The Purpose of Life

An explanation of why life is hard, why bad things happen to good people, and why there is only one way to heaven.

What is the meaning of life?  The question seems trite and cliche, but we all want to know. Why do we experience difficulties, drudgery, disappointments and death?  Does anyone actually believe that our lives serve no higher purpose so we should just have fun while it lasts?  I mean, I hear that sentiment often, but I can’t believe that anyone really buys it.

Because, let’s just face it, life has as many downs as it has ups. If life were just about having a good time, what a waste all the difficulties would be!  I think the good times and the bad times are pretty equal and opposite—maybe not at every moment, but over the course of a lifetime.  Sickness balances health, pleasure offsets pain, and happiness is the counterpart to misery. If you think that life is just about having fun, you’re going to be disappointed a lot.  One of my very favorite quotes explains this beautifully.

“[The fact is] most putts don’t drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. …
“Life is like an old-time rail journey—delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed.
“The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride” (“Big Rock Candy Mountains,” Deseret News, 12 June 1973, A4).

I believe that God has given us our lives.  I also believe that life is going to throw us the whole gamut—beautiful, carefree, miraculous moments as well as bitter, unrelenting pain.  If we only live our lives for the fun of it, we will mistake the opportunities to grow from our difficulties.  The hard times are as important as the good times—and that knowledge turns useless suffering into a refiner’s fire.  Ironically, it makes the hard times good times too.

I also believe that life is a test. It is our chance to prove ourselves.  We get this one lifetime to show God what we’re really made of. It’s like an experiment, one of those psychological studies they do to see how kids interact when unsupervised.  Usually, in those studies, the children have been given a collection of toys to play with.  Some kids hoard their toys, some share them, some fight over them and others withdraw.  I’m sure that if the kids started to harm each other, the psychologist would want step in, but that would ruin the test.  That’s how I see life. God effectually stepped behind a two-way mirror to observe us.  That’s why bad things happen to good people.  God wants to let us prove that we will be good anyway, even if He doesn’t step in.

So, Ive talked about life as a learning experience, and as a test, and I also think life is a time to prepare to meet God.  So far, the concepts I’ve outlined have been pretty subjective and hard to quantify.  God has also given us objectives to accomplish that are easier to see.  He’s given us commandments and ordinances.  The commandments (like the ten commandments which were given to Moses) are very definitive, and ordinances (like baptism by immersion) are a physical, tangible symbol of our obedience.  By living the commandments and performing ordinances we prepare ourselves to meet God through our obedience.  It is a way to show Him that we are willing to do His will and follow His instructions.

The idea that there is only one way to heaven is unpopular in our age of “do whatever works for you”.  However, God outlines in the Bible that through obedience to these things, we pass the test—so to speak.  He has said that these commandments and ordinances are necessary to our salvation.  So, maybe it seems silly to dunk yourself in a big bath to prove that you love God and want to follow the Savior; However, I think that is another part of the test.  We have to be humble enough to put faith in something like baptism.  NOT because baptism itself is magical, but because we believe in the Savior Jesus Christ and are willing to be obedient to whatever God asks, big or small.  After we have truly done this, we are prepared to meet God.

So, what is the purpose of life? I think life is a growing experience, a test and a preparation.

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