For This Purpose

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?

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47 thoughts on “For This Purpose

  1. Pingback: LDS & Evangelical Conversations: For This Purpose | Sailing to Byzantium

  2. According to the Westminster Confession, Shorter Catechism, “Man’s primary purpose is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” For references, see Ps. 86:9, Is. 60:21, Rom. 11:36, 1 Cor. 6:20, 1 Cor. 10:31, Rev. 4:11, Ps. 16:5-11, Ps. 144:15, Isa. 12:2, Luke 2:10, Phil. 4:4, Rev. 21:3-4

  3. Very good question. I think it is likely a mystery and only understood fully by God Himself. I don’t know that man can arrive at a properly dignified answer.

    Job 7:17-18

    “What is man that you magnify him, and that you are concerened about him, that you examine him every moment and try him every moment?”

  4. God’s purpose in creating man is an expression of his creativity and beauty. Like any great work of art, its inherit beauty is its own justification.

  5. God’s purpose in creating man is an expression of his creativity and beauty. Like any great work of art, its inherit beauty is its own justification.

    When I asked the “purpose of life” questions as an LDS missionary, this was the answer I got from many religious Christians. I remember being very unsatisfied with the answer. I think it was too far removed from human life to formulate from it the purpose of my existence. I saw the Restored Gospel as

    Currently, I have a lot of sympathy with this view. It embraces human diversity a bit better than the common LDS view even if it leaves the individual purpose in life less clear.

  6. Who can disagree with Westminster but, Tim has a solid point?

    I think if we find the purpose of creation in God’s will and his glory, and wonder that God should glory in His creation, how much more should we should we in our contemplation of God’s work “delight in the works of God open and manifest in this most beautiful theater.”

  7. On a more serious note, Kullervo what is it like to be in Germany and not have Gluehwein for Christmas?

  8. We were created, first and foremost for Him.

    The plan is that we love God…and our neighbor as ourself.

    Well…that plan didn’t work so well with self-loving idolators…so He decided that He didn’t want to start over and wipe out everyone (almost) again…so He sent Jesus…to live and show us what it truly is to be human, even though He knew we’d have no part of that.

    But He loves the ungodly. He loves the unworthy and has decided to save some, through the hearing of His Word of promise.

    Such a deal!

  9. Good question. I like Benjamin’s/Westminster Confession’s answer.

    P.S. I’m so glad you’re a Christian, Kullervo—as opposed to dropping through the cracks as Tim has informed me lots of ex-Mormons do. I’d like to hear your whole testimony sometime.

    I’m hoping you don’t mind if I go off-topic for a sec. Jan Shipps’ book on Mormon history arrived in the mail today. Has anyone here read it? If so, how do you rate it?

  10. When I was a missionary, I saw the lack of a concrete answer to “What is the purpose of life” as a serious flaw in traditional Christianity. For me it was my most successful approach to teaching the Gospel.

    As an LDS I would have described the purpose of life variously as:
    (1) to gain physical experience to progress past a pre-earthly existence toward a divine existence
    (2) to be tested to find out what level of glory and happiness we are willing to receive from God
    (3) to learn to control a physical body and deal with the suffering of the world
    (4) to come to know God through experience and revelation.
    (5) to learn and practice Christ-like love

    The classic scriptural definition of the reason God created the world is found in the Pearl of Great Price: ‘This is my work and my glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man'” (Moses 1:39).

    As an LDS I would have described the reason God created humans as:

    (1) an act of fatherly love to allow his children to progress to achieve a divine state like he has
    (2) to provide a scenerio that allowed his children the agency to choose the path toward or away from divinity, i.e. “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

  11. This is not a hard thing,first of all when you come to the realization that there is something wrong with the church, there is, go to the lectures on faith, hold firm to the bible the book of covenants and the book of Mormon there is nothing wrong there for the most part . it is the church.,don’t put to much faith in the Protestants. and run from the church of Rome deal with non stream lds but be careful .don’t be looking for a profit, the church has fled into the wilderness. seek and you shall find. he made you to be with him,for you it is faith repentance ,and baptism that is the Gospel. Paul tell you how to live, bring others to Christ, become one flesh with your wife as that is the key to being able to be one with the one who made you,church history has been sanitized and it is far from the truth,the book of Mormon talks about what real charity is,you have only one life
    to live seek truth and happiness..

  12. I don’t understand why a Mormon would think their isn’t a concrete answer for the meaning of life in Christianity. It seem to be that Mormon are just rejecting that traditionally this meaning has been rooted in God’s will and His free act of creation.

