The Purpose-Driven Life Part 1: Life is God’s Game

The Purpose-Driven Life Part 1: Life is God’s Game

The Purpose-Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? by Rick Warren has been a bestseller in the Christian world for decades. It was on the New York Times Bestseller List for over 90 weeks and sold 18 million copies in its first six years. It has over 215,000 ratings on Goodreads averaging 3.93 stars and over 2,400 ratings on Amazon averaging 4.7 stars.

In reality, the only nice thing about this book is that its “reading plan” has already been laid out for the reader. It’s meant to be read one chapter a day for forty days, and each section (except the last one) takes one week. So each of my review posts will be about one week-long section. (But don’t worry, they won’t be consecutive. I need a break from reading this already.)

The first section of the book is an introduction to the five “purposes” for life. It’s titled, “What on Earth Am I Here For?” and contains seven chapters.

1. It All Starts with God

The very first thing (following a bible verse) in Chapter One of Part One of this book is a Bertrand Russell quote taken out of context. Beneath the chapter title, it reads, “Unless you assume a God, the question of life’s purpose is meaningless. – Bertrand Russell, atheist”. Of course, the first thing I did was Google the quote, and I found this page. The full quote is, in fact, “Unless you assume a God, the question of life’s purpose is meaningless, and like Laplace, ‘I have no need of that hypothesis.'” (The Laplace quote was translated from French here.) So maybe there is no true purpose to life without a god. But that doesn’t make Warren’s god real.

The main gist of this chapter was that you’re hopeless at finding your own meaning or trying to choose your own purpose in life. Warren says that we are God’s invention, and the only way to understand us is to ask the inventor and read the owner’s manual, which he says is the bible. He says that the bible “explains why we are alive, how life works, what to avoid, and what to expect in the future.” Needless to say, this was my first clue that Warren has not read the bible.

2. You Are Not an Accident

Warren starts this chapter off with Einstein’s famous quote, “God doesn’t play dice,” but I really don’t have time to get into why all of his quotes miserably miss the point.

I’m glad that this chapter is short, because it is just Warren saying “God made you for a reason, even if your parents didn’t,” in as many different ways as he can.

He says,

If there was no God, we would all be ‘accidents,’ the result of astronomical random chance in the universe. You could stop reading this book, because life would have no purpose or meaning or significance. There would be no right or wrong, and no hope beyond your brief years here on earth.

First of all, I would love to stop reading this book! Secondly, barring the fact that evolutionary changes are far from just random, I think it’s so incredible that against all odds that any one person happened to be the sperm that won! And how incredible that every one of any given person’s ancestors lived at least as long as they did to reproduce, that we are the few that got the honor to live at all, however briefly. That is so much more amazing than being created as a pawn in God’s game, and being expected to pay him back for all eternity.

3. What Drives Your Life?

In my attempt at being brutally honest, I will say that the first half of this chapter isn’t all that bad. Of course, it is only paving the way for Warren to tell you to live for God and absolutely nothing else, but he starts by telling you what not to live for: guilt, resentment and anger, fear, materialism, and a need for approval.

The half-decent advice doesn’t last long. Warren says, “Without God, life has no purpose, and without purpose, life has no meaning. Without meaning, life has no significance or hope.” I wrote in the margin that literally all of this is wrong. We have no way of knowing which, if any, god exists. If it is the god of the bible, he’s so fickle and often at odds with Jesus that you don’t even know who to follow. (I mean, should you be circumcised or not!?) With or without a god, there is no inherent purpose built into life. The only purpose we have is doing what we can to make our days count.

4. Made to Last Forever

This chapter is when Warren really begins making it crystal clear that our only purpose is to live to die. He advises readers not to get too attached to this life or anything in it, because the real party only starts in heaven—and only Christians are invited.

In addition to this truly sad way of living (given that we have absolutely no way of proving any kind of afterlife), Warren inevitably claims that you choose where you end up, and that there are no options other than heaven or hell. He says, “Tragically, many people will have to endure eternity without God because they chose to live without him here on earth.”

I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve taken it upon myself to correct his statement. “Billions of people have found it impossible to accept the existence of the Christian god because he doesn’t satisfy their need for evidence. Billions more worship the wrong gods. But most people in the history of humanity either lived before the dawn of Christianity, or they’ve just never heard of it or of Jesus. But that’s their problem, not ours. It’s their fault that God decided never to reveal himself to them, and it’s their fault that he will now burn and torture them for all eternity. But you, my Christian reader, don’t you worry about that. You’re better than all those people.”

