Foundational Life Questions (And Answers)
The Universal Experience of Time
No matter where someone lives, or the culture within which he or she lives, each person is moving through time and, consequently, living with an awareness that the passing of time creates for us a past, present, and future.
All people everywhere experience the passing of time. This is a universal experience. Not all people view time in the same way, however… Still, regardless of how they perceive the movement of time, all people recognize that time is, in fact, moving. All people have a memory of the past, a consciousness of the present and some anticipation of the future. – Teaching Adults: A Guide for Transformational Teaching, LifeWay Press, 2000.
This universal experience of time (a memory of the past, the awareness of the present, and the anticipation of the future) forms a personal and corporate story in each person’s mind. This is not something we do deliberately. It just happens as a result of moving through time. It also raises certain natural and universal questions that all people invariably seek to answer, whether they realize it or not… Where did I come from? (Recognizing that a past must exist.) Where do I fit in? (Recognizing the undeniable reality of the present.) Where am I going? (Recognizing the expectation that a future is constantly arriving.) These are what we are calling “Foundational Life Questions” that reflect the human awareness that we are moving through time. How people answer these Foundational Life Questions will define the key elements of their worldview, whether at a corporate (cultural) level, or at the level of the individual. This article is about how a biblical worldview answers Foundational Life Questions.
These questions and answers are not, typically, articulated at the conscience level. Rather, the awareness that time is moving forms a natural and subtle context for these questions and answers to develop at an unconscious level from a very early age. We each grow up with a story, even if we don’t recognize or articulate it. Understanding this reality provides us with an educational opportunity to influence and shape the worldviews of our congregants from the earliest ages. This is what we are hoping to do.
Where Did I Come From? – Biblical Faith
Our identities as individuals are inextricably woven into our understanding of our pasts. None of us have a perfect or exhaustive memory. We don’t remember our earliest years and even the memories from years we can remember are filled with gaps. Regardless of how well we remember the past, however, we naturally understand that who we are today is shaped by where we have been in the past. We wonder, therefore, “Where did I come from?”
This Foundational Life Question may be expressed in any number of ways that reflect the varying needs of individuals. Who am I? Why am I the way I am? Am I just a machine or do I have inherent value? Am I here for a purpose or am I simply a complex cosmic accident? Why do things seem so broken in my personal world and the larger world? However the question may be articulated, it implies an answer grounded somewhere in the past.
Our memory and interpretation of the past does more than define our identities. It shapes our convictions about and perceptions of all of reality. In short, it defines our faith, whatever that faith may be. Everything you believe about God, life, death, relationships, romance, the future, and everything else is determined by the cumulative experiences of your past and how you interpret those experiences. Those beliefs may or may not be grounded in reality, but they are, nonetheless, determined by your past collective experiences, memories, and interpretations of those experiences. This is why faith always has a “backward” orientation. It is always looking to the past.
In this sense, Biblical faith is no different. It also looks to the past. Everything we might know or believe about God is based on what He has done and revealed in the past. Biblical faith, however, is fully grounded in reality because it is informed by Scripture and bases its convictions on the unchanging character and purposes of God. Biblical faith is, therefore, shaped by what God has done.
Only a biblical worldview can answer adequately and accurately the Foundational Life Question, “Where did I come from?”
Where Am I Going? – Biblical Hope
Just as our memory and interpretations of the past will define our faith, so our anticipation of the future will define our hope. Our universal experience of moving through time will cause all of us to ponder the future in some way. We recognize the future will hold for us either pain and sorrow or life and joy, or both. So, we wonder, “What does the future hold for me?” This is a Foundational Life Question.
Does the future hold happiness? Pain? Eternity? How we answer these questions will foster either hope or dread. This is why our hope (or dread) is always looking forward in time. This expectation of the future will impact our lives today in a myriad of ways. How we love, how we work, how we worship, and how we play all are impacted by our expectation of the future. Clearly, how we perceive the future is significant.
The Bible calls us to live with hope rather than dread. But biblical hope is not merely wishful thinking. Biblical hope is grounded in the forward-looking promises and revelation of Scripture and the eternal, unchanging character of God. Biblical faith lays the foundation by examining what God has done, while biblical hope is shaped by what God has destined.
Only a biblical worldview can answer adequately and accurately the Foundational Life Question, “Where am I going?”
Where Do I Fit In? – Biblical Love
How we remember the past may determine our faith, and how we anticipate the future may shape our hope, but it is only in the present moment that we actually live. It is here in the present that we make decisions and choose to trust the Lord or doubt Him. It is here that we choose to follow or turn away. It is in the present that we choose to obey or rebel.
