Thursday, September 17, 2009

The chief end of man

Is the Westminister Catechism wrong when it says the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever? Because it doesn't look as if a Calvinist can unequivocably say that. That would mean that the persons in hell have not achieved their chief end, since they are not glorifying God and not enjoying him forever. It seems to me that a Calvinist has to say that the chief end of man depends upon whether or not you are elect. If a person goes to hell, you have to maintain that there is some fundamental, inherent purpose to their existence as a human being that they failed to achieve. But what sense does that make if God is in complete control of everything?

41 comments:

Mike Darus said...

"Chief end" should be understood in the sense of "ultimate goal" not "ultimate destiny."

Robert said...

“Is the Westminster Catechism wrong when it says the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever?”

No, because for the calvinist, **that** is the purpose of redeemed or saved men.

“Because it doesn't look as if a Calvinist can unequivocally say that. That would mean that the persons in hell have not achieved their chief end, since they are not glorifying God and not enjoying him forever.”

No, the calvinist believes that God has different ends in mind for the two major classes of people (i.e. elect and reprobates). The Westminster confession statement that you cite is in relation to the elect. As you saw in earlier threads the necessatarians posit a different purpose for the so-called reprobates.

“It seems to me that a Calvinist has to say that the chief end of man depends upon whether or not you are elect.”

Or the purposes for the elect and the reprobates are different.

“If a person goes to hell, you have to maintain that there is some fundamental, inherent purpose to their existence as a human being that they failed to achieve.”

Wrong, you misunderstand the necessatarian system here. God decides beforehand every detail of his prewritten script (i.e. the decrees) of his comic strip (cf. a cartoonist who chooses his characters as well as everything they say in their bubbles when they “speak”) and that all is decided in eternity before anything is created. The history of the universe then becomes the actualization of all of these characters and their statement bubbles developed by the cartoonist. This actualization process is accomplished by “God’s sovereignty” (conceived by the necessatarian as his direct, complete and continuous control over every event that occurs in time). Thus for the necessatarian “God’s will” ***never fails***, it is always done, so your statement that “inherent purpose to their existence as a human being that they failed to achieve” is false. The inherent purpose of the reprobates is for the “benefit” of the elect AND so that God can demonstrate his wrath against sin upon these unlucky persons. And as God is always successful in accomplishing all of his prewritten cartoon strip (i.e. His secret and sovereign will is always done, every event has a purpose the purpose being determined how it fits into the total plan) he never "fails", he always gets actualized what he decided beforehand would get actualized (no more no less).

“But what sense does that make if God is in complete control of everything?”

It makes sense to the necessatarian because it shows how his predecided total plan can be perfectly carried out by God’s sovereignty (which again is their claim that God directly and completely and continuously controls all events and persons).

Their view is quite coherent within itself. The problem is that the system is contradicted by both the bible and our daily experience. And the view of control that they are advocating has severe problems, problems they refuse to acknowledge and have no problem rationalizing and justifying in their own minds.

Robert

LouisJ-B said...

Robert said:

"The problem is that the system is contradicted by both the bible and our daily experience."

How does your system hold up in light of Rom.9:10-12? ;-)

Victor Reppert said...

Well, isn't that the problem? The ultimate goal is unachieved, even though God is in complete control. God has a goal he doesn't achieve, in spite of complete sovereignty.

Peter Pike said...

Why don't you pretend you never asked this question before and that neither Steve Hays nor I have ever answered it already? That way you can pretend it's still relevant!

Oh. You mean you already did that?

LouisJ-B said...

Victor Reppert said:

"...God has a goal he doesn't achieve, in spite of complete sovereignty."


Question 1 in the Westminster Larger Catechism is "What is the chief and *highest* end of man?"

Now that you know, is it still your position that God failed?;-)

Victor Reppert said...

If Calvinism is true, doesn't the answer have to be yes? The lost don't achieve the chief and highest end of man.

They have the end, they don't achieve it. Unless you opt for a Mr. Subliminal reading of this.

Richard V. said...

Hi Victor, how do you get from "the lost don't acheive it" to "therefore Calvinism is wrong that the chief end of man is not to glorify God and enjoy him forever"? Please make your argument more explicit.

Victor Reppert said...

