In an article in Parade Magazine, Marilyn vos Savant responded to a question that asked, “What is the reason we are here?” Her response was as follows:
I think it depends on your spiritual beliefs. If you have a religion, it provides the answer. But if you don’t believe in a god, the question contradicts your thinking. Having a reason implies having a purpose, which indicates an intelligent being for cognitive power, etc. with intent. That’s what people call a god. So if you don’t believe a god exists, you can’t believe reason exists.
But, what do the Bible and Christian commentators have to say about why humans exist (i.e., the purpose of human life)?
Ecclesiastes 1:2 states, “’Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher; ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’” [Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible, except when we quote a non-biblical source that is using Scripture from a different version of the Bible.]
Most of the biblical book of Ecclesiastes reflects the writer’s belief in the futility or purposelessness of life. Because the writer is believed to have been Salomon, one of the wisest and wealthiest men to have ever lived, the ideas that are expressed are particularly noteworthy. If Solomon could not find purposefulness in life, how can those of us who are less gifted expect to find it?
On page 254 of his book entitled Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Gleason L. Archer offers the following comments:
A careful . . . study of Ecclesiastes brings out the true purpose and theme of its author. After he has tried every other avenue to the highest value in human life, Solomon gives his personal testimony as to the emptiness and disgust that resulted from his tasting to the full all that the world could offer him in the way of satisfaction and pleasure. It all turned out to be futile and unworthy, completely lacking in ultimate satisfaction.
Subsequently, on page 255 of the same book, Archer says,
The natural man who has never taken God seriously falls into the delusion that “this world is all there is.” Well then, replies the Preacher, if this world is all there is, let us find out by experience whether there is anything ultimately worthwhile in this world – anything that yields real satisfaction. The result of his extensive experiment . . . was that nothing but meaninglessness and profound disappointment await the secularistic materialist.
The message that comes through loud and clear in Ecclesiastes is that true meaning in life is found only in a relationship with God.
Also, with regard to Ecclesiastes, the Summer 2013 Personal Study Guide for Adults, which is used by many churches in Bible studies, states on page 72,
Solomon . . . concluded that having all the wisdom in the world won’t satisfy our deepest needs.
Solomon turned his attention to pleasure as the goal of life. He defined pleasure as the constant effort to enjoy all the good things in life. You surround yourself with only the things that make you happy. . . . The modern term for this approach to life is hedonism, and many people today seem intent on repeating Solomon’s experiment with pleasure. Too often, however, they end up being addicted to alcohol, drugs, pornography, or other destructive “pleasures.”
[Solomon concluded that] neither pleasure nor human wisdom could ultimately satisfy the desire for meaning in life.
Then, on page 74, the Study Guide says,
[Solomon] realized that trying to find the ultimate purpose of life apart from God was what made those things appear futile and empty. . . . We will never find ultimate contentment and peace in life without a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Norman Geisler, Ph.D., and Thomas Howe, M.A., state on page 254 of their book entitled When Critics Ask,
Solomon is recording his search for happiness and meaning in life by pursuing everything that this world offers. Each of these seemingly skeptical observations is aimed at demonstrating that, apart from God, everything “under the sun” is only vanity, and that the only source of true happiness and lasting peace is the Lord our God. Solomon’s investigations led eventually to the conclusion that the whole duty of man is to “fear God and keep His commandments” (Ecc. 12:13).
Note that the word translated as “fear” in Ecclesiastes 12:13 has a different meaning than the one we usually have in mind when we think of “fear.” Strong’s Concordance of the Bible indicates that when the word fear is “used of a person in an exalted position, [it] connotes ‘standing in awe.’” Therefore, it is not necessary to literally fear God, but it is necessary to show Him utmost reverence.
Rick Warren’s book entitled The Purpose Driven Life is entirely devoted to addressing the purpose of human life. The following are excerpts from his book:
It is only in God that we discover our origin, our identity, our meaning, our purpose, our significance, and our destiny. . . . [L]ife is about letting God use you for his purposes, not you using him for your own purpose. [Page 18]
Without God, life has no purpose, and without purpose, life has no meaning. Without meaning, life has no significance or hope. . . . The greatest tragedy is not death, but life without purpose. [Page 30]
Knowing your purpose simplifies your life. It defines what you do and what you don’t do. . . . Without a clear purpose you have no foundation on which you base decisions, allocate your time, and use your resources. [Page 31]
When you fully comprehend that there is more to life than just here and now, and you realize that life is just preparation for eternity, you will begin to live differently. You will start living in light of eternity, and that will color how you handle every relationship, task, and circumstance. [Page 37]
When you live in light of eternity, your values change. . . . You place a higher premium on relationships and character instead of fame or wealth or achievements or even fun. Your priorities are reordered. [Page 38]
Bringing enjoyment to God, living for his pleasure, is the first purpose of your life. When you fully understand this truth, you will never again have a problem with feeling insignificant. [Page 63]
A number of years ago, a church worship service bulletin contained the following anecdote:
[A] network television show featured a very unusual machine. It had thousands of moving parts. Wheels went around, gears meshed, levers moved up and down. Even more unusual, every part in the machine had been salvaged from junkyards. However, all this did not account for its most unusual feature. The outstanding thing was that the machine had no purpose.
Sometimes lives are like that machine. Intricate in design, and with great potential, they produce nothing lasting or worthwhile. Human lives do not effectively produce until they are committed to a purpose – to God’s particular purpose for them.
You may be wondering by now if there are any scriptures in the Bible that indicate what the purpose of human life is. Although the Bible does not specifically state what the purpose of human life is, Matthew 22:37-40 provides a very good indication. In this passage, Jesus Christ declares,
“‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.’”
We can reasonably infer that not only are these the two greatest commandments, but also they indicate what God regards as the purpose for every person’s life.
As stated by Rick Warren, achieving the primary purpose for life necessitates living for God’s pleasure. For every person, a very important part of living for God’s pleasure is to sincerely trust in His Son Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. But, God also wants everyone to genuinely love both Himself and their fellow humans. Without the Holy Spirit Who indwells every Christian, it is highly unlikely that a person who has not genuinely trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord will be able to fulfill God’s primary purpose for their life.
[For an explanation of what it means to genuinely trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, click on “Does It Really Matter What You Believe?” and/or “What Must a Person Do to Be Assured of Eternal Salvation?”]