5. Seeing Life from God’s View

In this chapter, Warren describes that you can view life through the metaphors of its being a test and a trust. In regards to it being a test, he says, “When you understand that life is a test, you realize that nothing is insignificant.” And about it being a trust, he says, “At the end of your life on earth you will be evaluated and rewarded according to how well you handled what God entrusted to you.” (Hey, Rick, this would be a great time to bring up climate change!) “That means everything you do, even simple daily chores, has eternal implications.”

When I was working in retail in college, the manager told me that how much I would be scheduled would depend on on how well I performed on my last shifts. I thought that this was unfair, because sometimes you’re just having a bad day or you’re in a bad mood. It’s unfair to expect someone to be perfect all the time, and to threaten that with money. Similarly, it’s pretty manipulative to threaten someone to be perfect using eternity.

It seems in this chapter that Warren is beginning to show that life is a game, and God is the gamemaster. If you win, you go to heaven and if you lose, you go to hell. Whether you win or lose depends on how many points you have. If you don’t believe in the Christian god, you lose by default, but if you do believe, then you could gain or lose points in anything you do. So don’t mess up.

6. Life is a Temporary Assignment

This might actually be the worst chapter so far. Warren has begun to hammer home the points of the last two chapters: Life is a brief test to determine where you’ll go when you die. He describes life on earth as a short visit to a foreign country where you don’t belong.

Warren uses this as the explanation of why we “experience difficulty, sorrow, and rejection in this world. . . . We’re not completely happy here because we’re not supposed to be!” He’s essentially telling Christians that they should accept and even be proud of being miserable in life, because it will all go away when they die. They don’t belong to this world, so they shouldn’t get attached to anything in it, be it happiness, family, success, or anything that brings them joy that isn’t God himself. Life is just treated as the staging area for a destination that doesn’t exist, and we’re encouraged to waste our time on this earth wishing for death.

7. The Reason for Everything

This chapter, if you can believe it, is more full of fluff than the other six. It is really just the introduction to the five purposes that will make up the rest of the book. Before listing the five purposes, however, Warren discusses bringing glory to God, because not bringing glory to God, or “loving anything else more than God,” is “the worst sin and the biggest mistake we can make.”

Apparently, the five purposes in the rest of the book will define what bringing glory to God is. But Warren makes some analogies that I think undermine the point of the whole book. He says, “Birds bring glory to God by flying, chirping, nesting, and doing other bird-like activities that God intended. Even the lowly ant brings glory to God when it fulfills the purpose it was created for. God made ants to be ants, and he made you to be you.”

For the sake of my sanity, I’m just going to ignore the fact that birds and ants do what they do because they evolved to be that way. But if Warren wants to measure other non-human animals’ purpose by doing what they instinctively do, then he should measure humans’ purpose in the same way. This would mean our purpose is to do things like eating, sleeping, having sex, and having other meaningful relationships. Being religious is natural and instinctual, but not to the point where you deny your own identity and love nothing as much as God.

So far, it has seemed to me that Warren is diagnosing a problem that he made up so that he can sell us the cure in his book, journal, and “scripture-keeper plus.” He likes to twist around biblical passages by presenting them only in the most obscure translations that support his points. I don’t trust him at all, and neither should anyone else.

15 thoughts on “The Purpose-Driven Life Part 1: Life is God’s Game

  • January 26, 2020 at 8:46 am

    Ah, Rebekah, you have more tolerance/stamina than do I. I was sent this book by a fundamentalist relative and since I love her, I endeavored to read it. I opened the book at a few random points and read … utter falsehoods and misrepresentations. I set the book down and have not picked it up again. Life is too short to run down childish mistakes/misrepresentations made by such authors.
    And what is this “purpose” he and others keep talking about? It is almost never clearly defined but when it is it is always nonsensical.
    And Mr. Warren makes no effort to explain why such a complete (as in needing nothing) seems to need us to do things so we will love it as much as it loves us. He hand waves away all of his god’s motives with “love.” I recognized fairly early on in my life that an all-powerful being creating a race of intelligent beings in order to have them “love” and “worship” him is about as sick as one can get psychologically. (Imagine a novel in which a powerful overlord insists that the people he rules must love him or he will torture and kill them. What would we think of that character?)