Does God have an end he does not achieve. Is the chief end of man the end for all persons?

Anonymous said...

What is meant by "man" here?

Clearly, "man" here includes women, children, etc.

Not as obviously, but likely correctly, it also means the population as a group. This need not include everybody individually. Exceptions do not defeat the rule.

Anonymous said...

How do you get from the "chief end of man" to having _God_ fail at an end? It's not like the WCF says the chief end of God is to make man love him and enjoy him forever.

Also "man" = "mankind." It doesn't mean "every man." So the chief end of mankind in general is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. That doesn't mean the chief end of every single person is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Also I would say that regardless of where any particular man ends up, he will be glorifying God. It's only the "enjoy him forever" part that would not apply to the damned, who are glorifying God despite themselves.

Also if it says "chief end" then that presumes there are other ends that are not chief. If there was only one end, one would not need to make a distinction between it and any other end. It would be the only end, not the "chief" end. So even in the WCF there are other ends in mind than simply the "chief" end. So proving that any particular person doesn't fit the "chief" end is perfectly consistent with what the WCF says.

But even if the WCF is wrong, it's not like Calvinism is dependent upon it for its theology. The WCF is a human summary of what is taught in Scripture, and because it is human it can be wrong. I don't think it is wrong here, but if you proved this is wrong all you've really proven is the WCF is wrong, not that Calvinism is wrong.

Robert said...

Louis asked:

“How does your system hold up in light of Rom.9:10-12? ;-)”

First of all I don’t have a system of theology that I have to twist scripture and force it to conform to(as calvinists do). Rather, I have biblical conclusions derived from proper interpretation of scripture.

Second, if you really are interested in how I take the passages you refer to, see Robert Hamilton’s essay titled “ELECTION IN ROMANS CHAPTER NINE.”

Third, what does proof texting from Romans 9 have to do with the present topic being discussed in this thread?

Do you really believe that non-Calvinists are unable to interpret Romans 9? Bob’s essay demonstrates that you are mistaken.

Robert

Robert said...

Hello Victor,

“Well, isn't that the problem? The ultimate goal is unachieved, even though God is in complete control. God has a goal he doesn't achieve, in spite of complete sovereignty.”

As I said earlier according to the Calvinistic system where God predecides everything and then actualizes it by directly, completely and continuously controlling everything, then God never “fails”, things always go according to the secret comprehensive all-inclusive plan. Now that is the **theory**. But the theory is contradicted by scripture and our own experience. God’s goals are not always accomplished in this world.

God desired for Israel to be His people, holy, righteous, glorifying Him in their every action, faithful to Him, obedient to Him, etc. But if you read the Old Testament, as a whole Israel failed, God’s goals were not accomplished with them at all. Look at their Kings and what God required from what a King ought to be and again you see “failure”, evil leaders who did not fulfill God’s will. If you look at the church today again you see that God has certain goals in mind for what Christians ought to be, and we often fall short. Now we know this falling short occurs when we sin.

But that takes us back to a basic difference between calvinists and non-Calvinists. Since the calvinist believes in the two wills of God, one which never “fails” and is always accomplished, and one which often is not obeyed, so when a person sins they are doing exactly what God controlled them to do. The non-Calvinist on the other hand, sees sin as being freely chosen. We do not sin because God controlled us to do so, so that we could not do otherwise, so that our sin was necessitated. We sin when we freely choose to do so. And when we sin it is not that God has “failed”, it is that we have fallen short of his standards by our own choices. So we (not God) are fully responsible when we sin.

Victor I think you sometimes forget that if God does directly and completely and continuously control us, forcing us to do, everything that we do, necessitating our every action, then God never ever fails to achieve his will (His will is always done because we are so controlled that we always do exactly what He wants us to do, including when we sin, the secret comprehensive will is always done perfectly in every instance).

Robert

LouisJ-B said...

Robert asked:

"Third, what does proof texting from Romans 9 have to do with the present topic being discussed in this thread?"

When you speak of the "necessitarian" and his "system" and are paraphrasing Rom.9:19-23 without knowing it.And recognize that it's "...quite coherent within itself."

But still claim that "The problem is that the system is contradicted by both the bible and our daily experience." renders the statement that you possess "...biblical conclusions derived from proper interpretation of scripture." suspect.

