Monday, January 21, 2013

The Chief End of Man

Question 1, The Westminster Shorter Confession:

Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. 

The question of man’s purpose is one that is often asked, but rarely answered in a right manner. For many people, this question is asked only in its immediate application: What should I do right now? Instead of working out a general principle for life, many will choose some limited goal, like getting to the next level on a computer game or getting a raise at work. Some will rise higher and pick some vague principle like “love.” Why? Well, it sounds nice, doesn’t it? While Christians occasionally fall into these traps, they should have a much greater reason, one that ties all of life into one grand unity: to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.

This “chief end,” of course, presupposes that man has a purpose to begin with. While this may seem like an obvious point, it is only obvious to one who is used to a culture that once was Christian. Does man have a purpose? Perhaps man is an accident, a random combination of various elements. That man is purposeless, except for some purposeless pragmatic goal, is perfectly consistent with atheism and evolution. This doesn’t seem to fit with man’s self-consciences, his ethical capacity, the order of the universe, and basically everything, but that is only because any religion besides Christianity will not fit with God and the way He made this world. The only way to make sense of this world and to find meaning in our tasks is to submit to our eternal Creator. Because God is independent of His creation and limitation, because He alone is before all things, and because all His creation is dependent on Him, He is the key to the purpose of our existence. Any purpose outside of Him is doomed to fall short.

This question seems to have two parts, and indeed it does, but they are not as separate as one might think. First, we are told to glorify God. This is obvious from the Bible. As God’s creatures, made in His image, our created purpose is to reflect and proclaim God’s glory, His glory being the brilliance and manifestation of His nature. This is our purpose as humans. In everything we do, we are His image and ought to act like it. Second, we are told to enjoy God. Some people mistakenly have the idea that enjoyment and service to God are two separate things, but, as Calvin says, the devotion of our life to God’s glory is “the highest good of man.” It doesn’t get better than this! We can enjoy nothing so much as when we enjoy our God. All other things are limited and fade away. The music to which we listen, the food which we eat, are the most enjoyable, nay, only enjoyable, when they are received in a way that glorifies God, in thanksgiving and righteousness before His face. Fulfilling our purpose of glorifying God is enjoyable; to do otherwise is vanity and manifestly unenjoyable. Furthermore, God is most glorified in us when we enjoy Him, reflecting and proclaiming His “wondrous works to the children of man” (Ps. 107:31).

What a glorious purpose! What a life this sets before us! How we fall exceedingly short of this grand intent! This is the first question of the catechism and it sets the stage for the rest. While we have indeed fallen from our intended role, Jesus Christ, the only mediator of God’s elect, restores us by grace to fellowship with God. As we are sanctified in this salvation let us continue to strive in Christ for this chief end of man.


Doc Simonson said...

Peter, I always enjoy reading your blog, and I appreciate both the thought you put into it, and the thought I am forced to put into it. I have to point out that, though our greatest purpose is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever, love is not a vague principle. "He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. (1Jn 4:8)" It is our inability to be as God that cripples our understanding of love. Yet we are commanded: "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. (Joh 13:34)" To love as God loves? I pray that it will be!

"And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." (Mat 22:37-40)" Wouldn't the greatest commandment also be our greatest purpose? Of course it is, and it is the way that we glorify God. It's kinda like a "twofer!"

Peter Bringe said...

I agree that biblical love is not vague or unimportant to our chief end. I was referring to non-Christians you do use the term "love" in a vague, usually ungodly way. Thanks! -PB