Guest post by Kullervo
My impression is that at one point in the history of Mormon PR and the missionary program, “the purpose of life” was one of the big hooks that Mormons used in order to open up conversion dialogue. I suppose that the assumption was that the potential convert, like many people, has probably been thinking about what the purpose of life is, and by opening a discussion about it, the missionary (or member-missionary) would have the chance to share the particulars of the Mormon understanding of Heavenly Father’s plan for mankind.
By the time I served a full-time mission (1998-2000), “the purpose of life” was not really one of the major official emphases. At least, the prescribed discussions that we as missionaries were supposed to lead potential converts through didn’t really build on “the purpose of life” as a starting point.
Nevertheless, I remember one missionary conference when our mission president told us that was a good way to start discussions with people we came into contact with–again, my assumption is that this was a more common emphasis in the Mormon missionary program when he was younger (he had also lived the vast majority of his life in part of the country where the non-Mormon population was extremely small, so I imagine that most of his working knowledge about actually “sharing the gospel” was theoretical).
Obediently (and willing to try anything–the Ruhr was not exactly a fertile missionary field) I tried “the purpose of life” as an approach a couple of times at the door, on public transportation and in the streets, and it always fell really flat. I’m sure there was a good way to transition from the purpose of life to the Discussions, but it wasn’t clear to me. Certainly in a street-contacting situation where you might only have a person’s attention for a few seconds it never seemed like there was a good way to move from asking about the purpose of life to having a discussion that would help the contact “feel and recognize the Spirit” in a way that would lead to an appointment to teach the Discussions. I guess I kind of hoped that someone would be stunned by the directness and forthrightness of the question and would be caught so off guard that they would be temporarily open to the truths of the “Restored Gospel,” but again, that never really happened.
The thread to this, though, is that part of Mormon belief is that (a) Heavenly Father has a specific plan for mankind and (b) He has revealed the details of His plan through latter-day prophets.
This has been on my mind ever since I talked to my mother this past Sunday–she teaches Gospel Doctrine in her ward (Mormon congregation), and this year the focus is on the Old Testament. She told me about what she taught, and while the details are incidental, the main idea was that the whole of scripture, specifically the Old Testament, both reflects Heavenly Father’s plan and should be read in light of Heavenly Father’s plan.
Now, I’m not a Mormon anymore. I’m a fairly-Evangelical possibly-even-Calvinist Protestant Christian. So while I don’t subscribe to the Mormon Plan of Salvation anymore (I don’t even use those terms), I do believe that God set the events of creation in motion with a specific end in sight. And while I don’t know how meticulous of a Providence I believe in, I am definitely not an Open Theist.
In any case, I’d like to talk about what “Heavenly Father’s plan” for mankind really is. So, with that in mind, my question is, what is the purpose of life, and how does your answer square with the Bible?