“The chief purpose of man,” we are assured by the Westminster Confession, “is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.” Most Christians hold to this view, or something very much like it. From our earliest days in Sunday School we are told that God made mankind “for fellowship.” Humans exist, according to this view, for the express purpose of enjoying God, worshiping him, and glorifying him.
With respect to the Problem of Evil, this assumption typically leads to the “free will” defense which argues the following: in order for God to have the quality of fellowship he desired, it was necessary to give his created beings the freedom to choose him or not, thus leaving the door open to rebellion and consequent evil. Thus, all manifestations of evil are the unavoidable by-product of a universe which allows free-will choices.
If you are able, wrap your mind around all the suffering in the universe, all the privation, predation, and pain extending over billions years, all the extinctions, all the terror, all the suffering whether from natural causes or perpetrated by fallen humans; this view suggests the aggregate of all this suffering is considered by God a price which must be paid in order to fulfill his purpose of developing a billion or two redeemed humans for his glory.
I grew up believing this. But for most of my Christian life, it has been a difficult pill for me swallow. Assuming that this cosmos exists primarily to fulfill a divine wish for free-will worshippers forces me to assign a value system to God that seems grotesquely disproportionate. Now, if God had revealed to us that this traditional view fairly represents his purpose for creating man, or to put it a different way, if the Bible clearly taught this view, then I surely ought to do as some of my friends suggest: be quiet and accept it. But does the Bible teach this view?
A few years ago, I began a search for Biblical texts that specifically declared God’s purpose for making man. I wanted to know 1) if the traditional view expressed in the Westminster Confession has any direct Scriptural support, or 2) if the Bible actually taught something different.
My own views about God’s purpose in creation had already changed considerably. I had already accepted modern cosmology and physics which tell us that the cosmos is very old and that death and decay have been around since the moment of creation. And I had already accepted common descent, that human beings were the result of a 3.8 billion year evolutionary rise. All of this suggested to me that the cosmos exists as a divine response to evil (see this earlier post on entropy), and that evolution plays some role in that response. I had concluded that the highly improbable evolutionary rise of life against all odds, life overcoming the powers of death, was likely part of a divine plan to demonstrate the superior power of life, and to defeat evil and death. This cosmos, and life on the earth, stand as demonstrations of a principle found throughout the pages of the Bible: life is more powerful than death!
If this were true, the “chief purpose of man” would shift away from fellowship and worship toward the concept of mankind fulfilling a significant role in God’s warfare on evil. Man’s role would be to become the agents of life overcoming, and ultimately defeating, death. I found many similarities between the principle of evolution and the principle of resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.
As these thoughts were developing in my mind, and as I continued my search for a Biblical declaration of God’s purpose for man, I stumbled upon these verses from 2 Corinthians 5:
4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.Is there another verse in all the Bible which declares in such clear language God’s purpose for making man? I know of none. Did God make us for fellowship? Or are we made for the strategic purpose of being vehicles though which death is destroyed? The Greek word in verse 4 which is translated “swallowed up” is katapino. The Greek lexicon of Thayer and Smith offer the alternate meanings of “devour” and “destroy”. These verses strongly suggest to me the following:
5 Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
(NIV, emphasis added)
The chief purpose of man is to be the means through which God destroys death by the superior power of life.
Do you agree? Is it possible that we are called to co-venture with God in his cosmic battle with evil? that our very existence as the culmination of evolution becomes the means by which life is shown to be more powerful than death? and that through us,
life wins, death loses?
A closing note: this concept does not imply that we will not glorify and enjoy God forever. It merely suggests an alternate “chief purpose” for man.
I am interested in your comments.