Western Seminary’s Ryan Lister has recently published The Presence of God: Its Place in the Storyline of Scripture and the Story of Our Lives and was asked to blog on the topic of his book for Crossway.
In 2002, Rick Warren released The Purpose Driven Life, a wildly popular book that topped numerous best seller lists and sold over 30 million copies in a few short years. Based on sheer sales alone, it’s clear that Warren hit a nerve with his audience. I think a lot of this could be attributed to his speaking to man’s need for purpose—a basic need we all have. We know this because people are consistently asking the questions, “Why are we here?” and “What was I made for?”
But what if there is a more basic question than that of our own purpose? I believe that behind this question is the larger question, “Why do we seek purpose?” There are many possible answers to this fundamental question but I want us to focus on one answer in particular that I would venture to say is largely overlooked by many Christians. That answer: we want a purpose driven life because we were created in the image of a purpose driven God.
In other words, our desire for purpose arises out of God’s own nature. We see how purposeful God is every time we open our Bibles. From beginning to end, Christian Scripture is predominantly a narrative. It tells a story with an introduction, conflict, climax, and is constantly moving toward resolution and conclusion. The God of the Bible is a God of restoration and completion. This means that he has an objective. His world moves toward a goal. History has an end.
The Purpose of Presence
As we dive further into God’s word, we find that one central purpose driving the biblical drama is the restoration of God’s presence. To see this, all we need to do is sneak a peak of the story’s conclusion. In the last few chapters of our Bibles we see God’s people rejoicing in God’s place because they reside perfectly and eternally in the presence of God. As John describes, the final hope of all things is that “the dwelling place of God is with man” and that God “will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev. 21:3). The end of the story reveals that God’s presence is one of the most important goals within God’s redemptive mission.
As you would imagine, this objective influences, not only the end of the story, but all of Christian Scripture. Take the beginning for example. In Eden, God charges the first couple to expand the garden-sanctuary (the first place of his presence in creation) by commanding them to rule and subdue the earth and to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28–30). Through Adam and Eve’s obedience, God’s relational presence would flow from Eden to the rest of the world. From the beginning, then, the Lord, in his divine wisdom, tied humanity’s purpose to his own.
However, as the familiar story goes, Adam breaks this bond and rejects God’s presence for his own arrogant self-idolatry. This throws the purpose of God in doubt. As a result, the curses stemming from Adam and Eve’s disobedience are each levied against the couple’s role in bringing God’s presence to the world (no more easy work and no more easy childbirth). But by God’s mercy alone, the story does not end here. Instead, God shines the light of his promises into the darkness of Adam’s sin.
With Adam outside the garden, God’s presence still remains front and center. This is why we have the covenants. In these oaths, God reinstates his purpose by promising to make a people and a place for the enjoyment of his presence (e.g. Gen. 9:1–15; 12:1–3; 15:6ff.; 17:19; Ex. 19:1ff.; 24:3–8; 2 Sam. 7:12–13; Jer. 31:31–34; Matt. 26:28; Luke 22:20; Heb. 8:6; Rev. 21–22). The covenants line the pages of Scripture like mileposts pointing the way to Jesus Christ, the new Adam who brings the better covenant and opens the gates to the New Jerusalem—the city where God dwells with his people forever.
His Presence and our Purpose
To be sure, it’s easy to read about this and forget that we are a part of this story. Yet, we need to remember that God’s purposes are for us. Where Adam failed, God will succeed, for God pledges to complete his own purpose by bringing his presence to the whole world for his glory and for our good. God works to establish us as his people, to give us a place, all so that we may rejoice eternally in his presence.
It’s only when we catch a glimpse of this God and his glorious purposes that our lives finally make sense and can truly be purpose driven.
This post originally ran at http://www.crossway.org/blog/2014/11/the-purpose-driven-god/
About J. Ryan Lister
J. Ryan Lister (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Associate Professor of Theology at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of The Presence of God: Its Place in the Storyline of Scripture and the Story of Our Lives. He and his wife, Chase Elizabeth, have four children.