Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Chief End of Man (is not Man)

"In Thy presence is fullness of joy. At Thy right hand are pleasures forevermore." Ps. 16:11

"O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name forever.... O taste and see that the Lord is good." Ps. 34:3, 8

Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

It ain't paint by numbers.
Nobody makes themselves, and nobody is meant for themselves. These are two truths that are continually forgotten.

Everybody believes that they must make themselves. We are all blank slates or empty vessels who must substance ourselves with identity and purpose, becoming "self-begot, self-raised" by the end of our lives. We see no essential quality or purpose for us, no created meaning or given identity. We do not see ourselves as becoming something specific (like a child growing into their clothes, or an acorn growing into an oak). Instead, we see ourselves as nothing until we make ourselves something, anything. All this and more are the assumptions of the average person, and it is a great lie. No one made themselves, and no one makes themselves, and any attempt to make ourselves will fall short of the glory we are called to.

Respect the 'stache.
People also assume that we are meant for ourselves. The Nietzschean dream has been watered-down, but it is still alive: our chief happiness is to be found in our own aggrandizement, realization, and fulfillment. We are self-centered beings to the core, even in our finer moments. Everything boils down to our own happiness, our own flourishing. All our deeds, good or bad or neutral, are built around and building towards our own fulfillment, towards the identity and meaning that we plan for ourselves. Even God Himself (if we believe in such a thing) becomes subordinate to our own ends: religion becomes a means of social grace and standing, and worship becomes a means of emotional satisfaction. How many churches are there whose congregants come together in the name of God to worship themselves?

We are not meant for ourselves. We are meant for God, to exalt Him and delight in Him. This is the identity in which we were created. This is the purpose for which God made us. We were made for God, and you ought to be instantly suspicious of any doctrines or philosophies or fashionable thoughts that make you the chief end. They are wide off the mark precisely because they are so close to it. To exalt and delight in God, to glorify and enjoy Him, is where we are fulfilled and where we flourish. He is the soil we were made to be planted in, and we will sprout in no other. This is another one of those balances that seems to prove the truth of the Christian Faith: our happiness and fulfillment are all part of the picture, but they are not the point. They are involved in the end, but they are not the end, not the "chief end". We were made for joy and pleasure, but joy and pleasure belong to God alone, for He is Good (Matt. 19:17) and His Goodness alone creates gladness (Ps. 4:6-7).

If you're happy and you know it...
This is why it is wrong not only to make our own happiness the chief end but also to banish happiness altogether as something immoral or irrelevant. God is wedded to our happiness. He is our happiness. That is the point. There is no happiness or fulfillment outside of God. To put it another way, we will never find happiness as long as we are obsessed with finding it. As soon as we fling that obsession overboard and make God our obsession, our center, our one and only love, we will find to our pleasant surprise that we are happy. Happy in Him. He who loses self-obsession will be fulfilled. He who loses his life will find it, but only if you lose it in God. All else is sinking sand. All else is nothing, for outside of God is nothingness, and everything that does not seek Him reeks of nothingness.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

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