    • February 5, 2020 at 8:23 pm

      You will also notice he gives the faithful permission to ignore this world because there’s a better world to come. That’s not only sloppy, it’s dangerous. You have to live in the life you’re in, not wander about uselesly with your hands in your pockets, waiting to die into a ‘real’ life.

  • January 26, 2020 at 2:21 pm

    I just realized I have this book. My sister gave it to me a year or so ago and I put it on a shelf. I’ll thumb through it now that I’ve read your review.

  • January 26, 2020 at 9:22 am

    Very interesting. I was recently asked to read this book, I made a rule a year ago – if someone asks me to read a book, I will ask them to read a book. If they buy it and start reading it, I will read the book that they asked me to read. They ignored my suggestion of ‘God Is Not Great’ by Mr Hitchens, so I never read this.
    I used to fully believe that this life was a testing ground, a staging area for us to fully understand who we were and to decide if we were going to follow God, or chose our own way instead of His. Over the past couple of years, I have shed my belief in God, much as a snake sheds its skin. Coming to the realisation that there isn’t enough evidence to show a God exists, rather we have hope and emotion, which we mould and place into the faith gap required to believe something you can’t evidence as true.
    Telling people that this life isn’t what it is all about and that the next life is what we are striving for is precisely the sort of dogmatic nonsense and religious propaganda that encouraged educated men to fly plans at 590mph into the twin towers in 2001. It costs lives.
    Sam Harris explains why this sort of faith is deadly in his book ‘End of Faith’. Just because a standard conservative Christian might not harbour terrorism in their hearts, doesn’t mean that their unfounded beliefs can’t turn into the fuel that can be ignited when we rely on our supernatural hopes, before we rely on the evidence that we see around us.

    • January 26, 2020 at 10:34 am

      I love that idea of suggesting a book back to people! I’ve never had someone suggest a book like this or The Case for Christ to me but if they did I would do what you do.

  • January 26, 2020 at 11:53 am

    Thank you for that review.
    In all honesty, I would never read that book. So your review (and followups) are about all I will see of it.
    What I get, thus far, is that Rick Warren wants to feel special. So he has invented a god that will help him feel special.

  • January 26, 2020 at 2:15 pm

    Isn’t it interesting that Warren purposely decieves the reader with an obvious distortion of a quote. We must not give a “liar” the benefit of an innocent mistake. He knew what he did when he distorted the very meaning of the quote.
    Very early in my life, mid teens, I asked myself the why am I here question. After due consideration I asked another question: “Who cares?”
    There is no reasonable answer to an unanswerable meaningless question. And, let us answer it anyway: We are here as a result of an evolutionary natural process.
    I highly recommendreading a 1940’s book: Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes by Edith Hamilton. It cleared up a lot of doubts and questions for me as a teenager in the 1950s.

  • January 26, 2020 at 9:08 pm

    Good stuff. Like so many others above, this book will never be on my list.

  • January 27, 2020 at 8:35 am

    Rather you than me Rebekah, this guy Warren sounds like a complete dork. And yet he’s sold millions of copies of a book that is not only bad, but positively dangerous. Both as a writer who’s struggling to sell books, and as someone who wants to see a better, fairer society where everyone can lead a good life and reach their full potential, I find that quite painful.

    • February 6, 2020 at 2:28 pm

      The level of writing reminds me of the simplistic “watch mr. Wizard” style espoused by Dan Brown and the Davinci Code which is one of only two books I ever threw across the floor…

  • February 5, 2020 at 12:53 pm

    Marvelous review, Rebekah, and thank you for throwing yourself on the grenade to spare most of us the read.
    The more I read of what you mentioned, the sadder I got. When you dissect his comments about ignoring this life to get ready for the next one, I keep thinking, who’s minding the store here, if we’re so all-fired focused on the afterlife? Who cleans up the messes, the pollution, the dog doo, the streets? Why bother to be nice to anyone, in a few years it won’t matter anyway, right?
    It almost felt like he was giving the “right thinkers” permission to ignore ‘earthly problems” because soon enough we die and then we’re out of the messes we created.
    Amazing, that this kind of drivel sells at all, and so well. Maybe because it tells people what they want to hear.

  • February 10, 2020 at 10:19 am

    Every time a theist takes that Einstein quote out of context, the entire physics community collectively cringes.

    • February 10, 2020 at 10:20 am

      Does this mean I’m part of the physics community? 😂 if you like that, you should see my review of The Reason for God – he took a Hawking quote out of context so bad that I had to buy 2 books to track it down!


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