Summary: Is God’s overriding purpose in our lives to make us happy, or to make us holy?
What is God’s purpose for your life? Have you ever wondered about that? I’m not referring to questions like, what career should you follow, or whom should you marry, or how many children should you have. I’m talking about the big picture – what is God’s overriding goal, His primary purpose, for the lives of his people? What is He at work doing, right now, in your life and mine? What is He trying to accomplish? Now to many people, that might seem like a nonsensical question, or at least one with a very obvious answer. "God wants to make us happy", they would say. "God wants to make our lives pleasant and fulfilling. He wants to provide for our needs, and take away our pain and sorrow. He wants to make our path smooth, and give us the good things we desire."
Why do people think that? Well, our culture certainly promotes that idea. Advertising is constantly telling people, "you deserve this." McDonald’s used to have a slogan, "you deserve a break today." I always wondered how they knew that. They’ve never even met me. How do they know what I deserve today? Maybe I deserve a swift kick in the pants! They don’t know. But whether it’s food, or cars, or jewelry, or anything else, the consistent message is "You have a right to own this. You’re entitled to possess this." For example, if you look over the newspaper ads for father’s day, you’ll see this – not just, "Show dad how much you appreciate him by buying him this ratchet set," but "Dad deserves this ratchet set." Why is that message so effective? Because it breaks down people’s sales resistance. It’s no longer an issue of whether I can afford the product, or whether this is the best use of my money, or even if I really want it. Instead, it’s simply an entitlement. I deserve a Ford Expedition SUV; therefore, anything I have to do to get one is legitimate – including taking on too much debt, or spending money on a new car that should have gone into my tithe.
Politicians consistently appeal to this impulse. "My fellow Americans, you deserve this service, or that benefit. Those nasty people in the other party want to deny you the things you’re entitled to, but if you elect me, I’ll make sure you get them. And the government will pay for it!" Why is that kind of pitch effective? Because if it’s something we deserve, then it’s no longer an issue of priorities, or budget considerations. Affordability is not an issue. The government has to give it to us, no matter the costs or consequences, because it’s our right to have it. And if the people in the other party oppose it, then they’re not good people who are just operating from a different political philosophy; they’re villains, because they want to deny us the things we have a right to. I’ve noticed recently that when school levies are up for passage, inevitably someone will make the argument that the children deserve whatever the levy is supposed to bring – smaller class sizes, new buildings, more up-to-date equipment – not just that these things are desirable or important, but that the children have a right to them. You see, if it’s a matter of costs and benefits, then people might reasonably disagree on whether the benefits are worth the cost in taxes. But if it’s a right, then voting no is dishonorable. It’s denying these children something they deserve.
Even some churches and ministers, unfortunately, perpetuate this idea. They teach that "you deserve to be healthy, and wealthy, and free of pain, and if you come to our church, we’ll tell you how."
But fundamentally, this attitude comes, not from advertisers or politicians, it comes from within us. We have expectations of the kind of life we’re going to have – the kind of life we’re entitled to – and so when things don’t go the way we expect (which of course they never do), we feel betrayed. We feel that God has somehow let us down; that He’s failed to keep his promises. You see, many people have made an implicit bargain with God – "God, I’ll believe in you, and come to church on Sundays, and put money in the offering, and try to lead a good life. And in exchange, you’ll make sure that things go smoothly for me. You’ll see to it that nothing really bad happens, and that I’m able to enjoy at least a comfortable middle-class existence. Because that’s what I deserve as a faithful, obedient Christian." And when that doesn’t happen, when the wheels start to come off, they get angry at God. First they get disappointed, and then angry, and then depressed and bitter. Why? Because they think they deserve something different. They deserve to experience their vision of what life should be. They deserve to be happy! What’s the point of following Christ if your life is just as difficult and painful as the life of an unbeliever?