Virtually every human being seeks to find an overarching purpose in life. As part of this common pursuit, people naturally attach themselves to belief systems, values, causes, interests, and even physical things in order to give their lives meaning and fulfillment. Philosophers talk about the idea of worldview, which is understood as a person’s big-picture view of reality and consists of a cluster of beliefs about such critically important realities as God, the world, knowledge, values, and beauty. This purpose-seeking characteristic and need to grasp reality seems to set humans apart from the animals.

But why are humans uniquely purpose-seeking creatures?

Scripture tells us. I’ll provide a brief biblical explanation as to why people instinctually look for meaning in life and align themselves to something of enduring significance.

The Image of God = Worshippers

One way of thinking about the biblical truth of being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27) is that to bear God’s image makes people worshippers. As finite creatures, humans have been brought into existence by an infinite God. And to be made by God means that people were made for God. By their contingent creaturely nature, humans were meant to know, love, and worship their Creator. Thus, human beings are uniquely dependent upon God for their existence, meaning, and ultimate spiritual fulfillment.

Yet humankind’s fundamental problem is that original sin (a corrupt nature inherited by all people from their progenitor Adam: Romans 5:12) has cut people off from their Creator. However, creatures who were made to be worshippers can’t stop worshipping. Despite the vacuum of being separated from God by sin, people naturally look for something to replace God. Such worship today isn’t like the ancient formal worship of various deities (polytheism), but rather takes the form of associating oneself with a defining belief, value, cause, or interest.

So the imago Dei (divine image) makes humans worshippers, yet the spiritual vacuum caused by sin makes the creatures natural idolaters (Romans 1:18–23). The worship replacements that humans commonly seek instead of the true and living God manifest as egotism (self), sensualism (sex), and materialism (money). However, more developed and refined worship replacements consist of the natural world, politics, and the idea of beauty. Interestingly, all the common replacements are good things instead of bad things. But those good things have become disordered (functionally misused) in fallen creatures.

The existential problem with life in a fallen world is that all common worship replacements, though good, are finite realities that can’t provide ultimate purpose and fulfillment for human beings. St. Augustine (354–430), a wayward soul for the first half of his life, provided this penetrating spiritual insight: “You [God] made us [humanity] for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.”1 In other words, true meaning and purpose can’t be found in worship replacements. God has created human beings in such a way (imago Dei) that ultimate fulfillment (rest and peace) can’t be found apart from him.

C. S. Lewis makes the same point by using the analogy of an automobile’s need for the correct fuel:

God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on gasoline, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.2

From a biblical perspective of the imago Dei, when people fail to worship the true God they replace him because they must worship something. Today the replacement might take the form of a perceived ultimate or reason for being. But these and all other alternatives to God are finitely inadequate and leave humans existentially unfulfilled.

In the New Testament Jesus Christ uniquely offers rest for weary and burdened souls:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28–30).

The biblical perspective seems to offer a plausible explanation concerning both humankind’s search for purpose and dissatisfaction with finite goods. If Scripture can explain the complexity of the human condition, it seems worthy of careful consideration as a true revelation from God himself.

Reflections: Your Turn

What worship replacements have you used in your pursuit of meaning and purpose? What was the result? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.


Check out more from Reasons to Believe

  1. Augustine, Confessions, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (NY: Penguin, 1961), 1, 1.
  2. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1952), 54.


About The Author

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture. As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding." I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin. As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith. Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe. An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California. Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association. The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.

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