  13. Jared, except for your mention of a pre-earthly existence, I really like your answer. And I think I’m accurately representing evangelicalism in that.

    Gundek, in response to your wondering, I’d say Mormons don’t generally understand us very well.

  14. Terry Displaced RLDS, is that really what you think the purpose of life is?

    If someone said, “Hey, Terry Displaced RLDS, what’s the purpose of life,” you’re telling me that you would actually say “This is not a hard thing,first of all when you come to the realization that there is something wrong with the church, there is, go to the lectures on faith, hold firm to the bible the book of covenants and the book of Mormon there is nothing wrong there for the most part . it is the church.,don’t put to much faith in the Protestants. and run from the church of Rome deal with non stream lds but be careful .don’t be looking for a profit, the church has fled into the wilderness. seek and you shall find. he made you to be with him,for you it is faith repentance ,and baptism that is the Gospel. Paul tell you how to live, bring others to Christ, become one flesh with your wife as that is the key to being able to be one with the one who made you,church history has been sanitized and it is far from the truth,the book of Mormon talks about what real charity is,you have only one life to live seek truth and happiness..”

  15. I don’t understand why a Mormon would think their isn’t a concrete answer for the meaning of life in Christianity. It seem to be that Mormon are just rejecting that traditionally this meaning has been rooted in God’s will and His free act of creation.

    I don’t think you’re average Mormon thinks twice about the traditional Christian view of God’s will and His free act of creation. And I think that has something to do with a lot of traditional Christians not thinking twice about it either, at least by the look of their answers they don’t. Most Catholics I ask, say something like, “To love and serve God and our fellow man.” The common Evangelical answer is “Jesus.” Or, more specifically, “To get saved and to be saved.”

    Of course, Christians have been articulating what the purpose of life looks like for a long long time now. I just don’t think there’s a lot of unity on it – or an easy way to sum it up that doesn’t sound redundant. Maybe you all should get your own “Mormon PR” messaging machine. Or maybe just read more Tom Wright.

  16. Of course, Christians have been articulating what the purpose of life looks like for a long long time now. I just don’t think there’s a lot of unity on it – or an easy way to sum it up that doesn’t sound redundant.

    I think it has to do with the rise of broad Evangelicalism and liberal Protestantism and the decline of confessional Protestant traditions. As Benjamín Reed pointed out in the first comment above, the Westminster Confession, Shorter Catechism articulates a clear and succinct answer to the question.

    The problem is not that Protestantism lacks those answers; the problem is that Protestants are no longer being taught them.

  17. Jared, except for your mention of a pre-earthly existence, I really like your answer.

    Cal,

    You like Jared’s answer that…

    …the purpose of life is to gain physical experience to progress toward a divine existence, meaning to become gods?
    …the purpose of life is to be tested to find out what level of glory and happiness we are willing to receive from God, including specifically exaltation, which means becoming gods?
    …the purpose of life is to learn to control a physical body and deal with the suffering of the world so that we can learn and progress toward godhood?
    …the reason God created the world is as an act of fatherly love to allow his children to progress to achieve a divine state like he has, meaning that his children become gods?
    …the reason God created the world is to provide a scenerio that allowed his children the agency to choose the path toward or away from divinity, i.e., to become gods?

    Are you kidding?

    And I think I’m accurately representing evangelicalism in that.

    What on earth would make you think you are accurately representing evangelicalism in any of the above?

  18. Maybe its better to say – for Protestants, there’s no unity in what is actually taught. I know – shocker.

  19. Kullervo, you of all people ought to know that the word “gods” in non-Mormonism has different connotations than in Mormonism.
    I agree with what Jared said as he said it. When I see my Mormon brothers and sisters in heaven, all current misconceptions will melt away. We won’t even say “I told you so” except in jest, because all pride and competitiveness will be gone!
    Have a blessed day, brother.

  20. So you can agree with the Mormon answer, assuming that you define all of the words they use differently than they do.

    PS, that’s not agreeing.

  21. Christian,

    I guess my question was really pointed at Jared’s explanation that he thought the lack of a concrete answer to “What is the purpose of life” as a serious flaw in traditional Christianity.

    I think that both Mormons and Christians have concrete answers to the meaning of life and I am not trying to criticize. I appreciate Jared’s answer but I recognise that my answer is going to be completely unsatisfying to a believing Mormon.

    I think his answer highlights a difference in our respective systematic theologies and even when we ask the same question “what is the meaning of life?” we really don’t mean the same thing.

    I think most Christians who think about a “meaning of life” are going to start with how “Scripture and Tradition never cease to teach and celebrate this fundamental truth: “The world was made for the glory of God.”” as the Roman Catechism explains.

