A couple of groups in my church have chosen to read Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life” (it’s like kudzu down here in the South — it’s everywhere!). During the past couple of days folks have asked me if I had read the book (I hadn’t) and then said that they weren’t sure they agreed with everything Rick said.
So, given the groundswell in my congregation, I pulled out my copy and started reading. I took on the first two days tonight (sorry Rick, I don’t have 40 days) and here are my initial thoughts.
I find myself in much agreement with day 1 — “It All Starts With God.” Warren does a good job of pushing against the “me” culture and placing ourselves in perspective with God. I question, however, this notion of purpose. I certainly believe that God created us with a specific identity, that God has created us as unique character’s in God’s story. But as Annie Lamott will tell you, the characters have a life of their own which co-create with the author to tell the story. I struggle with the notion of purpose, because (as Warren says) it suggests that God’s design (God’s plan) for the world is fixed and rigid.
To talk about purpose is to fall into the Calvinist notions of doing instead of being. It suggests that the most important thing in life is what we do (living out our purpose in the world) than being who we are (created in the image of God). It easily allows itself to move toward the Protestant work ethic which states that our value is in our accomplishment rather than our identity.
Certainly what we do is important; you can’t read Matthew’s Sheep and the Goats without realizing that. But are those works our purpose in life, or do they arise out of our identity as characters in God’s story?
We worship a God who didn’t identify him/her self by accomplishment. Rarely in scripture does God say “I am the one who spoke and created the earth” as an identifying feature. No, God identifies God’s self in two ways — through relationship (“…I’m the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob…”) but more often just simply as “I am.” God’s identity is centered not in God’s accomplishments, but simply because God exists. Likewise, those of us created in the image of God must understand that a life devoted to accomplishment is to ignore the miracle that we simply are . . . we exist and reflect God in the world.