Ronald Knox (1888-1957) was a British Roman Catholic priest and author who wrote several detective stories.
On one occasion, he was engaged in a theological discussion with a scientist named John Scott Haldane. To cast doubt on the existence of the God of the Bible (who mentions nothing about life on other planets), the scientist said:
“In a universe containing millions of planets, is it not inevitable that life should appear on at least one of them?”
Mr. Knox replied:
“If Scotland Yard found a body in your cabin trunk, would you tell them: ‘There are millions of trunks in the world—surely one of them must contain a body?’ I think they would still want to know who put it there” (Fadiman, 334).
The scientist’s argument is known as the plurality of worlds. It reasons that with so vast a universe, the chances that life does not exist anywhere else but on earth are absurdly low.
But there is a flaw in the argument, as Mr. Knox exposed. It assumes that life has come into existence randomly, purely by natural processes. This philosophy is called materialism. If that were how the universe was created, then the chances of life existing somewhere in it could be reduced to a matter of mathematical probability.
Conversely, if, as the evidence insists, the universe was created by an eternal, supernatural mind, then that creator might very well have decided to put all life in the universe on earth — leaving the rest of creation in an inanimate state, designed purely to evidence to us our creator’s existence, power, and glory (Rom. 1.20; Ps. 19.1).
Though it is certainly possible that the creator decided to put life on some planet in the universe other than earth, we are not compelled to draw that conclusion by mathematical odds.
One thing we can conclude is this. Life is here. It has intelligence. Matter, which is not eternal, could not have created itself (see “The Origin of Everything”). Thus, a non-material intelligence created our vast universe. Indeed, someone had to “put it here,” as Mr. Knox observed.
But why did God create us?
Naturally, a murderer puts a body in the trunk to hide his guilt or transport it to another location covertly. But why did God put us here?
That is a difficult question to answer. We have some information, yet the divine incentive in creation remains largely a mystery.
Let’s explore the possibilities.
Divine Necessity (Acts 17.24-25)
In his sermon to the pagans at Athens, Paul described the difference between the false gods, whom they worshipped, and the one “who made the world and everything in it” (Acts 17.24).
The pagan gods derived more power as they gained more worshippers. In a sense, then, they needed their human counterparts to gratify their ambitions.
Too, idols needed human hands to transport them from place to place.
By contrast, God “is not worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed anything” (Acts 17.25). Rather, it is God who gives power to us, not the other way around. And we can only “live and move” in him (v. 28).
In short, God is a self-sustaining being (Ex 3.14). He needs nothing external to himself. He is as powerful with us as he is without us.
Indeed, as ineffably wondrous as “the world and everything in it” is, and as much as it displays the glory, wisdom, and power of the God who created it, still “these are the mere edges of His ways, And how small a whisper we hear of Him! But the thunder of His power who can understand?” (Job 26.14). Could such a powerful being ever need to depend on us for sustenance?
Consequently, we can eliminate one possibility. When God created us, it wasn’t because he needed us.
To Seek And Find Him (Acts 17.26-28)
In that same address to the Athenians, the apostle Paul revealed that God made man with a purpose: namely, “so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him” (vv. 26-27).
To some, the task of finding God, who cannot be seen, is exceedingly difficult. To others, it is downright impossible. Yet, the apostle insists that the task is not at all unreasonable, since God is “not far from each one of us, for in him we live and move and have our being” (vv. 27-28).
Rather than use our eyes to perceive God’s existence and identity (2 Cor. 5.7), he wants us to use our minds and hearts to find him (Jer. 29.13), so that we may embrace him for who he is (i.e., his character, will, etc.) — not because of the majesty of his form and power.
But this point does not get to the gist of our question. It explains our mission in life — our reason for being here. But why does God want us to seek and find him? He doesn’t need us to do so.
To Glorify Him (Isaiah 43.7)
Perhaps Isaiah can lead us a bit closer to the answer.
In chapter 43, verse 7, God declares:
“Everyone who is called by My name, Whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes, I have made him.”
Though the Lord was speaking specifically of his redeemed people who embrace him as their God (vv. 1-6), it is also worth remembering that God desires that everyone embrace him as their God (cf. Isa. 49.6; 56.6-8). In that light, we were all made to honor God.
To give “glory” to God is to assign weighty importance to him. We are not to view him with indifference. Rather, all the “families of the peoples” exist to “give to the Lord glory and strength” — to give him “the glory due to his name” (1 Chron. 16.28-29).
Jesus said that we glorify God when we serve as his “disciples” and “bear much fruit” for him (Jn 15.8). Hence, we were created to follow his teachings.
And we should always follow his teachings, in everything we do (Col. 3.17).
“Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10.31).
However, yet again, this misses the mark. It answers why we are here. But why does God want us to glorify him? Is he an egomaniac who needs us to glorify him? If not, then what was his motivation in creating us?
For Every Good Work (2 Timothy 2.21)
In his second letter to the young preacher Timothy, Paul maintains that all those who cleanse themselves from sin “will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Tim. 2.21).
