Question: What is the chief end of man?
This familiar question opens up the Westminster Catechism, a staple in the world of Presbyterian theology for over 350 years. In a way, they are so familiar that even those of us who grew up ignorant or otherwise oblivious to the concept of creeds and catechisms have a tendency to read over them.
What are we here for? What is life about? How can we make God happy? How can we make ourselves happy? As one popular subtitle reads, “what on earth are we here for?” What is the purpose of life?
At first glance, we are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of possible answers these questions bring to mind.
We are here to do our work. We are here to take care of those around us. Our life is about accomplishment, whether our priorities lie in career or family. Happiness is…fill in the blank…grandchildren? driving a new car? owning the newest iphone at all times? making people around us jealous?
If we are more religious–and perhaps [coincidentally] less honest–we might answer that we are here to fulfill a grand purpose beyond our comprehension. We are here to be obedient to the will of God. We are here to be holy. Our purpose is to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
So then it is at least a bit surprising to see what a group of 16th century puritanical Presbyterians come up with as a response to the ultimate question of existence.
Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to fully enjoy him forever.
Leaving aside the fact that, generally speaking, puritans and Presbyterians are not synonymous with unbridled joy, this answer stands in stark contrast to the responses we might offer. Simply to glorify God and to fully enjoy him forever seems too abstract. It seems to lack a functionality, if we are being honest. It does not sound serious enough.
Mostly though, this answer seems at odds with the way we measure our lives.
There is no formula to a life that glorifies God and fully enjoys him forever. There is no way to measure our progress in glorification and enjoyment.
But can you imagine how it would change our lives if we actually believed these words? Can you imagine what would happen if we held out each of our ambitions, goals, dreams, aspirations, and passions and placed them underneath this one purpose?
What if, as John Piper has pointed out for the past 30+ years, the purpose of life was to glorify God by fully enjoying him forever?
What if the entirety of our lives was centered around enjoyment? What if we measured the effectiveness of our lives by our ability to be awakened to desire, fully to feel, fully to engage in joy? What if we measured our lives by our ability to freely play in the expansive surroundings of life?
What if our lives were marked by the ability to live into fully embodied joy?
What if our lives were marked by play?