What is my purpose in life? This is a question that plagues each and every one of us. The Westminster confession puts the question this way: "What is the chief and highest end of man?"
Countless books and blogs have addressed this question. But are we really asking the right question?
So often our life and our theology can be very self-focused. You may remember Carly Simon’s song “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you.” Many of us could rewrite it to say, “You’re so vain; you probably think this life is about you.” Often we spend so much time contemplating “my” purpose in life that we fail to recognize that life is not about us. What is life really about? God!
So the question we should really be asking is not “What is MY chief and highest end?” but “What is GOD’s chief and highest end?”
Scripture and the great theologians who have gone before us resoundedly agree: "The chief and highest end of God is HIS GLORY."
God’s glory is a predominant theme in Scripture, being mentioned no less than 77 times. Yet, how many recent sermons, bible studies, lectures, or conversations have centered on God’s glory? This may be in part because our tendency to read Scripture as a self-help book rather God’s book. Even when we do acknowledge that God is the main focus of Scripture, we can still come away feeling a bit uncertain about what exactly is God’s glory.
Jonathan Edwards on God’s Glory
The great American theologian, Jonathan Edwards, helps shed some light on God’s glory. Edwards saw the very purpose of preaching as giving the listener the opportunity to know and respond to this very GLORY of God.
In Ultimate End for which God Created the World, he describes God’s glory on earth as: “the emanation and true external expression of God's internal glory and fullness.”
This definition, helps point out that here on earth we lack a perfect synonym for God’s glory. The only sufficient definition of God’s glory is God’s glory itself. When we look at Scripture, we see God’s glory includes EVERYTHING about God—both in his transcendence and in his immanence. Alongside God’s glory, Scripture places his goodness, justice, honor, love, beauty, radiance, eternality. All that God is—is glorious.
Jonathan Edwards further explains that:
· God in his very essence is glorious.
· God’s actions in creation are glorious
· God gave us the ability to perceive his glory & worship him for it.
· God gave us the ability to tell others of his glory.
“Show me your glory.” Exod. 33: 18
We can see all 4 of these dimensions in Exodus 33, which comes right after the Israelites have made the golden calf and rejected the living God who brought them out of Egypt. Due to their sin, the Israelites have lost the privilege of being in God’s presence. Instead of focusing on himself, when Moses intervenes for his people he asks God: “Show me your glory.”
The Lord graciously responds by letting his “goodness” pass before Moses as he protects him in a cleft of rock on Mt. Sinai (33:22-23). We can learn from this passage:
1. God’s very essence is glorious. Out of his protecting, loving mercy, God actually shields Moses from seeing his glorious face, “for man shall not see me and live” (Exod. 33:20).
2. God’s very actions in creation are glorious. God tells Moses that he is “slow to anger and rich in unfailing love and faithfulness ... forgiving ... and does not leave sin unpunished.” (Exod. 34:7).
3. The proper response to God’s glory is worship. After seeing God’s back, Moses bows his head and worships God. He then shares with the Israelites God’s regulations on how to worship him. (Exod. 34:8, 35)
4. We are to proclaim God’s glory. God calls Moses and the Israelites to proclaim his glory to all the nations by living by God’s established covenant.
For Moses, this experience was enough to go and lead the nation of Israel. He knew he could trust in God's providence, mercy, faithfulness, love, and justice. Remember Moses’ face after this experience? It was so radiant that the Israelites were afraid to come near him (Exod. 34:29, 30).
Response to God’s Glory: Worship & Proclamation
That leads us back to observation: It’s not about me, it’s about God. We, like Moses, are made to radiate God’s glory. 1 Corinthians 10:31 puts it this way, “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” The latter two dimensions of God’s glory help us know how to live out our chief and highest end: The proper response to God’s glory is worship and proclamation.
Today we are called, like Moses, to be like the moon when it is lit by the sun. As Christians, we are not light itself, just as the moon does not produce its own light. Instead our purpose is to reflect the Son’s light. When we seek our own glory, we are taking from God what is rightfully his. This has been a temptation since the Garden of Eden. God has revealed himself by his Word and Spirit. In Christ, we can truly know and draw close to God in his glory. Though we do not see him in his full glory (for like Moses that would be too much), we can see enough of him for our lives to radiate his glory. The only appropriate response is to, like Moses, worship God and to proclaim his glory to the nations. That is our very purpose.