Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
That is the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. This is the Bible’s answer to the commonly asked question “What is the meaning of life?” If you asked me about the meaning of life, this would be my answer.
How that answer is applied is a bit nuanced.
If I had to apply the first catechism question to my life I would say my chief way of glorifying God is to learn true truth and apply it the best I can to my personal economy. Truth is of course “that which corresponds to reality” and economy is “household management”.
“True” truth is objective. In our post-postmodern world, many people would say there is no truth. To most people in our world truth is as subjective as one’s feelings about a subject. As one’s feelings change, so also does their truth.
This subjectivity has led to a myriad of confusion. Gender and sexuality are two of the more recent hot button topics that have been mixed up in this subjective approach.
Confusion about reality used to be called “psychosis”. Now it is often labeled as just another version of reality. In a world where truth is subjective, we are quickly becoming a generation of psychotics.
My biggest earthly goal is to gain the proper perspective of the truth and not rely on my subjective viewpoint of it. This can be tricky of course, as my mind is finite, flawed, and my perceptions are skewed my own sinful nature. As a created being, I will never know the full extent of all truth in the universe, only God can know that.
But it doesn’t mean I should stop trying.
Where does one find truth? This is a hotly debated question among Christians. Some insist that truth can only be found in the Bible. Others feel truth can be observed in other places, such as nature. I tend to be of the latter camp.
The Bible contains necessary truth for saving the human soul from damnation, but it does not contain every truth or the only truth that man can know.
There are some in the Reformed camp who believe that man can know nothing outside of scripture, but I think a basic reading of Romans 1:18-22 makes this argument mute:
“18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”
Man observes nature and self and understands the existence of God, as well as His attributes and nature.
Man knows God and understands the attributes of God just by virtue of being created in the image of Him and in being able to observe creation itself.
Man knows before he suppresses, he is perfectly able to discern, he just chooses out of his depravity to suppress the knowledge (this is normally where I point out to Presuppositional apologists that man is “without excuse”, but that’s another topic for another day).
It’s not just the nature and attributes of God that man can observe and understand in nature, it’s anything which God chooses in His sovereignty to allow man to know.
For instance: we can know truths about nature, about economics, about physics, about math, and about our physical bodies, all without consulting the Bible.
Sinful man may never get a full view of every subject, and our imperfect views may lead us to false beliefs about a topic, but with enough observation it is possible for us to get a workable grasp on reality.
Some would say that our finite minds and flawed thinking prevent us from having real knowledge, that we can’t actually know anything.
However, I believe that we can know about reality well enough to put our knowledge to good use. We can understand our physical reality enough to manipulate it for our needs, otherwise we would have never survived life outside the Garden.
Should we rely solely on our observations to comprehend reality?
No! Scripture contains enough truth about other matters (outside of Salvation) that we can make comparative analysis. When we make an observation about the physical universe Christians can and should consult scripture to see if our observation matches with it. If it does not match scripture, either our interpretation of scripture is wrong or our interpretation of what we observe is wrong. In many matters it is impossible to discern which is which (thankfully those matters have little to nothing to do with our salvation, it is quite clear in scripture what man must do to be saved).
For example: the question of creation. Folks will argue endlessly about young earth vs old earth creationism, one side finding irrefutable evidence in the Bible, the other finding irrefutable evidence in nature. While the Bible states that God created everything, it is not specific on the actual process by which creation took its shape. Either the young earth interpretation of Genesis is incorrect or the old earth observations of nature are incorrect.
My chief desire in life is to find the truth about as many things as I can and live my life as consistently with the truth as I can.
All matters of my personal economy must be consistent with reality, even if the rest of the world doesn’t agree with reality. This of course has created some conflict in my life as it should in the lives of all Christians. All Christians live a life that is in conflict with the fallen world.
But what if the conflict is with the church? What if what I think is the “truth” about a topic is disliked or even condemned in the church? As a Reformed Christian I have only the Bible to turn to for problems like this.
On many topics it seems the church at large is hasty to adopt the larger cultural perspective. Whatever the prevailing attitude of the world is, so too is the prevailing attitude of the church. In other topics, the church often seeks to distance itself so far from the world that it misses whatever truth the world may actually be promoting.
The truth about any subject will only be found when the church bases its moral attitudes in scripture. I often ask Christians who are railing about a certain topic to cite me chapter and verse.
It is truly depressing the number of believers who can’t come up with anything more than quotes from church patriarchs. No disrespect to the patriarchs, but they may have been wrong. Until one has at least a tentative grasp of what scripture actually says, he should probably avoid quoting flawed men. If there is a question about a matter, one should first consult scripture, then consult a multitude of sources to explain what he does not understand.
What is my point in all of this?
Seek truth, seek it in the Bible, seek it in nature, and seek it in the wisdom of church patriarchs. Then seek to live your life in accordance with your findings.