WHAT IS THE MISSION?
Written by Doug Ponder on July 21, 2013
Everyone Has a Mission…
All people have a mission in life, even if some say otherwise. Now, perhaps we don’t think of ourselves as having a “mission” because we think of mission as an assignment, task, or duty that someone has given us. But in another sense, mission is an objective, goal, or aim that someone wants to fulfill. In this sense of the term, we all have a mission in life because we all have basic pursuits or goals that we hope to achieve. These desires drive us to do what we do.
…And It’s the Same Mission
People who have observed human behavior have noted that all human beings basically have the same mission: it is the mission to be happy, content, or satisfied in life. On the surface, this may not seem to be the case. After all, how could we possibly have the same mission, goal, or pursuit when we live so differently from each other?
Blaise Pascal, the genius French mathematician, explained how it works: “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”
His point is clear. All people do what they do in the hopes of becoming happy. Some go to war, thinking that whatever they gain from war will make them happy. Others avoid war in order to keep from losing something they think they need in order to be happy. Even those who hang themselves do so because, as tragic as it may seem, they believe in their final moments of desperation that they only way to be happy is to put an end to the misery in their lives. All people seek happiness. There is no exception.
Houston, We Have a Problem
The problem, though, is that despite our quest for happiness, most people report not feeling happy. Even in countries where people do report relatively high levels of happiness, as in the Scandinavian countries, for example, there exist dark problems that are sometimes overlooked, like some of the highest rates of rape in the world. If these people were as happy as they claim to be, why do so many feel of them the need to use and abuse each other?
From time to time most of us have felt the kind of deep, gnawing feeling of discontentment that never quite seems to go away. We think a new house, a new job, more freedom, more money, more sex, less stress, etc., will make us happy. But just as our grasp closes around the goal we’re aiming for, the satisfaction we thought it would bring seems to slip like sand through our fingers. No joy seems to last.
The Search for Something to Blame
Why does this happen? Why does nothing bring lasting satisfaction?
Some people blame the things they are pursuing. “If only I had more. . .” They move on to the next house, the next job, the next lover, but none of it works, so they keep moving on to the next best thing, always pursuing but never obtaining.
Some blame other people. “It’s their fault. . .” they say. “If only they would do this, and not that.” “If only they would let me do what I want.” “If only they wouldn’t judge me.” On and on they go, blaming other people for the gnawing feeling of discontentment. But even when they get their way, bending the wills of others to their wishes, the deep-seated dissatisfaction remains.
That’s why some people, after tiring of pursuing more things or blaming more people, eventually blame themselves or even turn to blaming the world itself. They become cynical and depressed, losing hope that they could ever really find lasting happiness. “It’s just a fairy tale,” they say. “It can’t happen to me.”
The Root of Our Problem
Instead of blaming our possessions, the people in our lives, or even our life in the world itself, perhaps we ought to recognize the validity of what C. S. Lewis famously observed: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Our problem, Lewis explains, is that we have tried to invent some sort of happiness apart from God himself. Out of this hopeless attempt has come all that we call human history—greed, poverty, wars, slavery, prostitution, racism, etc.—all of this is the long and terrible story of humanity trying to find happiness apart from God. But God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from himself, because there is no such thing.
God’s Glorious Solution
Because of our rebellious attempts to find lasting happiness (joy) apart from God, our relationship with him has been severed. We need to be reconciled to him, just as a husband and a wife are reconciled to each other after a painful argument or fight. The difference here, however, is that we are the guilty party. We were the ones who rebelled against God, spoiling not only our relationship with him, but also our relationships with each other and with the world that God made.
To remedy what we ruined, God launched a long-term restoration project, beginning with a man named Abraham. God reconciled this man to himself, declaring him to be ‘in the right’ because of his faith in God’s promise to restore the world through the Messiah. The restoration project continued through the people who were descended from Abraham, the nation of Israel. God called them to be a ‘light to the nations,’ living according to God’s law and telling them about God’s promised Messiah. All of this climaxed in the life of Jesus, the promised one, the Messiah whom God anointed to be the Savior King of his people. His represented God’s people by living the kind we were supposed to live—but haven’t—and he represented us dying the kind of death we deserve to die—but won’t—if our trust is in him. Likewise, his resurrection from the dead is the basis of our own future resurrection, the sure and certain sign that God will raise us to live on the earth with him forever. Just as things were in the very beginning, only better. And in this way, those who are reconciled to God find happiness forevermore.
Our Mission Refocused
The quest to be happy without God has only ended in frustration and futility. Jesus said it profits nothing to gain the whole world, but lose your soul in the process. By contrast, those who realize what they have been given through the life of Jesus, don’t feel the need to grasp and clutch for happiness in the fleeting and temporal things of the world.
Instead, we have been set free from this kind of tyranny to materialism and selfishness, and given the charge to share with others the good news about Jesus, too. This has led some people to say that our mission, properly defined, is not really ‘to be happy,” but to know Jesus and to make him known. For by doing so, we find that endless joy is the byproduct of knowing Jesus, and sharing this with others is the obvious response of joyful people who want others to share in the joy that they have found.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.