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Deacons, Minecraft, and the Purpose of Life

Each Sunday, about a dozen individuals, myself included, volunteer to teach teens about life and choices in the context of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Somehow, this idea works on occasion. My area of responsibility is boys age 12-13, and I have between 12 and 15 of them that come to our weekly meeting, which means that it works less often for me than it does for those working with the slightly more mature strains of the species. I've been volunteering this way for four year now, and while the discussions are probably relatively typical of other groups of chaperoned 12-13 year old boys, every once in a while--like two Sundays ago--they surprise me.

What is the purpose of life? Minecraft, of course.

In these meetings, a boy moderates the roughly 45-minute discussion centered on a particular theme. This particular day, the boy moderator asked a question about what our purpose is in life. The boys quietly answered various things like the steady trickle of a leaky faucet. The answers, while true, were largely predictable; "To be tested by our Father in Heaven", "To learn to be like Jesus Christ", and whatnot. Eventually, though, one boy used an analogy that every boy this day and age can relate to: Video Games.

He said that the only games that he likes have a purpose or a goal and that purposes and goals are important to him. The other boys nodded in support acknowledging the familiar beat of a popular song. However, then a boy dissented: "I don't think that's true. Minecraft is a fun game and there is no purpose to it. Its lack of purpose is what makes Minecraft fun, you can just do whatever you want."

My eyes lit up. These are my favorite moments with the boys because they are on the cusp of seeing a larger more complicated world. I interrupted the conversation and said, "What do you think about so-and-so's comment? Is Minecraft a fun game?" The room erupted appropriately with boys clamouring to say what part of Minecraft they liked the best whether it was building traps or exploding piles of TNT or chopping down a tree with his bare hands.

Side Note: It's quite difficult to pull a group of boys back from a discussion about video games. It's sort of like padding a canoe upstream with a matchstick for an oar and molten lava for water. Not only is progress slow, things keep catching fire all the time. (Try camping with a bunch of scouts and then tell me I'm wrong.)

Do atheists have a point, then?

I quieted them down, yanking them from their digital reverie and asked, "So, what would you say to someone who used Minecraft as their analogy for, say, life? They say: 'I don't think life needs a built-in purpose to be meaningful. I like defining my own purpose. That's what makes life so fun.'"

Silence. A couple boys tuned out again, seeing that the discussion had gone back to the metaphysical, but some looked pensive like they weren't sure what they would answer. One boy captured the collective defensive consciousness of several in the room, dismissing the threat against his neat and tidy world by employing the simplest of boyhood axioms: "I'd tell him he's stupid."

God looked at the blank sheet of paper of eternity and drew us upon it.
Other boys offered weak attempts at defending the idea of a God-purposed life: "Life would be meaningless without a purpose," "it's different than Minecraft because you can't respawn" and again "that's just dumb."

I realized that this was a question that the boys could use some time to think about it, so I tabled the discussion, challenging them to think, ask their parents, and come back next week with how they would answer their friend who dismissed a God-purposed life.

A week went by, and I grew a little pensive myself. Was this too tricky of a question at their age? Would it discourage them from participating or from coming? I waited.

From the Mouths of 12-year-olds

Happily, come Sunday, nearly everyone attended. One of the boys even reminded me that I'd asked them to think about their answer to the question. (This isn't so common. Usually 12-13 year old boys don't remember unless I staple something to their foreheads. And call, text, and email parents. And verbally remind them the night before.)

We put the boys in pairs to share their answer first with a buddy in the room. Getting boys to talk in the first place is a bit of a challenge--wrestling a crocodile to pull out an infected tooth is also a challenge--so the buddy system is a good warm-up. It lets them test out the words and the idea on a single human being, like when I share business ideas first with my neighbor before I will anyone else.

Then, we went around the room, giving everyone a chance to weigh in with their idea. I listened apprehensively, like a father watching his son shoot a free throw at a basketball game. I prayed silently that the boys had found a way to walk further down the road than "well, he's an idiot".

The teleological argument. The first boy said that there must be a reason that the Universe was created because it was so amazingly perfect that it couldn't have come about by chance. Someone must have designed it, and He must have had a purpose in doing it. The is also called the Clockmaker argument. Most Latter-Day Saints who I know are very comfortable with this argument because they also proffer the idea that God can use science to create the Universe and that we are not bound by God's commandments to believe Youth Earth explanations to our origin.

The moral argument. Another boy said that there is no reason to be good if life simply ends at death. While his might sound a bit sociopathic (shouldn't we just love to be good anyway?), the boy's point was that the fact that we inexorably see something as right or wrong could be used as a proof of God's existence. Several boys chimed in with similar responses that our moral code derives from being created by God for a reason.

Pascal's Wager. One boy was clever enough to offer up Pascal's wager, though he didn't know he was saying it at the time. He said that even if there is no purpose, no afterlife, and no God, that our best bet is to act in faith that He is there. Pascal's wager places four possibilities into a chart like so:
Faith Faithless
God Heaven Hell
No God Doesn't matter Doesn't matter

This boy explained in 12-year-old words the same idea that if there is no afterlife and no inherent purpose to our existence or no implied creator, then there is nothing to worry about either way. The only column that has a negative consequence is to remain faithless.

It was a good discussion, and I told the boys how impressed I was at them having taken the question so seriously. (In my mind I was thinking, 'I did *not* have this level of spiritual court vision at 12 years of age!') I shared with them my own convictions about God's existence and our divine purpose while here on Earth.

So, do atheists have a point or not?

Later on, I was telling my wife this story, and explained to her I believe that there is an additional point of view that resonates with me. This point of view is that the "Minecrafter" isn't entirely wrong. Indeed, I believe that Latter-Day Saints accept this idea of defining one's own purpose deeper and more legitimately than any atheist that commits to it only until death.

Latter-Day Saints believe in an existence of Eternal Progression that extends beyond death. For those faithful to God in this life, such progression leads to us eventually becoming like God. The plan outlined by God is similar to what any father would want for his offspring: To eventually take on the same abilities and responsibilities that Dad has and does.

God* is not in need of our praise, our existence, or our purposes. He is  self-sustaining, self-existing, and independent. I believe that most theists would agree with me that God determines his own purposes. He gives us a hint to his purpose in Moses 1:39:

39. For, behold, this is my work and my glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

But why is that God's purpose? I believe the answer is simple: Because He wants it to be his purpose. He looked at the blank sheet of paper of eternity and drew us upon it because it pleased Him to give us a chance to have His same joy and progression. If you are a mom or dad, you will recognize the same reasons in your own heart for why you had children.

If we are to become like Him, I suppose that eventually we will experience the same weighty and liberating responsibility of determining our own pathway through eternity. It's like Minecraft, but on an unimaginable scale of time and space.

Today, my purpose is to follow the path God has laid before me, knowing that it is a path that leads back to Him. There are plenty of areas where He is happy to allow me to choose my own purpose within the larger umbrella of things--my career, my spouse, my pasttimes--so long as it does not deter me from my main purpose to reach Him. Such exercise of free agency gives me practice for the much bigger (eternal) agency I am going to employ much further down eternity's road.

In reality, then, I have no problem with supposing that Minecraft may be an analogy for the value of defining our own purpose. Eventually, the only purposes left will be my own and my spouse's to whom I'm married for eternity. It simply needs to be looked at on an eternal scale to be worth while.

Wow. All of that thinking because of a question from a 12-year old. Thanks, man!

*Latter-Day Saints believe in the principle of eternal families and that God is an example of what we are to become. Thus, when I say God, I mean it in the plural: Both Father and Mother.


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