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29.01.2021

Purpose, Meaning, and All That Jazz

WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR DISNEY PIXAR FILM, SOUL

Why are you here? What makes you who you are? What makes your life worth living?

Weighty questions for a sub-two-hour children’s film, but that doesn’t deter Pixar. Already adept at turning abstract concepts into cartoon creatures, their latest offering, Soul, asks: how do you find your spark?

Joe Gardner already knows what his spark is. Jazz music. ‘I was born to play,’ he declares. ‘It’s my reason for living.’ When he is offered the chance to accompany a famous musician, he hopes it will give his life meaning and significance. An unfortunate day, then, to die.

Soul follows Joe as he desperately tries to escape death and get back to Earth to play the gig. Through the convoluted comic caper that ensures, Joe realises that in fact he has misunderstood the concept of a person’s spark altogether. It is not a single, all-consuming passion, but a sort of general joie-de-vivre: an ability to look up from the daily grind and revel in the taste of pizza, the sight of autumn leaves, the feel of warm air on your skin.

If the film has a message, it is this. Slowing down, enjoying simple pleasures, helping others: these things truly make life worth living. Soul ends with Joe resolving to appreciate every moment of his second-chance life.

This exposure of the futility of a life motivated by selfish ambition is certainly worth celebrating. However, in its place the Bible offers an even more glorious message than Soul, in which mindfulness and meaning are not opposed, but united.

In fact, ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.’ Properly-directed enjoyment is bound up with our God-ordained purpose. That’s the crucial truth: the object of our lives is not our own glory, but God’s. ‘Whatever you do,’ 1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us – whether eating a slice of pizza or playing piano in a jazz band – ‘do it all for the glory of God.’

If we acknowledge that pizza, piano, and ‘every good and perfect gift is from above’ (James 1:17), then every moment of pleasure in God and his creation becomes an opportunity for worship. Our ability to appreciate life’s pleasures can therefore be a part of our purpose – but only if we refuse hedonism and choose thanksgiving instead. For it is God, not us, who gives our lives meaning. He is the true home of our souls, the reason for our jazzing, and the source of our spark.

Rachel Smith
Rachel is a part-time writer and a full-time mum. She attends King’s Church Durham.

Comments

  1. Refreshing piece, Rachel, beautifully and insightfully written, and full of spark. ‘Soul’ was such a good watch, reminding me that God is in this place – the sacred in the secular – though often I’m in too much of a hurry to pause, taste and see. Blessings today, and thanks for sharing your gifts with us.

    By David Benson  -  29 Jan 2021
  2. We enjoyed this film.

    That said, the other “danger” I see in it is that it assumes / supports the pre-existence of souls. Although owing more to Plato than the bible, I see this idea increasing;y accepted among Christians, along with other more worrying beliefs such as people becoming angels when they die.

    By Peter Parslow  -  29 Jan 2021
  3. Absolutely brilliant thank you Rachel!
    That had given me a new perspective on everything I do, not just my work and church life but all the little things too and food for thought as to how I can use them all to God’s greater glory.

    By Chris  -  29 Jan 2021
  4. Thanks for all your very helpful writings I already receive.

    By Audrey Kennedy  -  29 Jan 2021
  5. Thank you. I was reminded of my old school catechism response – God made me to know him, love him and serve him in this world and to be happy with him forever in the next.

    By Karen Bluff  -  29 Jan 2021
  6. Thanks for this. This is worth mulling over isn’t it?
    The World: “What is the point, meaning & purpose of my pleasant & unpleasant sensations in the world?” AHA! The point is ….um…..my pleasant sensations in the world…..”

    By Mr. M. Brittain  -  29 Jan 2021
  7. Thanks all. And yes, Peter, there’s a whole separate article to be written about its presentation of ‘The Great Before’ and ‘The Great After’…

    By Rachel Smith  -  1 Feb 2021
  8. Great piece, and will forward to my colleague who has seen the film.

    By Bruce Gulland  -  2 Feb 2021

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