    While I have never heard anyone say simply that Jesus is the meaning of creation if this was used with John 6:36-40 or John 17 or Hebrews 2:10ff. in mind I think that might be a pretty meaningful answer albeit a from a Trinitarian perspective.

    Or from the perspective that Tim laid out, if creation is an expression of God’s creativity and beauty (the theater of glory as Calvin would say) then it sets the stage for his perfect Revelation to culminate in Christ Jesus.

    You know the more I think about it the more I like “Jesus” as the meaning of creation.

  22. I think that the Christian answer is off-putting to Mormons because it is entirely focused on God and not centered at all on man.

  23. Cal,

    I couldn’t see why Mormons don’t understand us very well when you put out such a consistent message.

    I mean as an evangelical I assume you believe in justification by faith alone but, you find the meaning of life to be a test “to find out what level of glory and happiness we are willing to receive from God”.

    Let’s ignore for the moment that Jared’s points are a systematic presentation of pre-existence and exaltation (in everything that means to a Mormon). I’m wondering why you think it would in any way be acceptable to an evangelical to think the meaning of life is in any way connected to progress toward divinity?

  24. I think you can argue that the Christian answer forces the rejection of Plato’s eternal matter a central feature of Mormonism.

  25. Kullervo said, “So you can agree with the Mormon answer, assuming that you define all of the words they use differently than they do. PS, that’s not agreeing.”

    I agree that that’s not agreeing. But here’s what Jared said, minus the first point:

    (2) to be tested to find out what level of glory and happiness we are willing to receive from God
    (3) to learn to control a physical body and deal with the suffering of the world
    (4) to come to know God through experience and revelation.
    (5) to learn and practice Christ-like love

    I don’t see any words in that that Mormons would define differently than us. I realize that if you fleshed it out some more, if you added details, differences would pop up. (Well, maybe “level of glory” would be a bit different.)

  26. Gundek said,
    “I mean as an evangelical I assume you believe in justification by faith alone but, you find the meaning of life to be a test “to find out what level of glory and happiness we are willing to receive from God”.

    I believe in justification by faith alone but as Martin Luther said, “not a faith that is alone,” i.e., not an inactive faith. Saving faith works (James 2). You believe that, don’t you?
    According to the Bible, God is testing Christians. How we respond to his overtures will decide how great our reward is in heaven. That’s evangelicalism—varying rewards. You know that, don’t you?

    Then you said, “Let’s ignore for the moment that Jared’s points are a systematic presentation of pre-existence and exaltation (in everything that means to a Mormon). I’m wondering why you think it would in any way be acceptable to an evangelical to think the meaning of life is in any way connected to progress toward divinity?”

    Peter says we share in the divine nature. John 17 indicates Christians are one with each other in the way the Father and Son are one, and as we are one with the Trinity. Of course, they will always be God, not us. Mormons know that.

    Sleep tight, my man.

  27. Cal,

    It is difficult for me to fathom how either John 17 or 2 Peter 1:4 can be understood asapotheosis.

    While I agree that God tests people, the question remains is the purpose of this testing to merit a level of glory and happiness or to reveal our true heart, our need of repentance, and our reliance on Him alone. James talks about the refining fire of God’s testing, “that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

  28. Gundek,

    I don’t know what asapotheosis means.

    I think you’re right about God testing the sincerity of our hearts and about His refining fire.

    It just so happens that right now, this evening, I’m working on something I’m writing about the Trinity and the Mormon view of it and a conversation I had with you and others on this forum. I’ll paste what I am working on to here so that you can comment on it. If it passes your inspection, it’ll pass anyone’s! . . .

    When I first heard that there is supposed to be a oneness within the Trinity that we are not allowed to share in or know the nature of, I didn’t think it was biblical. But the Lord wants us to be teachable and open to correction, not hardhearted, so I gave it some thought.
    I also asked God to show me what he thought about it, as I normally do. A day or so later, God spoke to me while sitting in my living room. I became aware of an urge in my heart to look up the verse in Colossians that says that all the fullness of the Deity lives in Christ in bodily form. The scripture is commonly used to prove Christ’s deity—and of course it does. The urge didn’t feel ordinary; it felt like a God-urge. Remembering that God’s voice is consistent and persistent, I waited a bit to see if the urge would remain. I didn’t dare wait long because I feared I’d forget it. The impression came again a few minutes later and felt like I would disobey God if I didn’t find the verse and examine it.
    Having done so, I discovered two very significant pieces of information. The Greek word for Deity in Colossians 2:9 is theotēs. According to “Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words,” theotēs indicates “the ‘divine’ essence of Godhood,” and is distinguished from another Greek word which refers to God’s attributes or his nature. Critics of Mormonism had told me of these two Greek words and the difference between them. As far as that goes, they were right.
    However, the second point God drew to my attention regarding Colossians 2:9 was in the context. The context indicates that this divine essence of the Deity (KJV: Godhead) that fills the Lord Jesus Christ, is not something we can’t share in. It indicates just the opposite! (God is smarter than the greatest theologians.) Notice the phrase in the middle:

    Colossians 2:9-10
    For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.

