Making the World a Better Place
“What do we live for, if not to make the world a better place for each other?” Great question! George Elliot directly addresses the reason for human beings’ existence.
What is our purpose for being here? Some would say to have as good a time as possible before we die. Others might say to make a lot of money, or to enjoy all the world has to offer, or to pursue a dream. These are good aims, but they miss the mark.
Humans were meant to live in community. If this were not true, why would we make such an effort to live together in groups, or create families, or join organizations? Yes, I know, there are those who choose to live alone. On a visit to the Adirondack region of New York one summer I saw some small—excessively small—huts where hermits had once lived. I have no idea what prompted them to live that way, but they are certainly an exception that helps prove the rule.
Most of us do what we can to surround ourselves with people. Even if we choose to be part of a small group rather than a large one, we like to share our lives with others. Think of the proliferation of social media. My wife and I joke that we are both “only children,” and we need a big house so we can each have our own space. The truth is, when one of us is alone in the house it feels empty. Even if one of us is in one room, and the other is in some other room, we know we are not really alone. I think we’re fairly typical.
If we are going to live in community there must be rules so we can get along. I tell the students in my ethics class when we talk about individual freedom, that my freedom to do what I want stops at your nose. If what I choose to do invades your space, I have to restrict myself. In baseball, the pitcher throws the ball to the batter, but he’d better not throw the ball at the batter.
Rules for living in community are only the beginning, however. They can only prevent trouble. A society whose only goal is for its people to stay out of trouble won’t be much fun to live in. Everyone would spend each day worrying about breaking some rule or stepping on someone else’s toes. This is where Elliot’s statement comes in to play. We will find the most enjoyment and fulfillment in life when we find ways to make the world a better place for others.
There are many biblical passages I could have chosen for today, but there’s a reason I chose Paul’s words to the Galatians. He lists the fruits of the Spirit, the characteristics that a Christian should exhibit to demonstrate that he/she is emulating Christ. Paul’s list: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
What is interesting about these characteristics is that few if any of them can be put into practice without someone else around. You have to love someone, and unless you’re in love with yourself, there must be at least one other person involved. I suppose it’s possible to experience joy by oneself, but it doesn’t sound like much fun. Being at peace with ourselves is an important goal, but just as important is being at peace with those with whom we share this planet. The other characteristics—patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control—either imply or demand another person to demonstrate them. They are impossible to accomplish without someone else being part of the equation.
“What do we live for, if not to make the world a better place for each other?” Not much, I’m afraid. If I am the only person on earth, in addition to being very lonely, I won’t have any opportunity to practice the fruits of the Spirit.
God made us to live in community. We can make this world a better community if we make it better for those around us.