What are human beings that you are mindful of them?
One of my favorite scenes from Ray Romano’s classic comedy, Everybody Loves Raymond, involves Ray sitting down with his young daughter, Ally, to talk about sex. (You can see a YouTube video clip of it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0j4iMm4yz8I). As he begins the awkward conversation, she surprises him by not being interested at all in the mechanics of how babies come to be. Instead, she voices a much deeper question. “Why are we here?” Ally asks with the profound innocence of a child. The wholly unexpected question unnerves Ray. And, of course, her question provides the comic framework for the rest of the show as the whole family searches in vain for a coherent response.
Their inability to come up with an intelligent answer to Ally’s question – despite consulting the Bible in the process, no less – is not only comical but also unfortunate, since the question is so fundamental to our experience as human beings. What is the purpose of our existence? The question is not new. Our text from Psalm 8, asks a similar question in a slightly different way, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them?”
The world in which most of us work as leaders doesn’t provide many helpful answers. The dominant secular narrative suggests that we are the consequence of merely physical processes that describe how we got here but provide no hint as to why. If there is to be a purpose to our existence, it seems we must construct one for ourselves.
What is particularly odd, given how fundamental Ally’s question is to all human beings, is why “Why?” should matter so much to us. In the cosmic scheme of things, we are one species on one small planet, in one unremarkable solar system, in one minor galaxy amidst a vast universe beyond our imaginings. How is it possible that such an insignificant species, located in the “less than a speck” backwater of the universe, can understand, much less imagine, the laws of physics that predict so many of the fundamental behaviors of the material universe with such remarkable accuracy? And, even more puzzling than that, why do we continue to grapple with the question of meaning to which the material universe is unable to provide a satisfactory answer?
Perhaps the biblical narrative has something to say to us in the 21st Century after all. Beyond any imaginable expectations and without any reason other than he chose to do so, God has created human beings in his image – with the capacity to understand the workings of and purpose for his creation and with the intention of being his visible representatives to, and stewards of, his creation. In a nutshell, that’s the biblical response to Ally’s question.
Meaning and purpose are integral to what it means for human beings to be made in the image of God. Therefore, meaning and purpose are essential to our work of leadership as we serve those we lead. Perhaps that is why Max De Pree’s seminal book, Leadership is an Art, has proven so helpful to so many. In an age where most leadership books focus on technique, rather than explaining the ‘hows’ of corporate life, Max explains the ‘whys.’ In my own experience, the most challenging and important work of leadership is articulating why we as individuals and as organizations do what we do. It is much easier to focus on what needs to be done rather than reflecting on why we should do it. Even in how he writes his book on leadership, Max has provided us a helpful model and example. May we follow suit.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Do you find it difficult to describe the purpose and meaning of the work of those you serve as a leader? Why or why not?
In this coming week, how will you reflect on the “why” of what you are doing? How might you articulate that? To whom might that be important?
God and Creator of the universe, we cannot begin to fathom the scope of the universe you have made. Its size, complexity and beauty are beyond our comprehension.
With the Psalmist we ask, what are human beings that you are mindful of them? Given how insignificant a place we have in the universe, why should you have created us with the capacity to understand your creation and its meaning and purpose? We are filled with wonder and gratitude at your extraordinary grace in giving us the vocation of being your image bearers to your creation.
Give us the grace we need to live faithfully in the world where you have placed us. Grant us skill and insight to serve those we lead.
We offer back to you the world and the work you have entrusted to us with thanksgiving and praise.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.