I read the itinerary in Numbers 33 for my daily quiet time. What I’d like to write about today is the goal of life.
I started by thinking about the broad-sweeping history in the Hebrew Bible. When did it come to be, and why? At what time would a people develop a broad-sweeping history that would assert that she as a nation had a significant mission or goal as a people? As far as I know, you don’t see too many other nations in the ancient Near East that believed that they had a divine mission. (Or did they? The king of Egypt, to use an example, thought that he was supposed to uphold the stability of the cosmos.)
In my opinion, Israel developed a sense of divine mission in exile, as she was searching for something to keep her as a people together, when her national institutions had collapsed. Israelites were now among Gentiles and were even ruled by other countries. In the midst of this, I think, Israel embraced the view that God had a plan for her even in this situation—-to bring the Gentiles to the worship of God.
Before the exile, Israel probably had a cult and worshiped a national God, like other nations. Israel may have even had stories about her ancestors and her God, as other nations had stories about their gods. Israel could have even believed that her God rewarded her for obedience and punished her for disobedience, as other nations thought about their gods. But would Israel before exile have developed a large-scale narrative about her having a mission to bring the nations to the worship of God and a state of blessedness? I’m rather skeptical, but I’m open to different ideas on this.
Then I thought about the goal of life. Israel in Numbers 33 had a goal, the Promised Land. That sort of story may have developed in exile, when there were a number of Jews who were away from their country and wanted to return to it. Early Christianity, specifically the Epistle to the Hebrews, offered a spiritualized interpretation of the Promised Land, seeing it as a post-mortem rest that believers will enter (or so I understand Hebrews).
What is the goal of life? Is it to go to heaven or the good afterlife? If that were the case, then why are we even here? Why didn’t God put us in heaven at the outset? In my opinion, the goal of life is for us to become like Christ—-to have a good character. And I agree with something that C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity: that God wants to make us perfect, and he will spend as much time as it takes—-in this life and, if necessary, the next—-to realize this goal.
But do things work out that way? There are many people with character defects even when they become old and die. And there are people who don’t even get a chance to develop character because they die early on in life. And yet, in terms of coming up with a goal that can get me out of bed each morning—-a goal beyond mere survival—-I’d say that becoming like Christ is a worthy goal.