What is your destiny? Why do you exist? Why were you born? Is there a reason, a purpose, for human life?
These questions have baffled the greatest thinkers and philosophers down through the ages.
We ponder the meaning of life. A child naturally wonders, "Where did I come from?" As adults we ask, especially in our twilight years: "Is this physical life all there is? Does my life have a purpose?"
Think about your own existence. Can you see a purpose for your own life with its ups and downs, its mixture of joys and sorrows? Do you sense lasting value in its toil, challenges and uncertainties?
Just why were you born? In the pages that follow, we will explore this, one of the greatest of all mysteries.
Man's place in creation
Three thousand years ago King David considered the apparent insignificance of human beings when compared to the vastness of the night sky. As a shepherd, he had spent many nights outdoors gazing at the star-studded expanse overhead. Notice the thoughts he recorded in Psalm 8:3-4: "When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?"
David wondered why, considering the magnificent and vast universe, God is so concerned with human beings and their future. He realized that, within the larger scope of the vast heavens, we can appear to be insignificant. Yet he perceived that, in the plan of the great Creator God, no part of God's physical creation even begins to compare with His purpose for human beings.
Understanding that only God can reveal His purpose for creating us, David continued his reflection on the destiny of man: "For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor. You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen—even the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea that pass through the paths of the seas" (verses 5-8, emphasis added throughout).
David was reflecting on the dominion God gave mankind at creation, using some of the same language as Genesis 1:26. Here God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." So man was made in God's image to rule over His creation.
David realized that God has already granted people the capacity to manage a significant part of His creation—our planet and its wonders. But he knew that much more was to come.
David's words in Psalm 8 are quoted in Hebrews 2:6-8, with an explanatory comment at the end: "But there is a place where someone has testified: ‘What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet.' In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him" (New International Version).
"Everything" here is translated from the Greek ta panta, meaning "the all" —essentially, "the universe." This is what God has determined to be in subjection to man—but, as clarified here, not yet.
Indeed, as he gazed at the celestial grandeur overhead, David may well have recalled God's amazing proclamation given through Moses that "the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven . . . the Lord your God has given to all the peoples under the whole heaven as a heritage" (Deuteronomy 4:19).
This is astounding to contemplate! These verses reveal that man was created to share dominion with God over the entire created universe. Yet this is only one aspect of an even greater reality.
Beyond our wildest dreams
What does it mean to say that God made mankind "a little lower than the angels"? As David looked at the vast expanse above him, was he really saying that man was only a little lower than immortal spirit beings? As mortal, material creatures, we are far, far below what Scripture reveals about the power and glory of beings in the heavenly realm.
Instead of "a little lower," perhaps a better rendering is the New American Standard Bible's translation of Hebrews 2:7: "You have made him for a little while lower than the angels . . ." This seems likely, considering the vast gulf between us and the heavenly realm, and the implication is stunning. For if we are only temporarily at a lower level of existence than the angels, then what does that say of the future?
Consider again what God said in Genesis 1:26: "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion . . ." In all of God's physical creation, He made only man in the image and likeness of Himself. He gave only man dominion or rule over the creation. Mankind is unique within the creation of God. And God has planned for us an unfathomable destiny!
The apostle Paul said of God's marvelous plan, "This message was kept secret for centuries and generations past, but now it has been revealed to his own holy people" (Colossians 1:26, New Living Translation; compare 1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 3:9).
Throughout the ages the overwhelming majority of people have failed to grasp the amazing future God has in store for those who develop a proper relationship with Him. As the apostle Paul put it: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9, NLT).
The Scriptures tell us that our destiny can exceed anything we could imagine in our wildest dreams! Isn't it time we let God explain—from His Word—what He has in mind for us?
A prophetic passage gives us our first clue to our fantastic future. Speaking of the resurrection of the dead, it tells us that a time is coming when "many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." It adds: "Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever" (Daniel 12:2-3, New Revised Standard Version).
This is just a hint of the amazing future God has planned for us— to live forever, shining in glory like brilliant stars!
What man is now
Before we can comprehend man's eternal destiny, however, we need to clearly understand what man is now. We are physical beings composed of the chemical substances of earth. That is how God created us: "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being" (Genesis 2:7).
But almost all ancient religions taught the error that man is a nonmaterial spirit entity confined for a time in physical flesh. They taught that man has a dual composition, that a human being is both a physical body and an immortal soul.
Even today most people believe that after our physical body dies, our supposedly immortal "soul" will continue as a living and conscious entity apart from the body. This idea that we have a soul that is immortal is never taught in the Holy Scriptures. It came to us from the superstitions of ancient religions—possibly as far back as Eden, when Satan convinced Eve she would not die if she disobeyed God (Genesis 3:2-4).
On the contrary, the Bible clearly tells us that our "soul" is mortal, rather than immortal, because it can die (Ezekiel 18:4, 20; Matthew 10:28). Indeed, the words commonly translated "soul" in Scripture—Hebrew nephesh in the Old Testament and Greek psuche in the New—refer simply to physical, mortal creatures. They are used not only to refer to human beings, but to many kinds of animals, including birds, reptiles and fish.
The Bible makes it plain that immortality is not something we already possess. Paul clearly tells us that God alone has immortality (1 Timothy 6:13-16). He explains that we are "corruptible" and "mortal" and that "this mortal must put on immortality" by being changed from corruptible to incorruptible existence when Jesus Christ returns at the last trumpet (1 Corinthians 15:51-53; compare 1 Thessalonians 4:16; Revelation 11:15).
At this present time God's servants are those who "seek for glory, honor, and immortality" (Romans 2:7)—showing they are not already immortal. But they do understand that, by sacrificing His life for ours, Jesus Christ "has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:10). Immortality is available only through mankind's Savior, Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12).
Again, man is mortal! Human life is temporary! We are physical beings who can die; we can cease to exist. Our life does not reside in some supposedly immortal soul. No such teaching can be found in the Scriptures. When we die, our consciousness ceases (Psalm 6:5; Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10); it doesn't continue in an altered form.
There is a spiritual element to man's existence, but it is nothing like the concept of an immortal soul.
God's gift of life to come
Many passages reveal that our only hope for eternal life lies in being resurrected from the dead in a transformed body just as Jesus Christ was. (For a thorough explanation of what really occurs at death and afterward, and the many misconceptions associated with the afterlife, be sure to write for our booklets Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach? and What Happens After Death? )
Moreover, the Bible also makes it clear that being resurrected to immortality comes only through the gracious mercy of God: "For the wages of sin is death [not immortal life in some other form or place], but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23).
Eternal life is the gift God has in store for those who turn from the way of sin and begin obeying Him from the heart. Again, it is not something human beings inherently possess. Rather, it is something God offers to us— if we turn from our old sinful ways and, through Christ, accept His forgiveness and direction for our life.
This is what He wants for everyone: "God our Savior . . . desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:3-4). He is "not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). God desires to give us the precious gift of life forevermore. He will do everything He can to ensure that we receive the eternal destiny He has planned for us!
But just what is that destiny? Let's look further at what the Bible reveals.