35. What Is the Purpose of the Universe?

Intelligent people drive themselves crazy trying to figure out the purpose of creation. The Rambam proceeds to demonstrate how absurd the question is according to the various points of view regarding the origin of the universe (refer back to section 10). [III, 13]

First, a few ground rules must be established. It should go without saying that if a being acts with intention to create a thing, then he must have a purpose for doing so. It may also be taken as a given that God, Who always existed, was not created. Therefore, the question “What is the purpose of God’s existence?” is meaningless since He was never created.

Similarly, according to the view of Aristotle, who believed that the universe always existed, one cannot ask the universe’s purpose, since purpose requires the intention of a creator. Everything on Earth and in space is the way it is simply because that’s the way it’s always been. Aristotle does believe that everything exists for a reason – lungs for breathing, plants for animals to eat, etc. – but there can be no final purpose for everything to be here. (The Rambam, of course, believes that a sense of design in nature only makes sense if there’s a designer.)

Reading the works of Aristotle, the Rambam is able to infer what the philosopher must see as the main purpose of creatures that reproduce: to replace themselves. This makes sense since individual beings don’t last forever. A secondary purpose is for creatures to strive for perfection, as best can be achieved in physical form. But the universe cannot be said to have a purpose if it always existed.

But what about we who believe that the universe was created? What purpose do we think it has?

The simple answer that many would give is that everything was created for man’s benefit, the better to enable him to serve God. There are numerous verses to which one might turn to support this notion, including Isaiah 45:18 (“He formed it to be inhabited”), Jeremiah 33:25 (“If not for My covenant day and night, I would not have established the laws of Heaven and Earth”), and others. If the celestial sphere in all its majesty exists for man’s benefit, certainly the same can be said for the more mundane creations, such as the plants and the animals. “Not so fast!” the Rambam says. This idea is a gross oversimplification and it contains a number of errors.

Logically, could man have been created without the heavens? Certainly. But if that’s the case, why create them at all? The heavens were created for man, you posit, but man doesn’t actually need them in order to exist. So what purpose have they really?

Let’s take for granted that the universe was created for man and that man’s purpose is to serve God. Why should this be? God is perfect and can in no way be improved by our service. Nor would He in any way be diminished if there were nothing in the universe but Him.

We could say that we serve God to perfect ourselves but questions still remain. We were created to serve God in order to perfect ourselves… but to what end? We still don’t know our ultimate reason for being here. Examining the question, we must eventually reach the conclusion that the reason for everything is simply because it’s God’s will. We can discern no ultimate purpose other than this.

This being the case, had God so desired, He certainly could have created the universe differently. Since the things that God did create are not all necessary for man to exist, we must conclude that everything in the universe was not created for him. Rather, the Rambam says, everything in the universe was created for its own sake. We don’t have to ask what the purpose of each thing in the universe is, as we have already come to the conclusion that they are here because it is God’s will. This is what King Solomon tells us in Proverbs, “God made everything for His own reasons” (16:4). Similarly, Isaiah 43:7 informs us that God says, “Everything is called by My Name, I have created it for My glory.”

The idea that everything was created for man is so ingrained that one might attempt to refute it by citing Genesis 1:14, “And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night….'” This, the Rambam says, is not the stars’ ultimate purpose, it’s merely a statement of what they do. (Compare this with 1:28, “…and God said to them, ‘…have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and every living thing that creeps upon the earth.'” Surely no one would think that man’s ultimate purpose is to conquer fish, birds and animals! Again, this is just an example of something man does.) The stars were not created for our exclusive benefit, we just enjoy the light they happen to provide. It’s like the protection we receive from the police department: the police force was not created specifically to keep thieves away from your home, though you do receive that benefit since it does exist.

Don’t be misled into thinking that the angels and the heavenly bodies were created for man. Man may be the most perfected being on Earth but he pales before the creations of other realms. (See Job 4:18-19, “Behold, He puts no trust in His servants, and He charges His angels with folly. How much less those who dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust…?” as well as 15:15-16.) The angels and spheres are superior to man and superior things are simply not created to serve inferior things.

And so, we must not drive ourselves to distraction trying to figure out our ultimate purpose or that of creation. The things that exist in the universe exist because it is God’s will. Just as we cannot logically ask what God’s “purpose” is, we cannot seek to explain His will. One will never be able to arrive at a more satisfying answer.


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