ONE OF MY FAVORITE AUTHORS, Os Guinness, says in his book Time of truth[1]

“To have a fulfilling life, three essential elements are required: a clear sense of personal identity, a deep sense of faith and meaning, and a strong sense of purpose and mission.”[2]

If there is something that we all want, it is a full life. Let’s take a trip and find out what this means.

Guinness uses the story of Primo Levi,[3] an Auschwitz survivor, to illustrate the importance of the three aspects of this hypothesis towards a fulfilling life. Levi was driven to preach the lessons of the Nazi regime so that it would never happen again, giving millions a sense of purpose from the tragedy and ensuring that the human cost and legacy were never forgotten. However, the appearance of inner strength was transitory for Levi, who ultimately met the same tragic end to his life as countless colleagues: he committed suicide.

Only a few weeks before his death he had written in a diary that he had no answer to the riddles of life. A life that offered so much hope and purpose to so many crippled by the crimes of World War II was suddenly thwarted, utterly. Even though he committed suicide, the memory of him and what he stood for should live on.

Despite this, Guinness uses Levi’s story to highlight critical weakness in his modus operandi. He simply “lacked sense of faith and meaning with which to interpret and manage their harrowing experience”.[4] (Italics are added for emphasis.) Without a solid blueprint to base his life on, his “strength” became untenable.

It highlights that while one may have two of the three qualities sewn together, if the one missing is a true weakness, it will inevitably stand in the way of achieving a fulfilling life. And so it is for people without a firm sense of spirituality and bona fides (because there are a lot of “bad” beliefs out there). Bad faith could be described as a theorem that lacks the fundamental plausibility of truth. So it was for Levi. A “dark combination of Auschwitz and atheism” ultimately confused him.[5] I had no way of understanding the most incredible and horrific experiences in life I had witnessed in terms I could understand, and therefore live with. A sense of faith could have given him that.

Many recognize the need to live by the truth, but some of the smartest ironically fall for a lie; feeling that they have to to create the truth and not just discover it’s. Guinness calls us to consider Nietzsche, Camus, Sinatra, and ultimately Levi.[6]-all of whom, being brilliant men, could not to accept basic spiritual truth. Without truth there is no strength.

However, there are the other two to consider: personal identity and purpose and meaning. Imagine having a deep sense of faith and meaning, and still having only a vague sense of self or an insufficient sense of purpose in life. We need to focus on all three if we really want happiness, contentment, and fulfillment.

Establishing and becoming comfortable with our personal identity is a process that requires courage and honesty. There is no other way. Likewise, finding a sense of purpose and meaning requires a lot of soul-searching. Today, it may be more of a case of needing to focus on one thing and one thing only, as we can get caught up in a multitude of foci. We must keep looking until we feel positively and sustainably caught up in the mission that captures our imagination. There is at least one for each person.

I am suggesting the importance of self-reflection and a commitment to take on the following activity.


Clear sense of personal identity.

  • What are your values?
  • What defines you”?
  • Do you know your personality type? What are their preferences and competencies?
  • How much you know about yourself? Which are your fears?
  • Deep sense of faith and meaning.

  • What/who do you believe in?
  • It is true? Can you withstand the academic test?
  • What is it that provides your ‘hope’?
  • Strong sense of purpose and mission.

  • What drives and motivates you?
  • What is your purpose in life?
  • Why would you give your life?
  • © Steve J. Wickham, 2008. All rights reserved worldwide.

    [1] Guinness, Os. (2000) Crunch Time: Living Free in a World of Lies, Exaggerations, and Twists (Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan) 128 pages. This book is full of truths and attacks on postmodernism. Another brilliant offering from Guinness is “The Call”, Finding and fulfilling the central purpose of your life (2003) by Word Publishing Group, Nashville, TN.

    [2] Guinness, Ibid., p. 71.

    [3] More general information is freely available, for example:

    [4] Guinness, Ibid., p. 72.

    [5] Guinness, Ibid., p. 72.

    [6] Guinness, Ibid., p. 74.

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