God’s Acts of Providence (2)

The Chief End of Man (1)

Abraham and Sarah

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

(1 Corinthians 10:31)

AbrahamThe question of to what end mankind has been made resides at the very center of our existence. Only a relative few will explicitly ask and answer this question. However, all who live beyond childhood and have the required mental capacity will implicitly do so in how they choose to live their lives. Of course, these choices are constrained by circumstances: limitations of wisdom, information and energy, societal expectations, and many other factors. But even within these constraints the existence of radical differences in conclusions concerning mankind’s end lead to corresponding radical differences in choices made.

The constraint shared by all humanity is our material mortality. Every religion, philosophy and ideology must deal with this issue. Christianity begins to do so in the Old Testament of the Bible, in a passage from Genesis that even radical scientific materialists could affirm.

3 19”By the sweat of your brow

you will eat your food

until you return to the ground,

since from it you were taken;

for dust you are

and to dust you will return.”

Christians have no problem affirming our mortality as does the above biblical verse and the following phrase from the Book of Common Prayer in “The Order for the Burial of the Dead.”

… earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust;

However, a decisive, distinctive turn occurs as the prayer continues.

…in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection into eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body, that it may be like unto his glorious body, according to the mighty working, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.

Thus, Christians hold that there is something associated with human life that can partake of the eternal, and that there is an eternal, all-powerful being who has given this gift to us, with whom we are in relationship and through whom it can be activated.

When the English and Scottish divines of the 1640’s sought to summarize this relationship within the context of the Westminster Shorter Catechism they chose it as the very first question / answer pair. This position implies that the issue of man’s right relationship to God is of principal importance. In an audacious nineteen words they dared to pose and resolve this fundamental issue of human existence.

Q1. What is the chief end of man?

A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God,[1] and to enjoy him forever.[2]

When we look into this answer, two stunning implications come immediately to mind. Firstly, that God has created us for the express purpose of engaging in an eternal relationship with Him. Secondly, that the Almighty must place tremendous value upon humanity if He intends that we should spend eternity together.

But the next logical question is how are we to know how to glorify and enjoy this God as our chief end? The divines were nothing if not logical, for the answer is provided in the very next question / answer pair.

Q2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?

A. The Word of God which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.[3]

We now have the clues that are required to begin our search for the chief end of man. Although we need not be limited by the Westminster divines with regard to man’s chief end, there is likely no better starting point that could be found. However, with regard to the resource to which we should entrust our examination, we can with full confidence affirm their conclusion that “the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments is the only rule to direct us.”

Therefore we will seek out the mysteries of man’s chief end by careful examination of the relationships between humans and God as found in the Bible. In particular, we will follow the lives of Abraham and Sarah from beginning to end. This road will be long and at times exceedingly difficult. However, what could be more blessed than to trace this multicolored thread through Scripture. We are bound to make discoveries about ourselves as related to God that will open new vistas of understanding. And, looking back at journey’s end, we will have traveled across the holy ground of that great cloud of witnesses whose faith points to our hope and salvation.


 

[1] 1 Cor. 10:31; Rom. 11:36.

[2] Ps. 73:24-26; John 17:22, 24.

[3] Gal. 1:8,9; Isa. 8:20; Luke 16:29, 31; II Tim. 3:15-17.

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