    The Amplified Bible (the version Joyce Meyer likes) brings this exciting truth out even more clearly:

    Colossians 2:9-10 Amplified
    For in Him the whole fullness of Deity (the Godhead) continues to dwell in bodily form [giving complete expression of the divine nature]. And you are in Him, made full and having come to fullness of life [in Christ you too are filled with the Godhead—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—and reach full spiritual stature].

    ————–
    Goodnight.

  29. I think that the Christian answer is off-putting to Mormons because it is entirely focused on God and not centered at all on man.

    The traditional Christian answer was simply unsatisfying; not concrete enough.

    I think Gundek is right in that Mormons are generally asking a different question when they ask “why am I here?”

  30. Response to hay Terry.. The question in the first place is rather a no brainer it works to have one jumping through there ass hole for an answer that you already know in the first place, it is your conditioning that has lead you to here and that is to pretend you are smarter than us ,it is your bloge, we are given the two great commandments, and to be of one flesh , JS fell BY was a fraud and it goes on and on, if you don’t have faith ,you’re not going to be part of it. you know that.

  31. @kullervo:

    The path is not readily apparent when you say “glorify god” or to “enjoy him forever”.

    Mormonism takes Ecclesiastes 12:13:

    “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.”

    and, in essence, makes this duty the purpose of human existence. A subtle yet significant shift.

  32. Gundek,

    Good idea. I probably have an unrighteous record of disrespecting the rules of courtesy. Half the time I don’t even realize what I’m doing.

  33. Utau Mormons are asking why they are hear because they have been taught a lie,That is not to say that orthodox mormons are not the restored church they are. All protestants came from the catholic church. they are all apostate. The restored church is as well ,and has flead into the wilderness. Utau Mormons are going to have a vary hard time of things when they discover that church history is a lie,that JS fell as a true profit, that masonry crept into the church ,that the doctrine or spiritual wifery is just as much a fraud as the incredible disjunctive doctrine of,AS GOD IS MAN ONCE WAS. the unbelievable transfiguration of Brigham Young The conspiring to kill Joseph and hyrum.where does one stop with this As i have said in the past don’t give up on the restoration ,just send the lies to the trash bin.

  34. the unbelievable transfiguration of Brigham Young The conspiring to kill Joseph and hyrum. where does one stop with this [?]

    A better question is, where does one begin with this.

  35. The path is not readily apparent when you say “glorify god” or to “enjoy him forever”.

    As it turns out, the Shorter Catechism is not a one-question catechism:

    Q1. What is the chief end of man?
    A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

    Q2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
    A. The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.

    Q3. What do the Scriptures principally teach?
    A. The Scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

    Etc.

    Anyway, the question is, what is the purpose of life, not what is the way to achieve that purpose.

  36. Anyway, the question is, what is the purpose of life, not what is the way to achieve that purpose.

    I guess someone should cite Moses 1:39:

    For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

    It appears that glorifying God is also the purpose of life for a Mormon. And we’re back again to the Trinity as the only relevant distinction….(I keep telling you that the correct answer is always going to be Trinity Trinity Trinity)

  37. Without comparing what is meant by glory in Moses 1:39, where it appears that God works out and adds to his own glory, and what is meant in the Shorter Catechism, of course the correct answer is going to be Trinity.

    Thomas Watson (d. 1686) in the first paragraph of his sermon on the Shorter Catechism question 1 explains that glorifying God is to glorify the Trinity. This continues to the enjoyment of God where the first use of enjoying God is worship of the Trinity.

  38. Jered .Stop means to stop going on with examples of the lies,The place to start is at the beginning.

  39. The problem my friend, is that Joseph’s visions often look a lot like Brigham’s transfiguration. Joseph went to his grave, in part, because he did not back down on practicing a religion that ultimately Brigham Young championed.

  40. Jared start with the expositor move forward and back from that point,the point was for joseph to
    lead people astray to see if they would follow blindly, thats why he was fallen like many others in the old testament good luck and god bless.

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