Trust and obedience assume we know what God expects. If we are to obey Him and live biblically, then we must know what God desires. And indeed, we do! The Bible teaches over and over that the primary characteristic of the life of a child of God is love. We shouldn’t be surprised then, that Jesus would declare love for God and man to be the greatest commandment (Matt. 22:34-40). We shouldn’t be surprised that Paul would declare, “Now these three remain; faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13). It is only in the present moment, however, that we can exercise real love. It is only in THIS moment that we can make decisions to love others. It is only in the present moment that we can do what God desires.
Biblical love, therefore, is tied to our understanding of the world around us and how we relate to that world in the present. How we understand our place in the world and the people around us will shape our capacity to love. Loving others is difficult if we have no sense that we are loved or belong somewhere and to someone. Our need to be loved and valued is essential to life. The biblical worldview affirms that, indeed, we are of supreme value to God and that He has created a family into which He calls us. He now calls us to demonstrate the love we have received. When we experience and know the love of God and His people, we are empowered to love as He has loved us. “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
Only a biblical worldview adequately and accurately answers the Foundational Life Question, “Where do I fit in?”
When all is said and done, the quality of our lives and the long-term impact of our lives is most determined by the nature and quality of our relationships. The quality of our relationships is most shaped by our capacity to walk in and demonstrate biblical love. Biblical love is not a sentimental emotionalism that expresses itself in indiscriminate tolerance. Biblical love is characterized by a lifestyle of choosing what is best for others. These choices, however, often will involve priorities and decisions that require discernment, wisdom, and even discrimination. Such discernment must be based upon a biblical understanding of people, culture, behavior, and unchanging values. This biblical understanding must grow out of a firm grasp of what God has done, what God has destined, and what God desires.
Biblical Answers to Life’s Foundational Questions
We have argued that a biblical worldview answers the Foundational Life Questions that all people naturally ask as a result of moving through time. In one sense, it’s unrealistic to think any single document or article could adequately address the complex questions raised by people all over the world throughout all of time. Still, we feel it’s important to articulate summary “answers” to these Foundational Life Questions for the sake of curriculum developers and church leaders interested in understanding the resources we are producing.
Where Did I Come From?
Yahweh, the supreme Lord and loving Creator of the universe, created me, and all people, in His image in order to reflect His loving sovereignty and to reign over creation as His steward(s). Because He created me, I have a divine origin, divine value, and divinely-given purpose. But, because people have chosen to doubt God’s goodness and now trust elements of creation instead, sin and death have entered creation and work against the original goodness of creation and humankind’s original status and purpose.
God, however, has been at work throughout human history, through the people of Israel, through Jesus (the Messiah), and now through the Church, to restore creation and humanity to their intended place. Who I am today is a product of God’s original purpose for me, plus His ongoing work in my life, as well as the power of sin and death within humanity and creation.
Where Do I Fit In?
God has a place and a purpose for me within His Church (His people). Through the atoning work of Jesus, God is overcoming the forces of sin and death and is restoring creation and humankind to its original status and purpose to reign over creation. I have a role in God’s plan. God’s great story of restoration is still unfolding and I have a place in it!
God has demonstrated that He is characterized by sacrificial love. He now desires that my life also be characterized by sacrificial love. This is how I exercise my call to reign within His Kingdom. In the Old Testament, God was working through His people Israel to accomplish His purpose of restoring creation. That work has been accomplished in Jesus so that now the Church (the renewed Israel) functions as His people for His purposes. As a Christian, I am a member of the Church, God’s people. It is in the Church that I find love and exercise love for people both inside and outside the Church.
Where Am I Going?
Someday Jesus will return and God will consummate His kingdom and restore all of creation. At that time God will abolish sin and destroy death itself, within me and all of creation. In the meanwhile, I live with all of God’s people (the Church) in an in-between time, knowing that Jesus has already accomplished the initial and decisive defeat of sin and death, but also knowing there is work to be done here and now.
As a Christian, I may suffer during this in-between time as the powers of sin and death struggle against Jesus’ people, the Church. But, God has destined that I will live and reign forever in God’s restored creation. This will happen no matter what else I may experience in this life.
Capturing The Principle
These answers are a human attempt to summarize vast swaths of the biblical story in a way that addresses the Foundational Life Questions. They will, no doubt, see revisions and we welcome serious critique. Whether or not a person agrees with the way we have articulated these Foundational Life Questions or the answers to those questions, we hope people will capture the principle that a biblical worldview speaks to the most basic concerns of the human heart. These basic concerns of the human heart reflect Foundational Life Questions that grow out of the universal human experience of moving through time.
We pray our resources will help churches teach His story to successive generations in a way that helps those generations see God is at work in their lives and that there is a place for them in His grand, unfolding story!
Author, Speaker, Bible Teacher
See a list of other articles by Rick Edwards.