Those who are devoid of purpose will make the void their purpose. – Friedrich Nietzche
In the last two articles, we explored a meaningful way to approach creation with emerging post-church culture. We have seen that in our contemporary age, two approaches to human origin exist. One is the modernist approach that places its faith in science and its discoveries. The other is the post-modernist approach which questions the reliability of reason and science and therefore, takes a less dogmatic approach to questions of human origin. Add to this the emergence of meta-modernity in which modernism and post-modernism begin to approximate one another in a non-rhythmic dance and you end up with a culture where some embrace evolution on Monday while vacillating on it on Tuesday—a milieu in which the story of human origins is open-ended, with science providing a better alternative to religion for some, and others pursuing a more mystical vision of where we come from and where we are headed.
In this context, Christians need to be prepared to recognize which perspective their friends are engaged with at any given moment because each perspective requires a different approach. To the modernist, an apologetic approach is most effective as is exemplified by ministries like The Bible and Beer Consortium. For most anyone else, apologetics tends to be overkill. In these scenarios, a narrative approach works best.
When it comes to the narrative approach, the best angle is to seek, from the onset, to collapse the distance between the story of naturalism and the story of supernaturalism. We do so by imagining a dome in which naturalism resides and learning to appreciate and celebrate the dome for what it’s worth and what it has accomplished. But we also call the sojourner to the world beyond the dome which scripture assumes from the beginning and thus demonstrate that once a world beyond the dome is introduced to the story, a whole new plotline can emerge. There are new possibilities, new dimensions, and new adventures to be had in a universe designed by a conscious trans-physical entity. This alters, not only our origin story but our present being and destiny as well. In short, creation as the overflow of God’s love changes everything—it is a story which, if true, demands man’s total attention.
But the journey into creation has not ended yet. Rather, we must move from creation as an overflow to the essential “what” of creation. The meaning here is that we are moving from “why did God create?” to “what purpose is there in my existence?” It is one thing to say that God created us to be the eternal recipients of his love (the why), but where do we go from there? To what aim do we arise in the morning? To what peak do we set our sights? Upon what horizon do we now cast our gaze?
Failure to explore the essential “what” of creation leaves us with an overly romanticized view of origins in which man appears to wander in bliss like a love-struck teenager who cannot think or function pragmatically in the world. But while God created us to be the recipients of his love (our why) that love is dynamic and intelligent, not static and fanciful. This means God’s love is to be pictured, not as two inamoratos aimlessly staring into each other’s eyes, but as partners moving together into purpose. There is adventure, story, growth, development, and meaning here—a universe created to be explored, traversed and investigated to its utter depths. A pursuit of answers and insights into the bottomless, meta-cosmic reality that is the heart of God. This, I refer to as the essential “what” of creation.
The Essential “What” of Creation
Why we exist is a powerful question that touches on both the joys and agonies of life. To love and be loved is the answer. However, as already stated, this answer, if not coupled with creations essential what, can rapidly degrade into a cliché that has little potency at confronting the existential challenges of the age. If creation’s why is to have any significance, the love it calls us to must transcend mere sentimentalism.
Unfortunately, so much of our preaching presents the love of God this way. We say “God loves you” so much, it loses its momentousness. It becomes a vapid and pallid idea that lacks potency and applicatory power. The essential “what” of creation is, therefore, a perspective I have learned from many conversations with secular seekers who appreciate a faith rooted in God’s love but who, nevertheless, are searching for a love that transcends mere colloquialisms–that is, a love that is heuristic and can help make sense of the incongruities of life. A love that materializes into purpose, direction, and motive—three elements without which existence collapses into routine and toxicity. In order to do this, I return to the Genesis account with a simple question–what was man’s purpose on earth? The answer to that question is given in Genesis 1:28 where God says, “be fruitful, multiply and replenish the earth.”
Friedrich Nietzche once said,
Those who are devoid of purpose will make the void their purpose.
Captured within the boundaries of these words is the quintessential reality that mankind cannot wander. Thus, in the absence of purpose, the absence itself becomes an object of pursuit. And the end result of this pursuit of emptiness can take the form of navigations and escapes such as amusement, duties, and transcendence. These paths, while potentially miry, unsatisfying, and convoluted are nevertheless, greater than no pursuit at all. All this speaks to the simple reality that our lives are meant to mean–that we were designed with a divine echo that daily whispers, “be fruitful”.
This call is deeply embedded in us and provides a foundation to explore, with a fellow seeker, the purpose, motive, and direction of life. The conversation is necessarily vulnerable and as such, intimately meaningful. It helps the contact see that, contrary to popular perception, God is not withholding, not coercing, not limiting but to the contrary—calling us to advance, to develop and to liberate ourselves from the constraints of insecurities and inhibitions to discover and taste our true purpose as children of infinite mystery.
And herein lies the beauty of the creation narrative for it provides us with a metaphysical foundation for contending with the absurdity of life. Life is suffering and this is its most natural state. Were a man to do nothing but wait upon nature to act on him, he would suffer. In other words, we do not need to try to suffer. To the contrary, suffering is the natural stream of life.
As writer Tom Stevenson once eloquently stated, “pain and anguish [are] woven into the fabric of life”. And the only way to contend with this reality is to find, as Nietzche affirmed, meaning in the suffering. So we pursue significance because if we discover virtue in life that outweighs and transcends the suffering, we have found the key to justifying our “pressing on” despite the difficulty of daily existence. The objective is thus, rather than submitting to the suffering as victims of its oppressive regime, to dedicate our lives to overcoming, to the path of mastering life, taming its demons and vanquishing its hordes. In doing so, we rise above the waters that seek to drown us and produce something of meaning—the fruit of mind and being.
