The other day, a box of cheddar bunnies tried to convince me that by eating them I was saving the planet.
No, seriously. I was reading the side panel of a purple box of Annie’s crackers where it was telling me all about how my putting these cheese crackers in my mouth was somehow ending global warming and promoting sustainable farming and so on and so forth.
I’m really happy for Annie’s and their admirable business practices. But what interested me is that they thought I would be encouraged to know that I was playing my part by being a conscientious consumer. It felt like they were patting me on the back for buying their box of crackers, like I was some kind of accidental hero.
But I know this isn’t true. I was just trying to buy crackers for my kids. I’m just a dad who wants to make sure I have something to throw at the ravenous beasts who prowl my kitchen.
In other news, we are all so desperate to assign purpose to our daily lives.
We are stockpiling our Annie’s cracker boxes and 2-hour service projects and woke social media posts, so that when we get to the end of our lives we will know for certain that we made a difference. My fear is that we are beginning to believe that we are the aggregate of our causes. If I pile enough small, simple, manageable causes into my life, somehow I can know I amounted to something.
Then my life will then have purpose.
There is a reason we have a hunger for an eternal purpose. It’s because we have one. Each of us. The problem is that many of us act as though we live in a existential reality. The world tells us it is our job to generate a telos out of thin air—-as though there is no Creator who put us into his story to live out a very specific purpose.
And so we set about the task. A quite weighty task, if you think about it: defining the eternal purpose for your personal existence…And yet, many of us go about filling that definition with airy fluff that is more about assuaging our consciences and excusing ourselves from hard work.
Consider: how many causes ask you to do something outside of your comfortable life? Marketing is geared around making you feel like a part of a movement without actually having to leave your home. I’m on the board of a non-profit. Part of fundraising for these organizations is making it as easy as possible for people to give. If it requires more than a few lazy clicks, it’s just too…much…work.
Will you allow me an Arrested Development reference? (This is my blog. Why am I asking your permission??) We are all like Buster Bluth; day by day, our little causes are like hits from a grape juice box. The thing about juice boxes is that they never satisfy.
I think we can all agree that there is a great difference between drawing an X on your hand and opening a bakery to hire women out of prostitution rings. There is a great difference between sharing memes about bad government policy and actually becoming a dedicated foster parent. Much of our causes are simply virtue signaling, meant to make us feel confident in a self-centered life. Hits from a juice box.
We need to abandon the grape juice box habit for something deeper, richer, and longer-lasting. The fine wine of the Gospel takes longevity, patience, intentionally, selflessness, and hard work. It means joining a local church and entering into frustrating relationships. It means becoming aware of your own narrow-mindedness. It means rubbing shoulders with real flesh and blood people whose problems can’t be solved by clicking a “like” or “share” button. It means realizing you do have an eternal purpose–one that you don’t get to define.
I’ve met many Christians who are passionate about causes and service projects but have no interest in joining a local church. This gets at the fundamental issue at hand. Who defines your life’s purpose? Causes, service projects, and social media campaigns are available at our convenience; we pick and choose. But when we join a local church, we are allowing God–through others–to completely re-order our priorities.
Juice boxes taste great…for like five seconds. My kids can pound three of them in no time when they are at their grandparents. It’s a brief moment of euphoria. We feel a sense of purpose in that moment, when we click “share” or finish our annual shift at the soup kitchen. But then tomorrow comes, and we need another juice box.
The Gospel calls us out of our own self-determinism into a narrative that has already been written from start to finish. It is a story where our entire lives are re-oriented around a God-man who lived, died, and rose again 2,000 years ago and will one day return. We have to accept on faith that God has actually sent his Son to rescue us from doing evil deeds, ransomed us from slavery to sin, in order that we might become his people and fill the earth with the good deeds he has already laid out before us.
Life as the redeemed people of God is the rich, complex wine our souls thirst for. It’s only once we have found our purpose in Christ that we can then march into the world to do good deeds. This is what Paul means when he writes:
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, wanting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11-14)
Good works follow from the realization of our telos. We have been drawn into a narrative that is bigger than your life or mine. It is a narrative written by God’s grace. It is a narrative we must share with the people of God. It draws us into relationships where older men and women speak into the lives of younger men and women (Titus 2:1-10).
We were created for a purpose. We discover that purpose in the rich, deep life together in the body of Christ. There you will find the perseverance and endurance and integrity to strive for lasting change. As you find your eternal purpose in Jesus Christ, you will overflow into your communities and the world with determination. Because it is Christ’s purpose to purify a people who are zealous for good works.