Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
the Nanty Glo in My Mind

Mere Christianity:
Life's dual purposes

The mass media, which exist to sell consumer products and encourage indulging in at least six of what St. Gregory the Great described as "the seven deadly sins"—luxuria (extravagance, later called lust), gula (gluttony), avaritia (greed), acedia (restless indifference, later replaced by sloth), ira (wrath), invidia (envy), and superbia (pride)—often represent the purpose of life as pursuing and, perhaps finding, happiness. They may be taking their cue from the United States Declaration of Independence, which defines the pursuit of happiness as an inalienable right. Today, however, the media seem to unanimously agree and suggest that happiness is attained cheifly or even only through finding love with or from the right partner, which probably never occurred to the signers of the Declaration of Independence. In fact, religious freedom or freedom of thought and expression would probably have been higher in the catalog of values held by the colonial signers of that historic document.

Happiness, then, is in the eye of the beholder. Author C.S. Lewis held—rightly, I believe—that joy, not happiness, should be pursued by all earnest and honest seekers of purpose. During his agnostic and atheistic periods, Lewis found what he considered "joy" in the experiece of nostalgic yearning or "glimpses" of something transcendent, reaching him through beauty in nature, certain classical music, poetry, and other experiences of art. But as he matured from skepticism to faith around age 30, he came to experience joy in the only true transcendence, the intervention in nature and the lives of human beings of God, the author and creator of nature and of all being. Though joy and happiness have much in common, joy is more soulful, more—appropriately—transcendent. Happiness might be found, at least in the thinking of many, in love, marriage, consumer pleasures, sex, power, or what the Rolling Stones called "satisfaction." But joy is found in knowing the truth and, Jesus said, in Him, who is the embodiment of the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).

As Lewis matured into a deep relationship with God through knowing Christ, he came to realize that joy is a byproduct of life's real purpose, not the goal or purpose of life in itself. Life's purpose, the reason we've been put on this planet, as all the fathers of the church have taught and Lewis echoed, is to grow into icons or likenesses of our Creator-Redeemer. "He became man," wrote the fourth-century champion of orthodoxy, Athanasius, "so that men might become gods." "You are gods," Jesus said (John 10:34), quoting the Old Testament law. "Therefore be perfect," He says again in Matthew's Gospel (5:48), "even as your Father who is in heaven is perfect." Writing in Christianity Today last week, James R. Payton, Jr., asked, "Is salvation solely about us and our need to be forgiven and born again, or is there a deeper, God-ward purpose?

"The leaders of the ancient church thought so, speaking regularly of salvation in a way that may sound strange to many evangelicals, but which [Charles] Wesley [hymn writer and colleague of his brother, John Wesley, founder of Methodism] alluded to in some of his hymns. In particular, they envisioned salvation as theosis, an ongoing process by which God's people become increasingly 'partakers of the divine nature' (2 Peter 1:4), formed more and more in God's likeness." Other strains of Protestantism prefer the word "sanctification" to theosis, but however you put it, it means becoming saintly or a saint, an icon of Christ. Once understood and undertaken as the purpose of life, it's all consuming, full time, and no holds barred.

Becoming perfect, as Jesus commanded, is no half-way endeavor. Nor is it accomplished passively. Jesus invoked memories of John the Baptist to drive home the point that the kingdom of heaven is to be assayed violently, "and the violent take it by force," Matthew 11:12. This refers to spirtual, not carnal, warfare, of course, the force being forcing oneself to battle on against temptations, vices, weariness in praying, and maintaining other such disciplines. And the pursuit of perfection can be conducted in good times and bad; it can even be strengthened through adversity; it goes on as well in poverty as in prosperity, in illness and suffering as well as good health, under any kind of government and in the midst of any type of culture or lack thereof. Imagine! If you know your God-assigned purpose in life, nothing at all can block your pursuing it!

If life's main purpose is theosis or persevering to perfection, what is the dual, or second, purpose? The first purpose can be called your internal raison d'ętre (French meaning "reason for being"); the second is your external or outward purpose. That is the purpose of all your communications with other people. The purpose of your ethics, your interface with the people you contact "at work, at play, or on the way," as the old advertising jingle put it, is equally simple. Every purpose of your interactions with others is to support and undergird their pursuit of the true purpose of their lives, and if they find their true purpose in theosis and share it with you, your purpose toward them becomes to bear it with them, even as they bear yours with you. "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law [or purpose for your life] of Christ," the Apostle says (Galatians 6:2). This is, of course, a quest undertaken only in and through the church, the body of Christ, for Christ came to found the church and it was the church alone that He founded, not a society of individualists.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy


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Jon Kennedy's latest book is The Everything Guide to C.S. Lewis and Narnia, now in stores, from Adams Media, F&W Publications. From May 9, 2007 through July 2, 2008 his blog entries or "Jonals" were articles inspired by readings in Lewis's work that didn't fit into the book. Click here for a list of all articles in the C.S. Lewis Overflow series. The book is available for purchase in support of the Liberty Museum in Nanty Glo and is also available on Amazon.

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