March 23, 2011

The word 'purpose'

Peter Damoc asked me what I thought about the importance having a purpose in life. Isn't a life without purpose empty?

I have been thinking about the word ‘purpose’ and I find it a bit confusing. I don't know about purpose. First, I often don’t know what is meant by it. One possible meaning may be a) an over-arching value or goal or project which gives meaning to your life. Another one is b) an inherent function or plan for you, provided by ‘God’. The second meaning is not credible to me because the whole idea of ‘God’ is actually not credible to me.

The first meaning is somewhat more credible to me but I still have doubts. Do I have a clear-cut purpose? Sure, I do try to do good and make a positive difference. But does this qualify as a specific purpose? You might also say that fulfilling my autonomy, competence and relatedness needs is my purpose. But is that a purpose? Or should I think of something very specific and personal? In that case I would still doubt. I do intentionally try things like learn, share, help, be friendly, be a good parent and husband, etc. But I don’t think of these as a purpose. Rather, I think of life as a more open-ended process of discovery. With respect to ‘purpose’ I am in doubt because I think (if it exists):
  1. it is not just one thing (rather a complex set of things), 
  2. it is not something fixed (rather something developing and unfolding), 
  3. not something individually specific (rather something we share). 
But, as I said, I doubt. Maybe if I did have a stable over-arching-project-like purpose my life would indeed be better. Who knows? Or maybe I do have a purpose but am only vaguely aware of it?


  1. I find your 3 speculations about purpose to be right on! And I do believe in God -- but discovering his purpose is a journey, and since in my experience his Holy Spirit works with us in a fluid flexible way, your speculations are a good description of it. A stable over-arching purpose is one I could state, but in the working out, it would become an open-ended process, and that would be just fine, in fact good.
    Purpose and faith do not exclude doubt, actually...
    Thanks for your blog, I like the depth of your thought.

  2. Thank you for lettning me know, Newwine!

  3. Perhaps your purpose is to help people by sharing what you learn as you engage in open-ended discovery… Sounds like quite a good purpose to me.


  4. Thanks, David. But I'm still not convinced


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