Photo by Allison Mitchell // Source: Instagram
This past semester in a literature class, I wrote an essay that focused on the theme of restoration in the gospel, similar to a previous entry. One line describing the new heaven and the new earth read, “Where there was once chaos, there will be purpose.” Where things used to seem meaningless, we will see meaning. Although our purpose in life was once obscured, it will be made clear. We won’t need to contemplate our meaning because we’ll live it out for eternity. It won’t take faith because it will be sight.
When we received feedback on our papers, another student told me that this idea of there being purpose in a perfect, sinless world sounded like a paradox. In this life, there is so much work to be done to correct and improve our conditions that we can hardly imagine what “purpose” is apart from trying to make things better. If there’s already peace and justice in heaven, how is it possible that we have any purpose left to serve? How is there a role left for us to fill?
To understand what our future purpose in heaven could be, we first have to realize what our current purpose is on earth. We’re used to defining our meaning by what we do and how our actions affect others. But what if we actually have purpose apart from this? What if God has given us a meaning that transcends our circumstances — whether we’re unemployed, or broke, or failing in school? What if the way God works isn’t the way the world works? What if meaning isn’t what we thought it was?
The reality of our purpose conflicts with everything we’ve been taught in the west. Even after you hear it a few times, the answer still sounds like an oppressive, authoritarian purpose to be given. It can be hard to grasp whether you know Jesus as your personal savior or you don’t. For a long time, I was aware of the answer, but I didn’t understand it. Even though I grew up hearing it repeated, I didn’t get it.
The answer comes from the Westminster Shorter Catechism, a book of foundational Christian doctrine written by English and Scottish theologians in 1646, based on what the Bible already teaches. It opens with a question on life’s purpose.
Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.
It’s a simple answer, and it’s an offensive answer. One of the verses cited is 1 Corinthians 10:31 which says, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
The word “glorify” means “to exalt,” “to praise,” “to attribute importance to.” It’s telling us we’re meant to live for God and not for ourselves.
For a long time, C. S. Lewis struggled to understand how God could create us with this purpose of worship. Lewis considered it selfish that God would ask us to live entirely for him. It’s important that we raise this concern. We would all agree that a man who told us to bow down to him, and to sing for him, and to do everything in his honor, has a pride issue. But, we call him prideful because he’s wrongfully full of himself. He’s ultimately undeserving of our praise. No one has lived up to a standard worthy of us devoting our lives to him, except for Jesus. When God tells us to live for his glory, it isn’t equivalent to some guy telling us to do the same for him. God is different, because only God is worthy of our praise.
However, Lewis was onto something when he called God selfish. For us, selflessness is a virtue. When we live selflessly, we give up our rights for the good of others — but when we’re full of ourselves, we’re inconsiderate of anyone who isn’t us. When we’re selfish, we live independently of God. We make our own rules, and we’re prone to sin. When we’re selfless, we lay ourselves down for others as Jesus commands us. We resist the temptation of comfort and easiness, and we accept Christ as our authority. When we abandon ourselves, we become better as we grow into being more like our Savior.
But, if God were to be selfless and abandon his character, he wouldn’t be anything like how he is. He wouldn’t be good, or merciful, or gracious, or loving… In many ways, God is full of Himself — and that turns out to be a good thing. He isn’t like us, because he’s good on his own. He doesn’t need to grow into someone he’s not already. This is why he’s worth following, because he’s perfect as he is. While we’re sinful by our nature, God is holy by his nature.
This is the purpose that Jesus invites us to partake in — to live for the One worth living for. To live for God’s glory instead of our own. To live for Christ and not for self-interest.
By intentionally creating us with this meaning, he loves us. He redirects our mindsets from living for “the now” to living for the eternal. Our purpose no longer has an expiration date, because it isn’t reliant on abilities we’ll eventually lose, or a name that will someday be forgotten. He shifts our motives from our good to his glory.
“God is the one being in the entire universe for whom self-centeredness, or the pursuit of his own glory, is the ultimately loving act. For him, self-exaltation is the highest virtue. When he does all things ‘for the praise of his glory,’ he preserves for us and offers to us, the only thing in the entire world, which can satisfy our longings. God is for us, and therefore has been, is now and always will be, first, for himself. I urge you not to resent the centrality of God in his own affections, but to experience it as the fountain of your everlasting joy.”
-John Piper, Is God For Us Or For Himself?
The parts of life where we’re often told to find our meaning and satisfaction (such as career, relationships, school, family, or any other passion) can’t compare to the real reason we’re here. None of them can truly satisfy our desire for meaning because God didn’t intend for any of them to. True, lasting purpose can’t come from the created. It can only from the Creator.
We might be content with our idols for a season, but our contentment never lasts because we weren’t made for the finite. We were made for the infinite.
“Anything you put in the place of God will fail you… No matter how good it is, it can’t handle the weight of your soul.”
-Dave Lomas, a sermon titled On Christian Living
Only a life lived for the Kingdom is sustainable because only the Kingdom is without end. It goes on because God goes on.