But the Biblical call doesn’t end there. It is not simply about living a life that is fruitful but about multiplying that fruitfulness. Here we find a foundation for the family unit which we will discuss in much more detail when we touch on the doctrine of the family. It will suffice for the time being to focus simply on the concept of multiplication for it gives way to incredibly profound existential questions. Questions such as, If your life as it currently stands were to be multiplied across the earth—would suffering increase or decrease? If your children multiplied your character and choices, in what direction would they move the story of humanity? If your priorities in life were multiplied en masse will our world be more beautiful as a result, or less so?
These questions matter for one simple reason. It is easy for us, as self-centered beings, to assume our decisions do not impact the flow of human history. “What does it matter so long as I hurt no one?” Can often be translated as, “What does it matter if the damage is minuscule or imperceptible?” Because the truth is, no decision we make is without consequence but we are often too small-minded to perceive the depth of our choices. Therefore, it is helpful to imagine those choices as being multiplied and asking what their result in that sense would be. For whatever cosmic significance we may find in their exponential state we can also find in their daily micro-states that impact our consciousness, identity, and personhood.
The purpose of life is, therefore, greater than the transcendence of my individual suffering but about whether or not my method of individual transcendence—if multiplied—would infuse the earth with a greater degree of collective suffering or lesser. And likewise, as per the original design, if I am beautifying the earth through my life I am called to multiply that beautification and thus make the earth more beautiful. This brings us to the theme of “replenishing”
Replenish the Earth
We arrive at the final aspect of our essential “what”—to “replenish” the earth. Contrary to what many assume, God did not create a perfectly cultivated world. Instead, he created a perfectly cultivated garden in which he placed Adam and Eve. But beyond that garden, Genesis 2 tells us the rest of the earth was uncultivated. This means Adam and Eve’s job was to cultivate the rest of the world. They were to take the beauty of Eden and reproduce it throughout the entire globe. The invitation to fruitfulness and multiplication is embedded here. There is no way two people can cultivate and maintain entire continents on their own. Instead, it was through multiplication that their act of beautifying the earth would spread until the entire globe was one giant Eden.
Without going into much more detail (once again reserved for the doctrine of the family) I would like to make one major observation. The observation is captured in John Mark Comer’s book Loveology in which he brilliantly states that the purpose of Adam and Eve was simple—to make the earth a more beautiful place.
Indeed, we can take the complexity of humanity’s essential what and bring it down to this singular aim—we exist to be the recipients of God’s eternal love. And what does that look like? It looks like a life that perpetuates a beauty, an existence that revolves around making the earth a more beautiful place. That is our what.
This perspective leads to incredibly compelling conversations. In what way are you making the earth a more beautiful place? In what way are you beautifying the earth by your daily decisions, by your priorities, patterns and rituals? Is your pursuit of amusement making the earth a more beautiful place? How about your obsession with duties? Or the escapism offered by popular philosophies and ethereal spiritual narratives?
In what way are our lives fulfilling their original purpose–to make the earth a more beautiful place? Because so long as we are existing outside of that purpose we will always be trending toward anger, violence, and despair. Says psychologist Jordan Peterson,
People who have no purpose in their life are embittered by the difficulties of their life and they become first bitter, and then resentful, and then revengeful, and then cruel, and there’s plenty of places to go past cruel.
Thus, the narrative of creation captures this compelling vision of a humanity created to receive the eternal love of God and to, in turn, live out that love in practical ways that give birth to complex social structures, cultures, and societies that seek to beautify the earth and an individual existence that operates with the aim to be fruitful and to multiply the joy of that fruitfulness across society. And to imagine an existence governed by such other-centered parameters and to seek to live that existence out in our daily life despite the cruelty of existence is the apex of meaning and value that any man can hope to discover.
And yet, even this heroic act can collapse in the face of a universe that mocks our greatest accomplishments as meaningless drops of sweat in a vast ocean of repression. But not according to the creation narrative. In this story, we find a vision of human origin in which man was designed for the very act of quelling the mystery that encompasses him. And all of this coalesces into an existential marvel of origins that redefines so much of reality and experience.
Thus, I contend, that when approached properly the creation narrative emerges as something fundamentally more compelling than a club to bludgeon modern theories of origin. To the contrary, properly engaged, creation offers us so many answers and mysteries that they suffice to occupy our attention and redefine our lives irrespective of those complex conversations.
How tragic then, that our evangelistic approach rarely taps into this beauty. And when I say evangelistic I am not speaking merely of sermonizing but even of our Bible study resources and the ways in which we are taught to engage others in the conversation over creation and evolution. Sadly, too many Adventists appear to have blindly followed the evangelical call to arms against modern science and evolution. In doing so, we have weaponized Genesis to such a degree that we can no longer derive nor bestow the beauty contained within its plot-line. I contend it’s time to slow down, take a step back and reassess our approach for if we do not, we will continue to ostracize the very culture we have been called to reach.
As I close the portion on creation and absurdity, I hope that the reader can appreciate a bit more the colossal failure of many of our evangelistic approaches to the narrative of creation and perhaps be motivated to help craft a more meaningful and valuable approach that can offer emerging generations a perspective of human origins worth contending within the face of contemporary incredulity.
 Jordan Peterson, “Jordan Peterson | Full Address and Q&A | Oxford Union (Script).”