An Existential Evaluation
If you have ever wondered why you exist, or if you had a purpose in the world—if there was a place in this complex universe designed specifically for you—congratulations! You’re human.
Wondering about the meaning of life, and about your place in the universe is sometimes referred to as an existential crisis. But since it’s a “crisis” we all face at some point in our lives, usually more than once, it might be helpful to reevaluate our use of terms.
Perhaps we could call it an existential assessment or existential evaluation.
We all long for significance and purpose. Understanding what makes us special and unique—knowing what part we play and what contribution we are supposed to make in this expansive and complicated cosmos—is simply a human inquiry. There is nothing wrong with it, per se.
As a matter of fact, it’s a noble quest.
It’s only when we go about it the wrong way that perhaps it should be considered a crisis.
A real crisis might be if you’ve ever found yourself morbidly evaluating your life, in despair about whether you mattered at all, or whether or not you missed your calling and would die an insignificant “nobody.”
Another example of a crisis might take on the form of a question, something like, “Why can’t my life be more like ‘so-and-so’s’ life?” (replace ‘so-and-so’ with that celebrity, or superstar you admire—or that “friend” you secretly stalk on Facebook).
Getting existential affirmation by comparing ourselves with those around us (like St. Paul told the Corinthians not to do) never works because it’s deceptive, elusive, and self-defeating.
And we wonder why it’s always us that comes up short.
Deep down we all know this way of looking for significance is unhealthy, but sometimes we can’t help wondering if a calling is just for some elite group of other people.
Like I said, pondering our significance shows us that we’re human—broken to be sure—but human nonetheless.; but discovering the reality of our significance has to begin with recognizing some important truths about our identity.
First, recognize that you were fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14-15).
Contrary to the ideas of many modern folk who try to tell you otherwise, you are not a random blob of protoplasm that materialized by accident. You don’t have to create your own significance by making something up and tacking it onto a meaningless protoplasmic “self”.
You were designed and created on purpose by an intelligent and just Creator. Of course he used natural means, and He may have even used other people’s sins or mistakes as a tool to accomplish this important purpose of his own will, like he did so many times in the biblical record.
But make no mistake, you were created with precision and intention. And if that’s not enough, Christ died and rose again to redeem your life by forgiving your sins, giving you an eternal inheritance, and calling you into union with himself for a greater cause than your mere existence (Romans 8:14-17 cf. Ephesians 2:8-10).
That means it’s not a cliche to tell you that you’re valuable and significant in a real and meaningful way.
Second, like your essence, your existence was divinely choreographed from beginning to end (Proverbs 16:9).
There is nothing about your existence that is random. Your birth, your death, your gender, your ethnicity, your place in history, and even your family ties have all been distinctly designed and carried out according to the wise counsel of God. Even the perceived flaws in your person, be they physical or otherwise, were permitted for a good and just purpose—even if you don’t yet know why you were made so.
That doesn’t mean you are a puppet, a robot, or only “seem” to be free. You are a free agent gifted with the ability to choose life or death, good or evil, and what to wear to dinner.
It means you don’t have to second guess your circumstances, and constantly ask yourself, “What if?” You can be content that wherever you’re at, you’re just where you need to be.
It also means you can choose to accept your circumstances or change them.
Third, you have a unique purpose that no one else can fulfill, like Joseph and Esther in the Old Testament (Genesis 20:50 cf. Esther 4:14).
In their cases, for example, God used their unique circumstances to save much people alive. That means in some fashion, whatever it is you choose as a vocation, your unique purpose—whatever you discover it to be—is significant because it is tied to the eternal purposes of the Creator.
Although, in some cases God chooses to conceal someone’s purpose from them or from the world (Deuteronomy 29:29), in most cases it’s tied to the intersect of your gifts and abilities, your noble passions, and the needs of the culture.
How about a little exercise?
With the presupposition intact that you are uniquely created, redeemed, and gifted by God for a significant purpose, describe your ideal self and your ideal purpose in this world in one sentence, say a 140 characters (like a tweet, for instance). Don’t write what you think someone else would expect you to write, or what someone else would write about you? Craft your own thought.
Finding a concise way to describe yourself by refining all of your attributes, characteristics, roles, and desires into a single pithy statement, may seem difficult, but give it a try anyway; it’s not impossible. What you learn about the way you see yourself–or wish to see yourself–may prove interesting in the following weeks as we unpack what it means to discover your significance.
Feel free to share your pithy bio in the comments, or by replying to this email. You could also share it on social media with a link to this post so others can make an existential assessment of their lives.
I’m intrigued to know what you come up with.
About Scott Postma
Scott lives in North Idaho collecting more books than he'll ever read in a lifetime. He helps people cultivate their capacity to perceive and appreciate the good, the true, and the beautiful by sharing rich insights into the arts and humanities, meaningful perspective on faith and culture, and valuable tips on writing and teaching. You can subscribe to the tribe and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.