Our race has the potential to be “useful (profitable) for the Master”! How might we serve the Lord? Through good works — i.e., those identified by him as “good” (cf. Jer. 6.16; Prov. 2.5-9; Mk. 10.18; Ps. 34.8).
Several of our Lord’s parables illustrate how God deems some people as useful, desirable, and worthy of “keeping,” while others are to be tossed aside (cf. Mt. 13.47ff; Lk. 8.5ff; etc.).
The parable of The Good Samaritan, for example, expresses, in a most memorable way, the Lord’s view of those who engage in good works for the benefit of others. It is set in vivid contrast with those who failed to do so (Lk. 10.30ff).
R. C. Foster eloquently summarized the point of the parable:
“The glowing light of this beautiful account stretches out in a gleam of compassion to the whole wide world with all of suffering humanity in view, but it places a halo of glory upon the neighbor who rises above all barriers and selfish inhibitions to serve all who need his help” (p. 856).
Accordingly, God created us to do good.
That said, God himself is already good, as the Lord himself established elsewhere (Lk. 18.19). His good works fill eternity with a boundless "halo of glory." Indubitably, then, he does not need our good works.
So while this passage explains the mission that God has given to us (viz., to serve him with good works), it does not address God’s motive in creating us.
To Live With Him In Heaven (2 Corinthians 5.1-5)
To the church at Corinth, Paul motivated the brethren to remember our ultimate goal: namely, to inhabit “a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5.1). Indeed, the apostle writes, God “has prepared us for this very thing” (2 Cor. 5.5).
In his letter to the Romans, the man from Tarsus also revealed that God desires to “make known the riches of his glory” to those who embrace his “mercy,” insisting that the Lord has “prepared” us “for glory” (Rom. 9.23).
R. L. Harris, in his book, Man: God’s Eternal Creation, denies that we are mere animals, as the macro-evolutionists contend. We have a more dignified calling than the beasts.
“We are not blood brothers to the brute. ‘Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return’ was not spoken of the soul. Since our creation was given a special dignity, we are honored to be creatures in the image of God. Heaven is our proper home as fellowship with God is our highest goal. Any view that dims that fellowship and damns that hope is reminiscent of the temptation through which Adam and Eve fell in the Garden” (p. 71).
Therefore, we were created to live in heavenly glory with God forever. This is the whole reason Jesus went to the cross and promised to “come again” (Jn. 14.1-3).
But, once more, why were we created for that purpose? Was God lonely? Did he need more neighbors in Heaven? That can hardly explain his motives. He never “faints” nor grows “weary” — boredom never vexes his soul, nor does he need our company (cf. Isa. 40.28-31).
An Educated Guess
We have come close, but we are still left without a solid answer.
(1) We are here to seek and find God, but why does God want us to seek and find him?
(2) We are here to glorify him, but God is not an egomaniac who needs praise from others. So, why does he want us to glorify him?
(3) We were created to engage in good works, but why?
(4) We were made to live with him in heaven, but God could inhabit Heaven eternally without us and still be none the worse. So why is our presence there part of his plan?
Though the Bible repeatedly affirms the greatness of God, the glory of God, the self-sustaining nature of God, the perfect works of God, etc., there is one attribute of God that may explain why he created us.
Love that comprehends us completely, filling both Heaven and Earth with its warmth; self-sacrificing, genuine, intensely vested in our wellbeing (Ps. 5.11-12). Thus, since it was not because he needed us, it must be because he wants us.
(1) He wants us to seek and find him, not for his sake, but ours. That is what is truly best for us.
(2) He wants us to glorify him because in his glory is our glory.
(3) It is to our benefit that we engage in good works — for it gives us meaning and improves the very environment we inhabit.
(4) He wants us to live with him in Heaven because with him is life and joy evermore!
To deny him is to deny yourself. He created us and urges us to embrace him not because he needs us, but because we need him!
And here is something completely unfathomable: his love for us is as intense now as it was before the world even began (cf. Eph. 3.11)!
A Final Unknown
Though this explanation may seem reasonable — even persuasive — still I cannot explain why he loves us.
God is indeed the very source and essence of love (1 Jn. 4.8), and, since that is so, some might speculate that perhaps he created us so that he could express that love to others.
But, again, we run into trouble. He does not need us to express his love! Is it fitting to suppose that God’s love was imperfectly expressed before he created us — or that his love was in some way deficient without us? We dare not attempt to tread that path.
Suffice it to say that we need not supply an answer for everything, for some things are yet hidden from our ability to find out (cf. Deut. 29.29; Rom. 11.33).
Nevertheless, here we are! Beings made in the image of a God who loves us (Gen. 1.26; Jm. 3.9). What will we do in light of such love?
No devil or demon in Hell could outdo such ingratitude!
Consequently, regardless of God’s motive in creating us, let us fulfill our purpose in life. Let us serve him, not to satisfy his needs, but to secure our own wellbeing both in this life and in the life to come.
Fadiman, Clifton (ed.). The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes. Toronto: Little, Brown and Co., 1985. Foster, R. C. Studies In The Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company, 1996. Harris, R. L. Man: God’s Eternal Creation. Chicago: Moody Press, 1971.