Regardless of the thread, the theme is forever the potter' freedom vs the clay alleged lfw.
God achieved his goal with the vessels of wrath which is destruction.God achieved his goal with the vessels of mercy which is glory.The God of the OT is the same as in the NT.Sovereign through and through.;-)

Ruben said...

The question seems like it depends on a simple category mistake. Man's chief end is what he is to aim at: it is to be his purpose, his goal, his intention. Any given man who does not enjoy God forever has failed of his chief end, and is justly punished for that failure. The only way to read a failure of God into the answer is to assume that behind the "chief end of man" there lies a "chief end of God" to bring all or at least most men to fulfill their duty and successfully pursue what should be their goal. Such an assumption would not seem to have any basis in Scripture.

Jane Ann Sweeny said...

What the question "the chief end of man" is asking is: what is man created for? we exercise free will and some do not fulfill what they were created for. That is the emptiness inside and lack of purpose the non-Christian sometimes feels.

God's original intention for man is "to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever." Man fell into sin and by God's grace was then offered salvation through Jesus Christ. The people who are unaware of God's will and intention for our life are missing out on discovering the purpose they were made for.

Many people ignore the question: What is my purpose in life? So I am glad that you are spending the time to think on this. Many people just plow through life and defer thinking about these important issues until they are faced with death. Good to ask these questions early in life and not be afraid!!

Anonymous said...

Everyone will glorify God, either by their salvation or their condemnation. The "glorify God" part is done by EVERYONE. The part about "enjoying him forever" is only for believers, but it was the original purpose of Adam.

Anonymous said...

Well... I guess one should learn to enjoy it because its a never ending process. I would say don't diminish the glory of it by attributing it to any single religion. The glory is for you and "God" to enjoy... whatever your definition of God is.

Glenn said...

This fits perfectly with Calvinism. Why? Because it tells man what is expected of him, but man cannot obey because of sin in his life. This shows that man is need of someone to do that for him and that someone is Jesus. He has done for man what man cannot do for himself.

It is God's perogative to save whom He wills and this is shown many times through out the Bible. Man can never say he didn't know, he does but man also constantly wills to do what he wants and not what God wants.

That is what Calvinism is about...

Anonymous said...

Whom do you glorify? The goddess Mother Nature? And wait till you see just how long you are going to enjoy Her! Pal, don't knock it, if you don't understand it. Dangerous Ideas, indeed, and yes, I am sure you are loaded with them. Hueman

Emile said...

As a Christian with a Calvinist theology who has no problem agreeing with WSC or WLC on this, may I leave this comment in passing...

I have always understood "the chief end" to speak to the origional purpose mankind was designed for, much in the same way as a car's chief end is to get it's owner from point A to B. does this mean we all live up to this? Definitely not, as Paul says "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God".

I find it also helps to remember that we are individually held to account for how well or poorly we carry out our responsibility as defined by our purpose (chief end). Our shared sin is failing to give God glory and finding him a burden.

Still this is the reason we were created and it is the purpose to which we are called, saved or not, even if we fail to achieve it.

Anonymous said...

The Westminster Catechism is just a group of men writing what they believe, it is not scripture. Where in the Bible does it say the phrase that is in the Catechism?

NINJA71 said...

Only God can open the eyes of the blind. You can talk to the ignorant unbeliever or Arminian 'til you're blue in the face and unless God reveals His truth to them, they just won't get it (yet). ; ) Soli Dio Gloria!!!

Kueker Krossing said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kueker Krossing said...

It is true that the chief end of man is to glorify God.

Those perishing in hell bring glory to God as God's Just attribute is being exercised upon them. How else would God be able to exercise that attribute without there being a purpose for it? Hmm.

Brian Boucek said...

Scripture tells us that even the non-elect (ie. Pharaoh or Cain) still brought God glory in their damnation. "Mans chief end" is fancy terminology for "The purpose of man." Man was created to glorify God. Sadly, some do that by being condemned. Pharoah's heart was hardened so God might display his power, or reveal His glory. Pharoah's non-election brought God glory.

So even in death, we bring God glory. So yes, a Calvinist can say that man's chief end is to glorify God.

There4iAM said...

Stumbling across this thread, as I have, a few years after its inception, I'm just posting some random ruminations. Apologies as it might be more suitable to begin a new thread.

