Firefly, Doctor Who, & The Dark Knight: Finding Purpose
"Shepherd Book said they was men who just... reached the edge of space, saw a vasting nothingness... and went bibbledy over it." - Kaylee
While most of us have never been to space (let alone the edge of space), we have probably felt something like this. We looked at what was in front of us, couldn't see what lay ahead or what the purpose was, or even a remote direction in which we were to move. We’ve had thoughts that our present and future felt like nothingness, and that alone is something that can drive us to the point of Reaver status. Even Solomon got to this point. Check out Ecclesiastes 1:2 where he writes, “‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’”
This is not only a theme we see repeated in Solomon's writings, but it's something we see echoed over and over again in our reality and in fiction. We are built to have purpose and meaning, and when we don’t, it truly feels like something is greatly wrong or missing. It becomes hard to feel like we are accomplishing anything of value. Solomon places a pretty high importance on being able to find satisfaction and purpose in your day to day life when he writes, "So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God” (Ecclesiastes 2:4). When you can’t find purpose, it begins to look like some familiar stories.
Firefly: Mal was an officer in the independent army. He led men and inspired them. He was willing to fight to the death for what he believed in, and it didn't matter to him if he was on the losing side or not. He was passionate and had an indomitable drive. Then the war was over. He lost. Almost everyone under his command died. His purpose was gone. He went from having unstoppable purpose to just floating around in space, trying to avoid the alliance, and any real purpose for his life. As he put it, he was just trying to "keep flying."
Doctor Who: The Doctor along with his sidekicks, the Ponds, had saved the universe countless times, rebooted it when it died, fixed the world from time itself crumbling, and had gone on countless adventures. He even met his wife in this process. It wasn't the adventures, the monsters, or the battles that The Doctor lived for; it was his companions. Then in one painful moment, his best friends and first faces he had ever seen (and technically his in-laws), were taken from him right in front of his face. He went from being the oncoming storm and unstoppable force that wouldn't give up even when the world ended to a man that sat on a cloud in his Tardis and ignored the world and everyone in it.
The Dark Knight Rises: In Christopher Nolan's Batman films, we saw a man that sought to take his fears and turn them against his enemies. He became a wounded man that was willing to let go of everything and train beyond human understanding for the goal of redeeming his city. He fought assassins, ninjas, monsters, and the occasional clown, but all because he sought a means to fight injustice. He gave his mind, his body, his finances, and his time all for the singular goal of making his city a better place. Then, when the symbol he had become was tarnished in the eyes of his city and when the largest criminal threats were at bay, he went from being the epitome of human determination to being the epitome of apathy as he spent years sulking in his mansion.
We all lose purpose for different reasons. Maybe you haven't lost a war, or lost your friend backwards in time, or have your city turn against you. The more likely option is that you don't know what to do with your life or where to go. You haven't figured out what you are called to do or what you are made for. Maybe you don’t know if you will find something that can truly satisfy, or you are still waiting for that first inspiration to hit you. Maybe you have been in a place where you found purpose, but that door has closed on you now.
You are trying to find out if there is something in your life that will give you meaning and purpose and makes you stop asking, "is this all there is?" I personally believe that begins with a relationship with Jesus Christ. In John 10:10 Jesus states that He comes so that we can have life that he describes as “abundant.” In John 17:3, Jesus makes it clear that real life, abundant life, and everlasting life comes from knowing Him, but the problem comes in that while knowing Jesus does connect us to the source of life, it doesn't mean we are going to have a spelled out map or complete list of instructions to attain purpose.
In our aforementioned stories, there was always some catalyst that got them going back on their road to finding purpose and thriving again. Sadly, our purpose isn't usually thrust upon us just in time for a climatic and convenient resolution before the credits roll. However, I think there are some things we can learn or take from these situations to remind us what scripture actually teaches.
In looking for purpose in life, you have to ask yourself, “What do I really want?” If money wasn't a factor, what would I want to spend my time doing? For Malcolm Reynolds, the answer was winning the war against the Alliance, not because he had a personal vendetta against them, but because he truly believed he was fighting for the right thing. When he realized not only what the Alliance had done to River Tam, but also what they had done to the entire population of Miranda and the frightening concept that they would do it again, he found his purpose again. It was the same purpose he had the whole time — to stop the Alliance.
