Before we get started looking at the answers, we must clarify exactly what the question is. In reality we will not be dealing with one question, but with three. The three questions are intricately related, but they are nevertheless distinct. Those three questions are as follows:
1. What is the purpose of creation?
2. What is the purpose of life?
3. What is the meaning of life?
What is the purpose of creation? This is a question that must be asked not of us, who are mere creations, but of the creator, or perhaps more appropriately, the Creator. This Creator, of course, is none other than the being that we commonly refer to as God. Right off the bat we’re getting ourselves into the most famous debate of all time - the nature of the source of our existence. Countless wars have been fought over this matter. Thousands of books have been written about it, including some of the most influential works of human history. The fate of millions of lives has been woven with the fabric of this question. To this day it remains in the forefront of political battles and international conflict. The debate/battle, until the last two centuries, had centered on whose version of the deity was correct. While that battle still rages, it has been joined by another - the debate on whether there is a God to begin with. It is with this latter question that we are concerned.
If there is no God, no Creator, then it goes without saying that there is no purpose to creation. If it is all just one grand accident, then however linked it may be to certain fixed physical laws that guided its form and structure, there is still no purpose. No matter how we choose to spin things to optimistically find some purpose in creation and in our lives, we are only fooling ourselves. There is just the purposeless universe and maybe a slew of equally purposeless universes as its neighbors, and that’s it. The only way to get some purpose out of the mess is to allow for the existence of a Creator.
On the other hand, if we have a Creator it opens up infinite possibilities. Instantly, we have almost as many purposes as there are religions. This is not necessarily such a wonderful thing, but at least it gives us some room to poke around. Of course, every one of these religions may very well be wrong about their answer. In all likelihood, each religion believes the other religions are as wrong as can be. However, they all agree on one crucial thing – there is a purpose.
This is the debate in all its glory. If there is a Creator, there is a purpose and maybe we can understand it. If there isn’t a Creator, there is no purpose. While there may not be a solid resolution to this debate, and it may go on as long as human beings are capable of thinking creatively, the two sides are very clearly defined. To ask the question, ‘What is the purpose of creation?’ assumes the reality of a Creator and rejects the notion of it all being a grand accident. It assumes creation didn’t just ‘happen’ but that someone or something created it for a reason. What was that reason?
The second question is ‘What is the purpose of life?’ This question, while appearing similar to the first question is really directed to those who live, namely the creations. Obviously not all creations are capable of answering this question. How would a rock answer it, or a molecule, or empty space? But those creations that can answer it must attempt to do so. They have to figure out why they were created. What are they supposed to be doing with their lives? This is the intent of the second question.
Obviously, this question also assumes a Creator with a plan for at least some of the creations. Without such a Creator, any purpose those creations manage to conjure would be nothing more than wishful thinking to decorate a dismal and purposeless existence with a gloss of purpose. Equally obvious is that there is no guarantee that any answer any group or individual comes up with is correct, regardless of the correctness of the assumption underlying the question. Nevertheless, the question is still there and we must include this question in our short list of things to really wonder about. We may not arrive at any definitive conclusion. Worse, we may reach a conclusion that is wrong, or harmful to ourselves or to others. But such is the price we must pay for attempting to solve the most pressing problem of our existence – what are we supposed to be doing with our lives? How should we use these most wonderful of gifts - the twin gifts of time to experience existence and the arena in which to experience it in?
The third question, ‘What is the meaning of life?’, is the one those who think about matters such as these like to ask. It generally overlaps with the second question, so much so that most people cannot easily identify a difference between the two. But there is a difference: the second question focuses of what we should be doing with our lives, while the third question deals with what we should be getting out of our of our lives. What are we to reap from all the time and energy we expend over our lives? What is the inner message that life reveals to us? Again, this question assumes that there is an underlying meaning to life. It also assumes that we can somehow attempt to figure out what that meaning is. Many people may feel that while it is intuitively obvious that there is some meaning to life and that God is the source of that meaning, it is by no means obvious to them what on earth that meaning is. They may readily admit that they don’t have a clue as to what the answer is or how to go about looking for it. How do we find this answer?
First, do we have any clues? We do have holy books and traditions that have been passed along through the centuries. But who is to say that they hit upon any sacred truth. Even if they did, is that truth still relevant today in an age when so much has changed so rapidly that it seems to make much of the past appear almost like a fairy tale? But we also have more recent discoveries - scientific breakthroughs and new understandings of our place in the universe. Maybe these can shed some light on what life is all about. The problem with this route is that these discoveries only appear to confirm the suspicion that there is no meaning to life at all since the tools of science are machines – inanimate gadgets that lack the spiritual sensitivity necessary to detect meaning.
But we also have our own inner experiences. Maybe we can discover some inner message by looking inside ourselves with an open mind and a searching heart. This method enables each person to discover his or her own personal meaning in life. One answer will not suffice for everyone since we all have different experiences to tap into. Some people may prefer this independence, seeing it as their personal quest that only they can fulfill. Others may not have the wherewithal to take this path of inner discovery and will need guidance to help them along.
Meaning seekers have probably been wondering about the meaning of life ever since human beings had the luxury to think about something other than their own survival. Religions, to a great degree, are built around this search. Most of the religious answers require a great deal of faith in ideas or truths that originate from some individual of the distant past. Some still hit upon some essential human need and are just as powerful as ever. Others lost their power when society changed and people no longer found those ideas to be useful or relevant. More recent spirituality has revealed newer avenues that may strike a stronger chord with the modern mind. Many of these ideas are out there for the taking, waiting to enlighten those who are able to grasp their message and incorporate it into their lives.
The one common theme all these answers will have is the ever-present matter of God. This is unavoidable in exploring these questions and in particular when doing so from a Jewish angle. God’s presence or absence will always be a factor. We are going to leave the nature of God largely undefined, though there will be occasional opportunities to inject images and ideas that may help understand what Jews have meant by this most mysterious of human concepts. For now, suffice it to say that God is the Creator of our reality and the source of any ultimate meaning and purpose that we may find.
The questions are threefold and the answers have reached the count of 60. There are many more out there that we either haven’t found or have not included for one reason or another. We are quite aware of the how debatable our interpretations of these Jewish ideas really are. We welcome criticism and refinement, flat-out disagreement and confirmation. We see this project not so much as a presentation but a discussion. It is a continuation of a discussion that has been going on as long as Jews, their predecessors, and their heirs, have been wondering about what life is all about. Who are we? Why are we here? Where are we going? What should we be doing with our lives? These answers are snapshots of that discussion. But the discussion never ended. It is going on still, as we speak.
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Date: 01/15/18 at 15:52:58
I am confused, as I don't see any answers, only more questions.
Date: 01/16/18 at 02:06:54
Well my friend, that is part of the whole struggle. If there was an easy answer this question would not be such a big one. Personally, I believe the answer can only come from within you. This platform is to start your mind going.