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The Chief End of Man Part 2

July 26, 2010

If, perchance, you have a spectacular memory you might recall that I wrote an article way back when entitled “The Chief End of Man Part 1” in which I promised a second part. Well, as you might’ve guessed by the title up above this article right here is that fabled, long sought after, second part in the thrilling series about what is it exactly God wants from us humans.

“What is the chief end of man?” I believe is a question that speaks to the heart of every human on earth. Whether it’s as simple as being the best at making Jello salad or as huge as figuring out what separates humanity from the rest of creation well desire to figure out the great “why.” Why are we here? It’s the cliché answer to the cliché question of what you would ask God if you could only ask him one question: What is the meaning of life?

If we go way back to the beginning in Genesis you get this passage from Genesis 1:

“Then God said, ’Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so.”

Immediately from this passage we get two ideas. Mankind was made in the image of God and mankind was given his first order: multiply and subdue all the earth.  In chapter two we get a little more detail. We learn that the first man, Adam, was plopped into a garden and told to tend it and to eat from everything except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We also learn that God charges him to name all of the animals of the Earth. This is a big deal because in the ancient Hebrew culture your name wasn’t only what you were called but also represented the essence of who you were. It was your reputation, what you did, and how others regarded you all wrapped up in one. In fact, the Hebrew way of saying “He was called..” is to say “his names was called…” which would seem to give extra emphasis on the name. So, for God to give Adam charge to name every animal would seem to suggest that God allowed Adam reign over the essence of all the creatures around him. God, here, is not only telling Adam to subdue the Earth but He is allowing Adam to partake in the act of creation.

From these two passages it looks like the purpose of Mankind is to take care of our surroundings. I would even go farther and say that we’re supposed to partake in the act of creation. Life isn’t supposed to be passive. We’re supposed to make something, create something. On top of that, we’re supposed to spread out, multiply and “be fruitful” or, rather, be useful. Again, life is meant to be active. We aren’t stumps meant to purely exist. We’re supposed to live.

But to say that the chief end of mankind is to live is not nearly satisfactory enough. We have to know how to live and what to do. For that, we should fast forward to the first century and hear the words of Christ in Mark 12.

By the first century the Hebrews had for themselves a huge list of things to do and guidelines to follow given to them by various prophets. In layman’s terms, this was The Law. To a first century Jew if you asked, “what is the chief end of man?” they’d probably respond with something along the lines of “follow The Law.” And the guys who knew The Law best were the scribes who copied it out and taught it. One of these guys then went up to Christ and asked Him which commandment in the law, out of the hundreds there are, is most important. And Jesus’ response?

“The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

In Matthew’s version of this passage in chapter 22 Christ goes on to say, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Loving God and loving your neighbor. These are the words of Christ, not some 17th century assembly.  See, we were made in the image of God and God is love. God wants us to live an active life and, more specifically, a life of Love.

I’ll admit, it’s still pretty vague. “Loving God” isn’t nearly as satisfying as “make Jello salad.” And, on top of that, I’ve had the people who defend glorifying God as the chief end of man say to me that, of course, loving God is glorifying Him or that to glorify Him is to love Him. And that’s fine and dandy, but I think it misses and important part about who God is. If you read my other article you know that I just can’t believe that God’s chief desire is His own glory. But for a Creator who is Love to create a creature whom He can love and be loved by makes perfect sense to me.

Half of Christ’s message was about it. Love your neighbor, love your enemies, lay down your life.  All of these commands are, according to Him, hallmarks of life within the Kingdom of God. So, in the end, if you ask me what the chief end of man is I can only answer from what I learned from Christ in one alliterative way: “Live a life of love”

One Comment leave one →
  1. Dustin permalink
    July 26, 2010 7:07 am

    I’m wondering about the first portion of this article–mainly, that the naming of animals signifies participation in creation.

    In effect, it would seem that the major issue within the first couple chapters of Genesis deals with control–I don’t mean control in a negative way. Rather, it seems that the author(s) felt a deep concern for control over the created world around them. In the first couple chapters, one finds commands to “fill the earth and subdue it,” the naming of animals (I’m also wondering if this might have something to do with control as well–one sees this in some of the gospels as demonic figures seek to ‘name’ Jesus), etc. One also finds a flood narrative coming on the heals of these chapters, possibly dealing with a present reality confronting the original writers/hearers–an issue that would make life quite precarious.

    Finally, the command to multiply is quite appropriate for a more agrarian-based society, or even for a hunter-gatherer society, whereby the more hands make lighter work–although more hands also result in more mouths.

    In the end, I’m not sure this detracts from the latter point you make, but rather is just some thoughts rumbling around in my head.

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