To Live For
Yesterday I read an article reporting that 1 in 4 young adults surveyed by the CDC admitted to thoughts of suicide during coronavirus lockdowns. Obviously, this should be the most pressing and discussed of all the news coming out in These Unprecedented Times™, and, even more obviously, it's not even close to being so. The number of important questions and conversations this raises ought rightly to boggle the mind.
Most of the issues entangled with such a mass misery are far beyond anything I would wish to cover here. But one thing is clear: it is quite probable that, if you feel deeply in your heart, mind, and soul there is something genuinely worth living for, you will be much less likely to think such awful doom than someone else who, all else being equal, lacks this kind of essential fire in the soul.
I do not here wish to lament the rise of existential disorientation, or nihilism, or despair in people my age, nor do I intend to diagnose it. Rather, my concern is much simpler. So many people struggle to see the point of life going on. Regardless of how and why they end this way, it invites the obvious question: What is worth living for? What do I live for?
The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. This famous catechism answer, however, could use fleshing out. God is complete in Himself, and He made us freely. We are like Him, small images of Him, like children are to their parents. As God's children, He loves us. He wants us to love Him, and He wants the absolute best for us. Unlike human parents, who can never hope to be more than a limited portion of the good for their children, God is the Absolute Good. As C. S. Lewis put it, "God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing." There is nothing God can give us, offer us, or hope for us other than Himself.
Yet God does not give Himself only in one way, or only directly. God shares Himself with us in a thousand refracted beams by creation. When the infinite white light of God's beauty hits the created order, as He Himself designed it, it splits into a dazzling infinity of individual colors. From star to seashell, Venus to valleys, eros to erudition, God gives Himself to us through a whole created world full of people and materials and spirits and activities so that His own infinite goodness might be broken down into baby food for we His infants.
God does not, however, wish us to remain infants forever. Rather, nourished by His gifts and provisions, instructed by His Words, fed at His own table, trained by our older siblings, especially our Elder Brother, He wants us to grow up, to develop. We must mature, growing in stature and wisdom and favor. As we grow, we can participate in the family business. God the Creator, God the Artist, God the Architect, God the Mechanic, God the Judge, God the Mathematician, God the Logician, God the Warrior, God the Playwright, God the Physician—the God behind everything in the world intends us to be like Him. Not every child must learn every job; that would be far too much for we of flesh and blood. But we may all join in one or more of these tasks, becoming servants, helpers, assistants, managers, administrators, and masters alongside our Father. We may share His pleasure in the work of His hands and join His masterpiece project of a cosmos good, true, and beautiful.
Then we are invited, our labors complete, to enter our Father's house and feast with Him and the whole family. A merry house of saints and angels, with all creatures of our God and King, finally unite to celebrate, to honor the Father from whom and through whom and to whom all things exist. We drink to His eternal blessedness, and share His potent wine to make our hearts glad before Him.
I intentionally mix my metaphors in this description. The literal and the symbolic, visions of earth and visions of heaven, what pertains to this life and what pertains to the next—all are here. I have freely blended them, since God Himself has done the same by incarnating the Ineffable as literal flesh and bringing the new creation crashing down like a comet from heaven into the midst of the old.
You may ask, "Do you really live like this, Caleb? Is this how you see your every day?" On one hand, of course not! I live and move and breath in the mists of this life, shrouded in the vapour of vapours which Solomon lamented. Do my eyes truly pierce the fog and see the undiluted glory of the sun? By no means! I awake to the heavy cloak of sleep smothering my will to converse with heaven. In my hunger I feel the pull of mere animal appetite. Weakness of vitality eagerly invites weakness of joy. All in all I find myself struggling to see the world this way in each moment.
And yet, there is more to be said. By faith I see what I do not see. Even when my heart feels blind, this is the world I know I am living in. My thoughts are captive, my will enslaved, my entire stance to the challenges and choices that make up life is bound as by chains to this one vision, even when I cannot quite see it. In these cases, what else can I do but take my orders and live according to plan?
This surety is what controls what I actually do and think every day. I get up and pray to my Father in heaven. I feed my children. I go to work, try to bring love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control to the experience of my coworkers, fret over how to make the meaning of Christ truly visible to them. I go home, bless and enjoy supper, and try against all my sloth to give due love and attention to my wife and my children. I wrap up our family evening in song and Word and prayer. I relax in my blessings, or perhaps do a little creative work to my Father's honor. Then I lie down and take my rest, for He alone makes me dwell in safety. The next day I do it all again, and I keep doing it, trying and pleading each day to bring both the pattern itself and my daily fulfillment of it into closer conformity with the great meaning I know for life. The meaning of life is no mystery but a fixed point around which my whole world turns. What do I have to live for? Life Himself.