Brian Boucek commented:
"So even in death, we bring God glory. So yes, a Calvinist can say that man's chief end is to glorify God."

1) God, in his display of perfect justice and power, was and is glorified by his own act of having appointed Pharaoh to death and damnation. However, does that necessarily imply that God is glorified by Pharaoh himself "even in death," or could it be posited that God glorified himself in this case, without any help from Pharaoh?

2) Man cannot do anything good apart from the regenerative power of Christ. However, it is good to glorify God. Wouldn't it follow, then, that Pharaoh cannot possibly glorify God "even in death," since it would mean that he is doing good even while unregenerate as well as dead?

3) A couple of passages come to mind. Isaiah said to the Lord, "...the grave cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth. The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day..." (from Isaiah 38:18-19). David agrees and suggests to God, "...in death there is no remembrance of thee," and he asks, "in the grave who shall give thee thanks?" (from Psalm 6:5). I am led to wonder whether, while it may be possible to glorify God _BY_ one's death, as do the martyred such as Stephen, is it definitively possible to glorify God _IN_ one's death?

4) There will be, some day, the 24 elders, the tribal 144,000, and an innumerable multitude of sheep (myself among them, I trust) glorifying God for eternity. Can it be said that, at that point, they will no longer be "in death" and "in the grave?" If so, they will not be glorifying God "even in death," but rather in eternal life. As for Pharaoh and all the other goats, they will remain in death. Yes, according to Scripture their tongues will also have to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, but such a begrudging admission from the guilty need not be defined as a form of glorification.

5) May it be probable that the "chief end" to which the Westminster Confession refers is intended only to apply to man while he is living rather than dead?

6) Insofar as that any man in particular, or mankind in general, fails to serve his chief end, it is certainly man's own failure, not God's. Indeed, even among the regenerated, it would appear that some do a better job of attaining man's chief end than do others. To wit, observe the snidely sarcastic tone of some posts by the saints in this thread. Harking back to the ancient question about how the Lord allows man to fail while managing, himself, never to fail, I don't know the answer. Being mortal, I'm not smart enough to figure out how God does all the things he can do. Saints certainly know more than even the most intelligent of unbelievers, because we study, love, and trust God's Word, but I can't find where the Bible tells us with unequivocal clarity how man fails while God still doesn't. I remain mindful that the Christ is under no requirement to explain himself in order to be my Lord.

Huw Thomas said...

Yah Veh is glorified in both the salvation and destruction of sinners. In the former the mercy and grace of the Eternal are glorified. In the destruction of sinners His justice and wrath are both manifest and glorified.

The chief end is always achieved in life and death.

Unknown said...

Aside from man made religion, the Westminister Catechism seems to have hit the nail on the head when it comes to a relationship with Jesus (Christianity).

Preta said...

Mike. Darus, that's it, but as you can see and read, some don't seem to get it and could care less.

Preta said...

Jane Ann Sweeney, EXCELLENT and straight to the point.

Preta said...

NINJA71, you're sorta right but we have a duty to keep on proclaiming this gospel, to this lost and dying world in spite of what they do or do not believe or accept. Remember the" seed" Biblical process?

Preta said...

Thanks Brian Boucek.

Preta said...

There4iAM, and thank you for bringing the" point", all the way home.

Preta said...

!!

Preta said...

Sidebar about C S Lewis, is it true he died a Catholic?

Kagan McClain said...

If you are not elect, then that renders the ultimate goal impossible...

Kagan McClain said...

So God creates the reprobate for the specific purpose of hell, then punishes them for all eternity for filling the purpose they were created for? Seems like Jesus... But then again, who am I to answer back to God.

I'm a man, sovereignly created in the image of God, with the God given ability to respond to my creator.

Kagan McClain said...

So God creates the reprobate for the specific purpose of hell, then punishes them for all eternity for filling the purpose they were created for? Seems like Jesus... But then again, who am I to answer back to God.

I'm a man, sovereignly created in the image of God, with the God given ability to respond to my creator.

Kagan McClain said...

If you are not elect, then that renders the ultimate goal impossible...

mike said...

If you are not elect, that changes the goal for you. You do not want to glorify God, so you do not try. You are not blocked from doing so.