“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
- Who am I?
- Where did I come from?
- What is my purpose?
- By what standards should I live my life?
- What is my ultimate destiny? What happens when I die?
These are the most profound questions that confront every person. How you answer will determine the way you live and work, as well as the impact you have on others during your lifetime. How society answers these questions shapes politics, education, business, media, and arts & entertainment.
These questions are the most important you can ask … and answer.
The work of Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor is helpful in understanding how contemporary culture deals with these life-shaping questions. Taylor makes a distinction between mimesis and poiesis. Put simply, these terms refer to two different ways of thinking about the world and the self in the world.
A mimetic view regards the world as having a given order and a given meaning, and thus sees human beings as required to discover that meaning and conform themselves to it. Poiesis, by way of contrast, sees the world as impersonal raw material out of which meaning and purpose is created by each individual.
Both of Taylor’s major works—Sources of the Self and A Secular Age—tell the story of the shift in Western culture from a predominantly mimetic view of the world to one that is primarily poietic. Whereas people used to believe it was necessary to conform to the moral structure of the universe (mimetic view), now people believe the world has no moral structure; therefore, they must create their own (poietic view).
Modern society has dethroned God and enthroned self. Our culture has abandoned long-established moral standards, thrown off restraint, and now encourages people to seek fulfillment in their preferences and passions. What was once unthinkable has become not just acceptable, but socially promoted and legally protected.
The self reigns supreme.
However, the reality is that there is a moral structure to the universe, and it was created by God. The Lord created the physical laws that govern the physical world, and he created the spiritual laws that govern the spiritual world. The created world thus bears the stamp of God’s design, and it is every person’s responsibility to recognize and respond to the design of the Creator.
This means that man’s purpose, meaning, and fulfillment are found not in pursuit of deeply felt preferences and passions, but in relationship to God the Creator and Redeemer.
In vivid contrast to modern culture’s gratification of self and its passions, Jesus calls us to the denial of self.
“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16.24-26)
To put it in Taylor’s terms, scripture communicates a mimetic view of the world. The Lord created the world with order, design, and meaning, and it is every person’s responsibility to see that design and align themselves with it.
Paul says it this way in Romans: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” (Romans 1.19-20)
The Lord has revealed himself in the created world. The Lord has revealed himself in scripture. The Lord has revealed himself in the person and work of Jesus the Messiah. It is our responsibility to recognize his creative signature in the world. Most importantly, it is our responsibility to recognize and respond to what the Lord has done for us through the death and resurrection of Christ.
Only there will we find the answers to the great questions of life.