Recently an essay came to my attention with the intriguing title “What are People For?” Although the essay by Kentucky writer Wendell Berry is mostly concerned with farming policy and its relation to unemployment, the question brought to mind an issue I’ve wrestled with over the years. In a quest to establish my identity both professionally and personally, I’ve often wondered, to paraphrase Berry, “What am I created for?”
Most people tussle with this question at some point. This fundamental concern about identity and purpose can stand behind some of the turbulent emotions of adolescence and other transitional times of life, such as a time of unemployment or a change in marital status.
People often try to find their purpose in various human ways, putting human will and desires in the center. I’ve certainly found that the quest takes on a more meaningful dimension when I become willing to cast my query in theological – or theocentric – terms. When the question changes to something like “What did God create me for?” I’m more likely to be ready to receive an answer.
For me, the study of Christian Science has revealed answers to this question, supplied in many different ways in the Bible and in the Christian Science textbook, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” by Mary Baker Eddy. Many passages in both books give great illumination about God’s purpose for us.
For example, the Bible tells how Saul of Tarsus, a persecutor of Christians, experienced a transformation when the presence of the Christ appeared to him and he was made blind on the road to Damascus. Clearly his old way of life wasn’t going to work anymore.
Saul asked the question about God’s purpose for him in this way: “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6). He received a specific answer – directions which led to the beginning of his Christian ministry. First, Ananias, a man of God, healed him of his blindness. Then the answer Saul received to follow the teachings of Jesus caused him to change his name to Paul, and he fulfilled God’s purpose in becoming the individual who would do the most to spread Christianity throughout the Mediterranean region.
In her writings, Mary Baker Eddy discussed ways in which to think and pray about God’s purpose for us. During times of uncertainty, I have found that the following passage in her book “The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany” helps bring resolution: “As an active portion of one stupendous whole, goodness identifies man with universal good. Thus may each member of this church rise above the oft-repeated inquiry, What am I? to the scientific response: I am able to impart truth, health, and happiness, and this is my rock of salvation and my reason for existing” (p. 165).
If people go forth each day knowing that they are able to express “truth, health, and happiness” to others, they will tend to find themselves in circumstances where their qualities such as compassion, patience, and courage are uniquely needed; in other words, they will find themselves “employed,” whether formally or informally, expressing God.
One of Berry’s concerns in “What are People For?” regarded a group of individuals termed “permanently unemployed.” Hopelessness and finality are implicit in that label.
But as God has a purpose for each of us, no one is in the category of the “unemployable.” This is true no matter whether this label is attached to a person because of his or her supposed failings, economic circumstances, or what is sometimes termed “the human condition.”
Whenever we wonder why we’re here, our reason for being, or what we should be doing, it’s comforting to know that we can immediately turn to God, our Creator, for the answer. God will reveal His purpose for us, day by day, moment by moment, and our divine destiny will become clearer.
This people have I formed for myself; they shall show forth my praise.