Last time I wrote here about the sting of failure, and what it can feel like. I want to continue that train of thought here, and talk a little about what can occupy one’s thoughts after the shock and denial fade away. I will continue to use my own life as an example. (John Piper came to a conclusion similar to mine a while back at one of Westmont’s chapels and a lot of the thinking here is derivative of, though infinitely more coarse than his.)
When I realized the first time that I wasn’t going to be at grad school in the fall, I suddenly felt totally isolated. Aimless, I wondered what my purpose was if not grad school. What I could even accomplish of worth now that God had abandoned me. I wondered if God had stopped caring. If these thoughts sound stupid and small-minded to you, you’re right. But in the grip of failure it’s hard for us to see past it, and ourselves.
With nothing really compelling me toward it, I started to exhaust all the possibilities for why this had happened to me and what it meant. What I eventually came to realize in the void is that it didn’t necessarily need to mean anything. I am, in truth, not the lynchpin of the world. My successes or failures will not stop the earth from rotating, the sun from shining, or the universe from expanding. My plans, though perhaps important to God, are hardly the end result of his grand design. Jesus didn’t come to this earth so that I could get a PhD, and in my short-sightedness in the face of failure, I had forgotten this very obvious fact.
“A chess piece never enjoys being sacrificed … but pieces necessarily have only a partial view of the situation.” In my narrow field of view it felt like God had stopped caring about my life, all because he didn’t give me what I wanted for my immediate future. How often is every one of us equally self-absorbed? As a pawn I dream of nothing but my own promotion, when the reality is that I am more than likely destined for sacrifice in service of the greater good.
Hear what I am not saying: I do not believe that God is an aloof, uncaring, gamemaster pushing around pawns like us toward their inevitable demise in order to derive some perverse pleasure from our torment. I do believe that God cares deeply for each and every one of his creations, including every human on the earth. How else could he watch as his own innocent son was murdered for your sins and mine? But I do believe that God’s chief end, which by design is our chief end, is not our glorification but God’s. We are set free from ourselves so that we can more fully seek him, even and especially in moments when it seems like we are fully absent from God’s sight.
Knowing the paradoxical truth of our simultaneous immense worth and deep insignificance can be terrifying. But it can also be very freeing when we realize that the weight of the universe, and ultimately God’s immense love for us doesn’t depend on us, our success, or our failures.
What about you, readers? What has been your own experience with understanding your purpose and significance in the universe? What insights or struggles have you had?