The Purpose of Things (Part 1)

A few Wednesdays ago we found ourselves once again sitting in an oblong rectangle of chairs, benches and stools in our concrete-floored dining room as about 30 of us – Darwin, our 7 kids, several middle-aged neighbors, Miss Martha and our schoolteacher, and about a dozen or so children and youth from our neighborhood – had come together to understand the Truth and study God’s Word.

The Wednesday prior Josselyn, our new 10-year-old daughter who hides her face when she gets nervous and is learning the alphabet for the first time in her life, decided to receive the invitation to peace with God through Jesus Christ after having heard in the Bible Study what exactly the ‘Good News’ is that is so frequently talked about throughout the Bible.

This week, however, we would be talking about the purpose of things. As always, everyone present is invited to participate (although some choose not to), and so I began naming different common items so that we could begin naming their purposes.

One of the first items I threw out there in this game of name-the-purpose was a machete, an extremely common item in Honduras, and even moreso out in the countryside where we live. Almost every male above the age of about 10 or 12 has one and uses it almost daily to ‘chop’ the yard, cut firewood, etc, so when I asked the group, “What is the purpose of a machete?”, they looked at me as if it was finally made plain to them that I’m a foreigner. You mean she doesn’t know the purpose of a machete? Is she serious?

After a short pause, one of the youth dared to state the obvious: “It’s for chopping the yard.” Everyone else looked at me as if to say, “…Duh…”

“Yes!” I affirmed. “And what else?”

“For cutting things…like firewood.” Someone else chimed in, answering perhaps the easiest question we had ever ventured to answer in this timeslot on Wednesdays when we dare to find answers to some of life’s hardest (and most pertinent) questions. No longer was I asking: “What is justice?” or “How does the World treat the orphans, the widows and the poor?” or “What are some of the lies the World tells us?” or “What is the Kingdom of God?” Rather, I’m asking the use of a large, simple knife that everyone is already familiar with.

“For killing.” Someone else said.

I clarified – “For killing – animals! Can we say ‘hunting’?

After we exhausted the rather short list of purposes for a machete – and once everyone began realizing that this game of name-the-purpose was not so hard after all – we proceeded with a list of about two dozen things, naming the common, known purpose of each.

“What is the purpose of a bus?” (Another extremely common thing here, seeing as most people do not have their own cars and thus have to travel on big, retired American yellow school buses that have been converted into Honduran public buses to go on errands, visit other cities, etc).

“To carry people!” Someone shouted.

“Yes! And what else?”

“To…carry things!

“Yes! Basically the purpose of a bus is to transport or move people and things from one place to another, right?” Everyone looked at me in utter agreement, excited even. “Ok, so if the bus doesn’t have any wheels or gas, it can still fulfill its purpose, right?”

For a split second I caught them off guard as they looked at me, then everyone started to laugh and say, “No! It wouldn’t fulfill its purpose without wheels or gas!”

So there we went, naming the purpose of food, a watchdog, shoes, the sun, a school, a backpack, and a host of other things. As we were nearing the end of the little list scribbled on the index card in my lap, I smiled and posed the actual question of the day, only to be met with blank, confused stares:

“What’s the purpose of a human being?”

 

One 13-year-old young man who participates in Darwin’s choir and has proved himself to be very respectful, humble and hard-working, was the only one who seemed able to compose an answer after a few seconds of shock. His opinion: “The purpose of a human being is to serve God…or…serve the Devil. You choose.

Almost everyone seemed surprised by the mere fact that he was able to put an answer together to such an impossible question, and some laughed nervously.

I think I literally saw lightbulbs go off in several people’s heads as I begin explaining, “How interesting that quickly and accurately we can name off the purpose of a machete or a pair of shoes, but when asked to name our own purpose, we literally don’t know how to answer! If a machete is used to chop the grass but not to brush my teeth or comb my hair – and we all know that – then we can use it according to its purpose and thus fulfill its purpose, making it a useful machete. If we know that a watchdog does not fulfill its purpose of protecting the property if it has lost all its teeth, is deathly ill and can no longer stand or bark, we can accurately discern between a watchdog that is fulfilling its purpose and one that is not. But a human being? How on earth can we go about fulfilling our purpose if we don’t even know what it is? How could we use a pair of shoes properly if we did not know they were meant to protect our feet, that that is their purpose?”

To be continued in a subsequent post…

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