It’s not often that a professor can make a roomful of undergrads explode in laughter–and at the same time engage them in some serious soul-searching.
Addressing a crowd of Harvard undergrads, Stanford Business Professor Charles Lee spoke about what every Harvard grad wants: success.
At one point he keenly observed:
“We all want to be successful. But who wants to be a successful liar, thief, or terrorist? Success is simply the attainment of a goal, but what is more important than success is the worthiness of that goal . . . . The success of a knife is to cut, because it is designed to cut; the success of a racehorse is to run, because it was bred to run. So what is success for a human being? It depends on what you think human beings are made for.”
He then paused to let his undergrad audience grapple with the question. Then, leveraging the late-night party experiences of nearly every college student, Lee, who was formerly managing director at Barclays Global Investors (now Blackrock), wryly remarked:
“It all goes back to the same questions that a security guard asks you when you’re wandering around at night on campus: who are you? what are you doing here? where are you going? what are you up to?”
Amidst the seemingly endless howls of laughter, Lee then said, “These are the more important questions.”
Lee’s comments, which were part of a larger (and fascinating) discussion with Harvard Professor of Chinese Philosophy Michael Pruett on the American dream, included snippets of how and why he converted to Christianity.
Christianity, of course, offers compelling answers to these questions. To the specific question regarding the topic success, “What were human beings made for?”, Christianity gives a remarkable answer, simply and beautifully articulated in an ancient (and still widely used) liturgy of the Lord’s Supper. It is expressed as a prayer, prior to the words of institution:
“Holy and Gracious Father: In your infinite love you made us for yourself . . . .”
Did you catch that? What were you made for?
No matter who you are or what you have done, no matter how young or old, how rich or poor, no matter your influence or intelligence, your pedigree or capacity, regardless of what tongue, tribe, people or nation you are from, God made you for himself.
In his infinite love.
That is, moved only and eternally by love, he made you so that he might have a relationship with you.
He actually wants to have a relationship with you. Not because he has to, or needs to (or needs something from you), but because he wants to know you, and he wants you to know him.
If it seems hard to believe, you’re in good company. In two different psalms, King David, a man of both incredible gifting and incredible guilt, observed both the magnificence of the starry heavens and transience of humanity and asked of God:
“What is mankind, that you call them to mind,
the children of men, that you care for them?”
So, says the Eucharist prayer, in his infinite love God made for himself. And the prayer continues:
“…and, when we had fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death, you, in your mercy, sent Jesus Christ, your only and eternal Son, to share in our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all…”
In love he created us for himself, and when we rebelled, in love He reconciled us–at great cost to His Son, a cost that He was willing to pay, as the prayer concludes:
“He [Jesus] stretched out his arms upon the cross, and offered himself, in obedience to your will, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world.”
God the Son became one of us to atone for us that He might be at one with us.
What more could God do to demonstrate that he wants to know us and that he wants us to know him?
There is no greater act than love, and there is no greater object of love than the One who is Infinite Love, who has made history a vast canvass of epic self-disclosure and who can make your life a micro-canvass of his endless welcome and inscrutable wisdom, a welcome and wisdom that will inevitably overflow into the lives of others.
What were you made for? What would make your life a success? What is truly worth boasting about?
Speaking through ancient prophet Jeremiah, the Creator answers:
“Let not the highly skilled boast in their skill, nor the influential boast in their influence, nor the wealthy boast in their wealth. But let the one who boasts boast in this: that they understand and know me–that I am YHWH, ever acting in unfailing love, justice and faithfulness, for in these I take great delight.”
The One who made everything, whose welcome is breathtaking and whose wisdom is life-giving (and, um, who will get his way anyway) wants to know you.
This is what the Lord’s Supper is all about.
Ask yourself: when’s the last time you had dinner with God?
(And don’t worry: the bill’s already been paid.)
. . . . . . . . . .
(To watch the entire discussion on the American Dream with professors Lee and Pruett, hosted by the Veritas Forum at Harvard University, click here.)