One of the questions that has haunted human life for centuries is "what is the purpose of life?" Billy Crystal, in the old movie CITY SLICKERS, addresses a group of 9 year olds about life, and his remarks reflect his own search for some meaning in his life. Being depressed about his life, he tends to depress the kids.
Looking at these innocent children, he says, "When you're a teenager, you think you can do anything, and you do. Your 20's are a blur. 30's you raise a family, make a little money, and think, 'Gee what happened to my 20's?' 40's you grow a little pot belly, you grow another chin. The music starts to get too loud. One of your old girl friends from high school becomes a grandmother. 50's you'll have minor surgery. You'll call it a procedure, but its a surgery.60's you'll have major surgery. The music is still too loud, but it doesn't matter because you can’t hear anymore anyway. 70's you and the wife retire to
Now, later in the movie, Billy Crystal's character goes on vacation with three other middle aged men. They are all going through a mid life crisis. In an effort to rediscover themselves, they sign up for a vacation on a western ranch, in which tourists herd cattle from one ranch to another.
During the vacation, Billy Crystal's character develops a friendship with a rough cowboy played by
"Of course I do," says the cowboy. "It's this."
And he holds up one finger.
"Your finger is the meaning of life?" asks
"No you idiot. But its one thing."
"What's the one thing?"
"Can't tell you," says the cowboy. “You have to find that out on your own.” And of course, for the rest of the movie,
What is the meaning of life? Well, we Presbyterians have a document that is called the Westminster Shorter Catechism. It is a question answer document that presents the faith of the Presbyterian Church. The very first question is, what is the meaning of life? To be exact, the way the catechism puts it is this -- "What is the chief end of man?" Which is the same thing.
The answer is, "Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever." Now that might be considered a strange thing for Presbyterians to say. Because Presbyterians by and large view themselves as folks who are formal by nature, who don't think about God as someone to be enjoyed. God may be feared, respected, worshipped, adored, studied, sought after, these are Presbyterian concepts. But to have a good time with God and to enjoy him -- that seems a bit far fetched for some of us.
Now why is that? Why can't we enjoy God?
You'd think that we as Christians would be among the most joyful people on the earth. We do have something to celebrate, you know. After all, Jesus did NOT say, "I have come to bring you gloom, and believe me, I have plenty to share." Of course he didn't.
Nor did he say, "I have come to make you miserable, more than you already are."
No. What he DID say was "I have come to give you life, so that you may have it abundantly."
How many of you enjoy God? I suspect that there are those of us here who might fear God, but not enjoy him. And I do not mean the kind of respect for God that the Bible means when it uses the terminology, fear of the Lord. But rather, a shaking in your boots kind of fear.
Some of us may be suffering from what might be called "Oatmeal Theology." The story is told of Johnny and his mother who were having a dispute about oatmeal. Johnny's mother was trying her best to persuade the boy to eat his oatmeal, but he wouldn't budge. She insisted that it tasted good, but that didn't work. She insisted that it was good for him, but that didn't work. She insisted that it was the right thing for him to do, but that didn't work. Finally, in total frustration, she said, "Johnny, if you don't eat your oatmeal, God is going to get you and so am I."
But Johnny still didn't budge.
So Johnny was sent to his room early that night. Then came the thunderstorm. The lightning was flashing and the thunder was crashing, and Johnny's mom went up to check on her boy. When she peaked in, Johnny looked at his mother and said, "You know mom, this sure does seem like a lot of trouble to go to just over a bowl of oatmeal."
Most of us feel that God's purpose is to punish us. To get us. To throw lightning bolts at us because we didn't eat our oatmeal, or because we lied, or because we stole, or because we covetted our neighbor's wife.
God has thundered his “Thou shalt not's” from the
It is hard to enjoy a God we are afraid of. This view of God makes religion a burden rather than a blessing. It makes God's presence in our lives as welcome as a state trooper's when we've been doing 90 mph on the interstate, in another state. But we are not to be spooked by God. We are to enjoy him forever.
How do we enjoy God?
First, it strikes me that what we need is to realize who we are and who God is.
We are people -- And God is -- God. We are not God, which is to say that we are not perfect. We sin. We fall short of the glory of God. We are commit failures from time to time. That is part of what we are. But God does not hate us for our shortcomings.
Those of you with children will understand this relationship.
A child is going to step in the mud puddle. A child is going to get too loud sometimes. There will be fights and name calling, and an assortment of other things that challenge your patience. But that is childhood. And those failures and misbehavior are part of growing up. You don't love your child any less, just because your child acts like a child -- but what you do is discipline your child.
We are God's children. He doesn't love us less because of our human frailties. But he does discipline us. And that kind of relationship does not require fear and terror, but love and enjoyment.
As the Old Testament lesson says, "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."
Of course, there may still be those who sincerely believe that God is on their backs all of the time. God is the driver, the punisher, the one who is always watch us, waiting to strike us down. How do you get rid of this feeling that God is on your back so that you can begin to enjoy God?
The best way to get rid of that feeling that God is always on your back, is to get God into your heart. There is no joy in religion when all we have are external ceremonies and rules. There is no joy in religion when we attend church, but inwardly are empty. The good news of the gospel is that our hearts can be temples of God, indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This is the greatest of all the gifts God has to give: the Spirit of Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith. God is not just a reality above us and around us. God can be a reality within us.
The Psalmist in our Old Testament lesson also knew what it meant to have God within his heart so that he might be able to enjoy him. He said, “We will shout with joy.”
When was the last time you shouted with joy?
When was the last time you heard anyone shout with joy?
Let me see. Quite some time ago my family went to play a game of putt putt. After finishing up, we were about to get into the car and drive away, and I heard some kids shout “Hole in one!”
You could hear the joy in their voices.
If we can have that much joy in our voices over a silly game, can’t we have that much joy – and more – with God?
Sure we can – enjoying God is the one thing. Enjoying God is what life is all about.
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
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