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Topic: Holding to Things Not True

Chief End of Man

by Darrel Cline

Is the Chief End of Man "To Glorify God and Enjoy Him Forever"?

It seems to be all the rage today in some circles for people to go around parroting the phrase, "the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever". There are two problems here: the first is the problem of the parrot; the other is the question of the truthfulness of the words. It is my intention to press these two issues to some kind of resolution.

Parroting What One is Taught

So, let's begin with the problem of the parrot. Parrots are notable for being able to reproduce speech that they have heard without having to understand their meaning or to defend their "truth". Recently I sat in a meeting of a group of men who have been conservative pastors for a long time. One of them, a man who has been preaching the Bible for more than twenty years, made an often made claim: the word "agape" in the Bible is God's kind of love. This is the claim of a parrot and it is easily debunked as "true" by the simple use of a concordance of biblical words (Luke 11:43 clearly declares that godless men exercise "agape" love without any help from God).

Contrary to this issue of parroting theological phrases is the description by Luke of true nobility in Acts 17:11 wherein we read that those who heard Paul's preaching searched the Scriptures daily to examine Paul's claims for trustworthiness. A "daily" search of the Scriptures to examine the truthfulness of a theological claim was no small task in those days before the printing press (not many people had access to the scrolls of the Scriptures) and computer enabled speed searches of the biblical text. The Bereans simply had a potent personal commitment to know and believe what the Scriptures actually taught. There really is no excuse in these days of innumerable aids to biblical studies for "parrots". The main reason theological parrots exist is the absence of a strong personal desire to know and believe the truth. It is far more simple, and takes far less effort, to simply go to one's particular brand of religious meetings and let the primary preacher declare his/her brand of "truth" and then go into "parrot mode" and pass the same "truth" around.

But consider what multiple generations of parrots produce: a host of nice sounding statements that no one spends any time evaluating. The more generations involved, the greater is the host of those parroting the words without understanding. And, a tragic downside to this development is the corollary of animosity that arises if/when someone claims that one, or more, of the parrot's pet phrases are simply not true. People are notoriously fearful of being contradicted and anger is as automatic to fearful situations as breathing.

However, since God has not given us a spirit of fear, nor has He allowed us the freedom to simply become angry and lash out, it is inexcusable to fear being exposed as a parrot -- just about as inexcusable as being one.

What About the Truth of the Claim?

This brings us to the issues involved in the parrot's phrase.

What is the meaning of the phrase "the chief end of man"? Is this "man's chief end for himself", or "God's chief end for His created humanity"? We can answer this easily: no one that I have ever read says that "the chief end of man" is to be decided by what goals men set for themselves. "The chief end of man" is a phrase that is supposed to answer the question: why did God create human beings? The key word here is "why". "Chief ends" are supposed to be ultimate objectives. Ultimate objectives mean that whoever establishes them make them "the final goal" for some activity. Chief end ... ultimate objective ... final goal.

So ... how do we go about attempting to find a "final" goal for anything? In a complex universe, there, of necessity, exists a host of intermediate goals that are lined up in a rational order that makes the accomplishment of a "final" goal possible much like the links in a chain exist to give the chain both length and its ability to tie two entities together. But, the closer we get to identifying a "final" goal, the greater the possibility that we will stop short and misidentify one of the diminishing intermediate goals for the "final" one. And, the problems are two: that there can only be one "final" goal, by definition; and that discovering it is not going to be a simple task. Every parent on the planet knows this because it seems that God may have put the quest for the final goal into every young child's heart so that the interminable "but why?" begins to crop up at some point. No matter what the answer, the next question will be "but why?" until the parent finally gets sufficiently aggravated to simply insist that the process of question/answer/question stop: because I said so!

So ... back to the question: how do we go about attempting to discover the "final" goal for anything? A part of the answer seems to be that, if possible, we uncover an objective that does not set itself up to be a means to another "end". For example, if a person says that he/she went to the store to buy a gallon of milk, we know immediately that the buyer is not stating a "final goal"/"chief end" because gallons of milk do not exist for no greater reason than simply being. Consumers of milk buy gallons of milk, thus the purchase is a means to consumption. And, even consumption is not considered a "chief end" because consumption is an active action that is intended to accomplish a greater goal than consumption. And on and on ... correctly identifying "chief ends" requires a great deal of diligence because the links in the chain of "ends" seem to stretch almost to infinity. Until we come to the "final" end, all "ends" end up (no pun intended) being a "means" to the next "end", which in turn becomes the "means" to the next "end" ... until there are no more "ends" in view. Every link in the chain of the "final end" is a means to another end except the last one: it is the "chief end".

So far we have attempted to show that all actions taken have objectives in mind, and that, by definition, the final objective is not an action taken for any "other" reason. If we can show that something "happens" because of an action taken, we have proved that the action taken was not a "chief end" but, rather, a means to another end. Additionally, we have argued that, by definition, there can only actually be one "chief end".

So ... back to the question: how do we go about attempting to discover the "final" goal for anything? Another part of the answer seems to be that we must be careful to define what we mean by the words used in the description of the "chief end"/"ultimate objective"/"final goal". If it is true (and this is the crux of at least part of this argument) that "actions" are always taken to accomplish something, it is impossible that a "chief end" can be presented as an action verb. Action verbs have objectives in mind. Therefore, we can conclude that "to glorify God" cannot possibly be "the chief end of man". It, obviously, exists in the chain of actions that God seeks to generate, but being an action verb, it has to have an objective in mind and that means that it cannot itself be that objective.

The chief end of man, then, cannot be "to glorify God" because things "happen" when men "glorify God" that are the direct result of that action and were intended when that action was taken. Men do not "glorify God" for no reason; they do it to achieve something.

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This is article #269.
If you wish, you may contact Darrel as darrelcline at this site.