Now this doesn't mean that doing what you want to do will give you purpose in life, because our hearts aren't always the best or wisest guides. Yet scripture does show us that God wants us to not only know our desires, but to trust Him with them. In Proverbs 16:9, we see this nugget. "The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps." God shows us that we need to know what we want, but we try and go about it all on our own. Unless we are allowing God to plan our steps, we really aren't likely to get where we want to be quickly, unscathed, or at the right time, unless we let God show us how He wants us to get there.
Recently I was in New York City for the first time, and it was pretty much mind blowing. There is so much crammed into so many places. When I got there, we had meetings set up all across the city, and I personally wanted to visit Midtown Comics before we rolled out. I knew where I wanted to go, but with subways, cabs, seas of people, and the fact I couldn't remember the name of the place we were staying, there was no way I was going to get where I wanted to go without someone planning my steps for me.
"Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart." Psalm 37:4.
Remember that sometimes your biggest hold up is simply knowing what you want and allowing God to use it.
Sometimes you don't know what you want, though. You are still trying to find what speaks to you, what moves you, or gives you purpose. If that’s the case, you obviously have to pursue another route. Sometimes the best way to find purpose is to look where purposeful things are happening. In Henry Blackaby's book, Experiencing God, he shares the concept that one of the best things we can do in this process is simply look where God is moving, and then join in. It doesn't mean you have to make a lifelong commitment, but go, experience it, serve, learn, and see if this is something for which you were built. This is what happened with The Doctor in a manner of speaking. He was off on his cloud, pouting and mourning the loss of the Ponds and completely ignoring the instructions of his wife, when his attention was drawn to a mystery that was taking place nearby him. He saw something was taking place that made him feel more like who he was supposed to be. He engaged in it. The great thing about this is that it didn't have a happy ending. The situation resulted in the death of a woman he had just met, but it inspired him to get off his cloud, get back into the world, and to once again regain his purpose. This lead him to his next companion, the woman that would see him through a regeneration and the longest period of his life, all because he responded to seeing movement around him.
So where do you see God moving around you? Where do you see movement in the real world that you could become the presence of God in that situation? That's why I attend comicons, write these books, and do things like Geek Church. It’s because I saw that this culture is one I love. I can easily relate to this culture, and even more, I can be salt, light, and voice in it. Doing this stuff doesn't pay my bills or make my life easier, but I know this is something I'm built for. We see this in the early church when Paul heard of what was going on in the Colossian church. He writes, "We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints" (Colossians 1:3-4). Seriously, if Paul can hear of places God is moving before social media and instant connection with virtually the entire world, you've got options.
One last suggestion is to re-evaluate the things in your life right now to see if there are things of purpose that are already present and you might just be overlooking. Simply put, sometimes we are missing living a life of purpose because we have a poor perspective on what's going on around us. After the events of The Dark Knight, Batman pretty much walked away from Gotham. Yes, he had the setback of being the city’s scapegoat, but his goal and purpose never changed. He just let his own insecurities shape his perspective. It took Bane showing up with the League of Shadows and thrashing Gotham before he finally regained the perspective that Gotham needed a Batman. All along it needed a Batman, regardless of how the city or Bruce Wayne felt. In scripture, John the Baptist was one of the people closest to Jesus. This cousin of the King was literally present for Jesus's entire childhood, and was there to baptize Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. He was even standing there when the Spirit of God came down. His entire purpose in life had been to prepare people for what Jesus was going to do, but after imprisonment and isolation, this happened:
"John's two disciples found Jesus and said to him, ‘John the Baptist sent us to ask, “Are you the Messiah we've been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?’" - Luke 7:20.
Even this person who knew Jesus so well and had personally saw what God was doing in His life lost his perspective. Jesus didn't rebuke Him though; He encouraged him. Maybe we think our life lacks purpose because we truly have lost the perspective of it. Maybe it's not that our life, career, marriage, or future have lost value, but that we have let the distractions or discouragements blind us to it. We need to ask God to give us fresh eyes to clearly see and evaluate what he has placed in our lives.
As we see David write in Psalm 32:8, "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you." I believe God desires to guide us, give us purpose, and give us an abundant life. We simply need to be sensitive and focus on trusting Him to guide us.
Know what you want.
Look where God is moving.
Reevaluate your current situation.