To Enjoy Him Forever
The Catechism’s answer about the “chief end of man” doesn’t stop at glorifying God. It also tells us that we’re meant to “enjoy him forever.” To some extent, this is the easier part. But, to worship God actually goes hand-in-hand with enjoying him.
“I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise…. The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game…. I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: ‘Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?’
I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.”
-C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms
Our enjoyment of him is praise to him.
“Adoring God for being what he is, is the very essence of Christian worship and of Christian praise.”
Living Our Purpose
We tend to complicate the practical application of how this purpose God intends for us affects the way we live, but it’s easier than we realize.
We ask questions that bring up the mundane parts of the everyday like, “How am I supposed to glorify God when I’m listening to music?” or “How can I serve God when I’m stuck in traffic?” Scripture is straightforward in telling us to do everything for God’s glory, but when we’re actually in the moment it describes, glorifying God seems like a distant concept. How are we supposed to apply it practically?
Some might say it’s through obedience. It’s true that we can glorify God through obedience in our actions. When we’re on the 405 going 20 miles an hour, we can practice patience. In everyday situations, we can always ask ourselves “what would Jesus do?” and then respond with the answer.
But I don’t think that’s all the verse from earlier in 1 Corinthians is saying. It doesn’t just mean that we should glorify God through the things we do. That’s part of it, but that isn’t all of it.
Going back to the example given: how can we glorify God when we eat and drink? How was Jesus glorifying God when he was having dinner?
I think it’s simpler than we make it out to be. When we’re eating, we should attribute our enjoyment of our meal to the One who provided it. We should also recognize that it’s God who gave us the people we’re at a table with. We live to the glory of God when we accept what he gives us. We recognize it all as grace, so we give thanks to him. It’s then that we forget ourselves and embrace who he is.
We can only really live well in our purpose if we live in remembrance of the cross that Jesus was crucified on and his resurrection that came three days later. This is the necessary response to such a sacrifice. For God to not only show us mercy by dying in our place, but to show us grace by giving us new life, we have a love that demands our attention. This is why we have more reason to live for his glory than we have a reason to live for anything else. No one other than Jesus is capable of this kind of abundant love and grace he has for us. He deserves our devotion in a way nothing else ever could.
The alternative to acknowledging God is ignoring him. In the moments we write God off, we’re really saying that he isn’t worth our consideration. Whether it feels like we’re abandoning him or not, this is our default setting. It isn’t always a conscious decision to push him aside, and that’s what makes it so dangerous. To neglect God is to forfeit our purpose.
This is what the Enemy wants us to do. Satan wants to strip us of the divine intention for which we were created. But, he’s rarely the one who takes it away from us. Instead, he persuades us to take our purpose away from ourselves. Often, his method succeeds.
“Subtlety is key. The whispered suggestions of the Enemy will rarely tell us to look away from God; he is much more effective when he simply suggests we look to ourselves.”
-Tim Chaddick, The Truth About Lies (an awesome book on temptation that’s only $2 at Barnes & Noble)
To live in response to yourself instead of in response to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is to live in sin. By making up our own purpose and taking matters into our own hands, we’re saying that his death and resurrection doesn’t matter. By sinning, we’re also saying that God isn’t the authority he says he is. Instead of living to his glory, we attempt to live to our own. By choosing sin over holiness, we violate the reason we’re here.
But this is why he went to the cross. We sin daily, abusing life so that it can go along with our desires instead of his design. By dying for our debt and returning on the third day, Jesus invites us to walk in his glory. He paid the price of death and rose again so that we could have something worth living in light of. Now, we have something to celebrate. We have something worth proclaiming. This is how Jesus restructures our routines to fit his will instead of our agenda.
Our Future Purpose
As we live out our purpose to bring glory to God, things will change. Gradually, without noticing it, we become the person that God intends us to be through the sanctifying power of the Spirit. This process is brought to completion in Jesus, whose presence will restore us fully in heaven.
In one sense, that’s when our purpose is finished. That’s when God is finally glorified in the way only he deserves. It already happens through us in moments, but someday it will be a constant. In this sense, our purpose continues. The meaning we serve in heaven turns out to be much of the same as the meaning we serve on earth.
The difference is in how our purpose plays out. I don’t think anyone can give a definite answer for what it’ll look like in heaven. I wouldn’t trust anyone who says they know. It’s not far fetched to say there’ll be singing, but beyond that, there’s not much we can assume. All we truly know is this — that we’ll have perfect, full communion with God, and that our reconciliation to him will be to his glory.
This divine purpose we have is one that doesn’t have an end. It isn’t like a seasonal job with a final day of employment. Our purpose doesn’t stop once we gain a feeling of success from getting to a point in life we’ve always wanted to get to.
Our purpose doesn’t end in satisfaction, and it also doesn’t end in disappointment. It doesn’t end in quitting, or failing, or breaking up. Our purpose doesn’t even end in death.
That’s why the only real purpose is lasting purpose. It’s purpose that overflows into every part of life. It isn’t confined to work hours, a classroom, or a community. It’s relevant in our moments alone, and it’s relevant in our moments in public. It matters regardless of circumstances. It even matters when we feel like it doesn’t.
Glory be to God for making us with a purpose that can hold the weight of our soul.