In my last post, I looked at the problem of purpose: when you say that suffering has a divine purpose, you create confusion as to whether or not it’s ok to oppose that suffering, since doing so risks opposing God. But there are other problems as well. Today I’d like to look at the paradox of purpose (hey this is starting to sound like a 3-point alliteration sermon!).
The thing about purpose is that it necessarily involves a person who (a) has a choice and (b) knows the consequences of that choice. If I accidentally fall off a very tall bridge, there’s no point in asking me what my purpose is in accelerating downwards at a rate of 32 ft/sec2. I have no purpose in doing so, because I have no choice. Likewise if I dial the wrong number and wake up a stranger in the middle of the night, it’s meaningless to ask me what my purpose was in waking them up. Yes, I did deliberately dial the number, not knowing it was wrong, but I did not realize that my actions would have that consequence. Waking the stranger was something I did not do on purpose.
That’s important, because it means that whenever do you have a legitimate purpose for something, it means you necessarily bear the moral responsibility for what happens. You had a choice, you knew the consequences, you knew the alternatives, and you deliberately made the choice that you knew would create the suffering. Otherwise, it’s not really purpose.