Meditations on the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism

A few months ago I wrote a brief blog with a few meditations on the famous first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. I thought it would be helpful to make a few more observations. As often as it is recited, it needs at least some further examination.

The purpose of this particular question was to build a theocentric framework on which the entirety of the catechism would be founded. What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to Glorify God and to enjoy Him Forever. To impart any proper meaning to this answer we need to conclude what it does not mean. There are least a few conspicuously erroneous ways to see this. The first would be to assume that to glorify God is a task reserved in the context of ecclesiastical worship. This idea entails that the Sabbath worship is the only time in the week where the body glorifies God. To limit the glorifying of God to the gathering of the saints is a gnostic danger. The second obvious error is to assume that the enjoyment of God is an ethereal and utopian activity reserved for the redeemed in heaven. Any conclusion that entitles the enjoyment of God only to the heavenly people reduces God’s benefits to non-corporeal beings and abuses the reasoning used by the framers of the Confession. The gift of enjoying God is given to earthly redeemed and even to those in the visible church who benefit and sample God’s gifts–but will soon be thrown away from God’s covenant due to disobedience and betrayal (see Hebrews 6; I John 2:19).

In philosophy, there are essentially three questions that are frequently explored. They are the questions of identity, existence, and meaning. They are phrased as follows: Who am I? Why am I here? and What is the meaning of life? This question in the catechism seeks to answer all three of these questions in twelve words. Note that when we respond: “Man’s chief end,” we are assuming that human existence has a purpose (telos). When we say: “is” we also assume that this purpose has already been established, so that the idea of man being the “captain of his fate and the master of his soul” is utterly flawed. It follows thus far that purpose has been determined and that humanity has already been created with an end in mind. There is no such thing as tabula rasa. The slate is not clean, in fact it is already very filthy and the purpose of “purpose” is to destroy any excuse for existential meaninglessness.

But what does it mean “to glorify God?It is worth to note that this is the chief end of man, not one among many chiefs, but the “chief.” This implies that sinful humanity finds pleasure in other ends. The central idea is that the glory of God is the purpose of existence. Gordon K. Reed notes that “to have one great purpose also gives added significance to all other purposes and goals. This means all we do –working, planning, education, recreation, family life, and even eating and sleeping, have meaning which flows from the one great purpose.” To glorify God is to find fulfillment in all of life. It is to honor Christ in obedience and faith. All this cannot begin to occur until one is drawn irresistibly by the Holy Spirit. The drawing ushers one into a new creation (II Cor. 5:17); a creation where there is purpose and where meaning is secured.

In the glorifying of God we see that humanity is created in His image (Imago Dei) and that humanity was created to reflect their creator. There is no greater form of expression in daily worship than the enjoyment of God. The catechism puts it: …” and enjoy Him forever.” If the glorification of God is the climax of human existence, then the enjoyment of God finds its climax in the means to achieving that purpose. Both to “glorify God” and to “enjoy Him” are inseparable concepts. They are as God’s sovereignty to human responsibility. No one can glorify one they do not enjoy and cherish. But to “enjoy” carries a further concept. It carries the idea of supreme delight. The delight that can never be satiated with simple glimpses or philosophical endeavors, but by embracing one’s life as an infant embraces his mother. This is the purity of pure enjoyment: to realize that there is no true pleasure without the One who gives true pleasure.

A final observation must be made here so that we do not lose a proper and balanced understanding of this stirring command. I am compelled to address the matter of anthropocentrism. It is a common tendency to address theocentrism as the only goal of the Christian life. Hence, because of such a celestial view of life, we have tended to conclude that life is only meaningful when we address our actions and motives to God alone. The problem occurs when we notice that Christ’ s command to enjoy and love human kind is inextricably linked to our enjoyment of God (Matthew 22:38-39). So to glorify God is to love mankind and to enjoy God is to enjoy the Church of God. This questions’ intention is not to divorce our love for one another from our love of God, but to enable us to love one another with even greater depth because of our love for God. This is our purpose and this is why we live.

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About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
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