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The Chief End of Man Part 1

March 1, 2010
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In 1647 the Westminister Assembly completed the Shorter Westminister Catechism which asked a very good question:

“What is the chief end of man?”

The answer:

“Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”

And in 1978 a bunch of Presbyterians provided some bible verses to attempt to back this up. (Ps. 86:9; Isa. 60:21; Rom. 11:36; I Cor. 6:20; 10:31; Rev. 4:11 and Ps. 16:5-11; 144:15; Isa. 12:2; Luke 2:10; Phil. 4:4; Rev. 21:3-4).

This phrase, that man’s chief end is to glorify God, became a concept that would haunt me ever since my junior year of college. Why? Because, quite frankly, I just don’t agree with it… well, the first part anyway.

It all started during a bible study in the aforementioned junior year. We were talking about the crucifixion and the leader of this particular study said that Christ had died and come back again for the purpose of bringing glory to Himself. He said it so matter of factly and everyone else in the study just nodded their heads as if it were everyday common knowledge, but this was the first time I had ever heard such a thing in the four years that I’d been a Christian. And it really struck a chord, a disonant chord. It traveled up my spine and exploded into an assured sense that what I was hearing was simply… wrong.

And so, I raised my hand and said as much. Then the seven or so guys in the study all looked at me asif I had sprouted a second head and said that the moon was made of orange jello.

Little did I know that the idea of God being chiefly concerned with His own glory was part of the reformed tradition for three and a half centuries. And, little did I know, that the Campus Crusade bible study I was in and indeed about 90% of my friends were steeped in the reformed tradition. And, more to the point, I wasn’t.

Now I was clearly evangelical. I’d come to Christ through a parachurch organization and I grew up in the more evangelical wing of the Baptist church. And the thing about both of these environments is that they aren’t overly concerned with formal theology and, in fact, you could just as easily find a hard core NeoCalvinist as you could a hard core free-willer. The Baptist sermons I grew up on and the messages I heard at parachurch meetings which helped lead me to give my life to Christ were primarily concerned with developing a relationship with God and living as a Christian in a difficult world. We just never really got around to discussing things like predestination or even the nature of God. It was either assumed you believed a certain way or they encouraged you to find out for yourself. After all, that’s what having a relationship with God is all about: getting to know Him.

And of course, those two things, predestination and the nature of God, were the exact reasons I found the idea of God being primarily concerned with His own glory so disturbing.

The nature of God:

What exactly does the idea of the chief end of man being to glorify God say about who He is? It seems to suggest that God creates things (namely us, the crown of creation) to glorify Himself. That becomes His chief concern. I’ve even heard that John Piper once said that “the righteousness of God must be his unswerving commitment always to preserve the honor of his name and display his glory” (John Piper, The Justification of God, [Baker Academic, 1993], pg. 219). But to me, this makes God out to be some sort of glory hound. As if God has some sort of ego he wants to satisfy. God needs no satisfaction. His nature, His ego, is not affected by our honor or our glory. The only reason God would want to make His name known is for our sake and not His. He wants people to recognize the truth of things. He wants us to see the truth because He is truth. And, quite the opposite of a glory hound, seeing the truth is a mark of humility. In my mind God isn’t so much concerned with His glory as He is with our humility because according to Christ’s paradigm humility leads to authority. The meek shall inherit the earth.

Predestination:

To me, the whole reason for the idea that God is chiefly concerned with His glory is because of the doctrine of predestination. I think that if you believe in the type of predestination wherein some are predestined to be with God and some are not you have to also believe that humanity’s chief purpose is to glorify Him. Because really, if God’s arbitrarily picking and choosing people it had better be for a good reason. If our main reason for being here is to glorify God then if we are thrown in Hell that glorifies God just as much as being forgiven does. So it makes sense that God’s main concern is His glory. Otherwise He’s just, well, mean.

But, as you might’ve guessed, I’m not a predestination kind of guy. Which is probably why this idea is so foreign to me. So I guess the natural question to then ask is “what is the chief end of man if not to glorify God?” Well, as I said, that’s a very good question. And one I’ll hopefully try to answer in part 2.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Eric permalink
    March 1, 2010 9:15 pm

    Interesting read. I’m interested to know what it means for God to glorify Himself. I think the issue I have with some of the Reformed jargon is that it ends up being used to mean that God acts like a human king, and yet God seems to have a very different idea of what glory is all about. All that last shall be first, and the greatest will be a servant stuff. Not to mention the sense in John that the height of Jesus’ glory is in his death.

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  1. The Chief End of Man Part 2 « The Jawbone Of an Ass

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