The Enjoyment of God as Man’s Chief End: God-Centered or Man-Centered?
To suggest, as does the Shorter Catechism, that man’s chief end is “to enjoy God forever” is, in the minds of some, to promote a man-centered rather than a God-centered motivation for living. It seems to encourage Christians to serve God for what they can get from him rather than for what they can give to him. This has prompted some to interpret the Catechism’s formulation as follows: Glorifying God is man’s chief end or purpose for existence. Enjoying God is not in any sense coordinate with glorifying God but simply a by-product or consequence of glorifying God. In other words, we should strive to glorify God altruistically–without any concern for personal benefit. Personal benefit is simply an unsought-for result of pursuing our chief end or purpose for existence.
I think John Frame offers a more accurate depiction of the Catechism’s (and the Bible’s) teaching:
The Catechism adds a second phrase to its formulation of our chief end: “to enjoy him forever.” At first it is difficult to see how these two phrases fit together. The first is theocentric, but the second appears to be anthropocentric. The first is distinctively biblical, but the second sounds rather like the goal of pleasure in secular teleological ethics.
It helps to notice, however, that even the second phrase is centered on God. We are not to enjoy ourselves, but to enjoy him. So the second phrase call us to find our chief enjoyment in God, not in the world. To embrace the enjoyment of God as the goal of life is to sing with Asaph:
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works. (Ps. 73:25-28).
Although Asaph uses forms of the first person pronoun ten times in this passage, and thirty-three times in the whole psalm, these verses are profoundly theocentric. So when the Catechism moves from the first phrase to the second, it is not moving from God-centeredness to man-centeredness. Rather, it is looking at God-centeredness from two perspectives.
In the end, one cannot glorify God without enjoying him. The goal expressed by WSC, 1, is, in the most profound sense, not two-fold, but one.