Do you hear a voice? Do you see a vision? What happens when one knows God?
Look at the aforementioned answers to the question, what is the purpose of the Christian’s life? Every answer sounds good but are people being fooled when they say “bring glory,” “live a righteous life,” “share faith,” or “die to self.”
What about people who say that their goal is to know God? Are they being fooled too? Packer says yes; many declare that they know God but they really don’t.
Knowing God needs discussion; in the next post, he will begin to discuss what knowing God involves.
Maybe if I was his teacher, I would be satisfied. Particulars!
We will see…
He is adamant that this is our purpose. Let me quote the opening words of Chapter Three and you make a judgement about his seriousness.
“What were we made for? To know God.”
“What aim should we set for ourselves in life? To know God.”
“What is the ‘eternal life’ that Jesus gives? Knowledge of God.”
Sounds serious to me…
If Packer was in my class, he would be looking right at me when I ask my question about the purpose of a Christian’s life here on earth. I would not see the top of his head and he would be saying “to know God.”
*Thirty-seven years as a full-time teacher; five years as a part-time teacher; ten years as Sunday school teacher.