The Purpose of Man
Our generation is hungry—hungry for love, for beauty, for meaning, for stable morals and law. The “dust of death” covers all. And as in Jeremiah’s day, there is with us the unsatisfied longing for a sufficient comforter.
Jeremiah said it well in Lamentations 1:16: “For these things I weep; mine eye, mine eye runneth down with water, because the comforter who should relieve [bring back] my soul is far from me.” Why did the Jews in Jeremiah’s day seek comfort and not find it, seek satisfaction and not find it? Because they had forgotten the end of man, the purpose of man. I want to commend something to you very strongly.
Often when we in the evangelical and orthodox circles talk about the purpose of man, we quote from the first answer of the Westminster Catechism: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God.” And often the sentence is ended there. This completely changes our Reformation forefathers’ understanding of the Scriptures. If you are going to give the complete biblical answer, you must finish their sentence: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” That changes the whole view of life.
Our calling is to enjoy God as well as glorify Him. Real fulfillment relates to the purpose for which we were made—to be in reference to God, to be in personal relationship with Him, to be fulfilled by Him, and thus to have an affirmation of life. Christianity should never give any onlooker the right to conclude that Christianity believes in the negation of life. Christianity is able to make a real affirmation, because we affirm that it is possible to be in personal relationship to the personal God who is there and who is the final environment of all He created. All else but God is dependent; but being in the image of God, man can be in personal relationship to that which is ultimate and has always been. We can be fulfilled in the present and the future in the highest level of our personality and in all parts and portions of life.
There is nothing Platonic in Christianity. It is not the soul alone that is to be fulfilled and the body and the intellect to be minimized. There does exist an intellectualism which is destructive to Christianity, but that is not true Christian intellectual comprehension. The whole man is to be fulfilled; there is to be an affirmation of life that is filled with joy. I must say that when we look at many Christians, we do not find the excitement that Christianity should bring in their lives. We do not find them being fulfilled in the whole man in relationship to the God who is there.
And so too in the days of Jeremiah we find that the Jews had turned away from the true fulfillment. However, these ancient Jews were not nearly as bad off as the modern man of our own post-Christian world. They turned to false gods, but at least they still knew something was there. In a similar way the Greeks built their culture. Of course their gods were inadequate, so that, for example, Plato never found what to do with his absolutes because his gods weren’t big enough, and the Greek writers didn’t know what to do with the Fates because the gods were not great enough to always control them.
But at least they knew something was there. It’s only our foolish generation (and I am using “foolish” in the same sense it has in Romans 1) that lives in a universe which is purely material, everything being reduced to mass, energy, and motion. Thus we find that the Jews left the true God for false gods, just as the Greeks, the Romans, etc., had false gods, but they were not as far from the truth as our generation.
Our generation has nobody home in the universe, nobody at all. Eventually, let us understand this: only a personal comforter can comfort man who is personal, and only one Comforter is great enough: the infinite-personal God who exists—that is, the God of Judeo-Christian Scripture. Only He is the sufficient Comforter.
Our calling is to enjoy God as well as glorify Him.
The Song of Solomon beautifully depicts the need for a personal comforter. This magnificent love song in the midst of the Bible emphasizes the fact that God has made us man and woman. And because of this, there is a place for a love song in the Scriptures. In the Song of Solomon we find the girl has gone to her room for the night; she has anointed herself with perfumes and has retired.
Then there’s a knock at the door. Her lover has come, and he wants her to be with him. But she hesitates and remains inside. She has gone to bed and doesn’t want to get up; after all, she has washed and her hands are anointed. Then suddenly he leaves, and as soon as she realizes this, she sees that all the perfume is absolutely worthless once the lover has gone. This is exactly the way it is with man. Struggling with the trappings of personality, man finds that if there is no one there to be a real and sufficient lover, if there is no infinite-personal God, then his wrestling with the trappings of personality is futile.
Jeremiah, here in Lamentations 1:16, turns and speaks this truth to the Jews with great force. He says, of course you are going to be without a Comforter. Of course, because you have turned away from Him. And the One who would be an adequate Comforter to you, to the Jews (and we can say it also to our twentieth century), is not there. So you are like the girl with the perfume on her hands; she’s let the lover go, and there’s no meaning to the perfume.
In Lamentations 1:18, we find that this chain of thought is taken a step further: “The Lord is righteous; for I have rebelled against his mouth.” The Hebrew word is not “commandment” (KJV) but “mouth.” The idea is not only that God has set up certain commandments which the Jews have broken. The Scripture here is more comprehensive than that; it says the Jews have rebelled against all that God has spoken—the propositional revelation of God in which God tells them the real answers to life, the way to please the God who is there, and the way to be in relationship with Him.
The only reason men were in the place where they were in the days of Jeremiah, or are in our own postChristian world, is that they have turned away from the propositional revelation of God, and as such they are under the moral judgment of God. You remember we saw in Romans 1 that Paul emphasized that because men knew the truth and turned from it, they were under the wrath of God. God is everywhere; but as the Jews of Jeremiah’s day turned away from the revelation of God, they were morally separated from Him. And as the people of our generation turn away from the propositional revelation of God, they too are in the place where there is no sufficient Comforter—because they are morally separated from Him.
And then in Lamentations 1:19 we read this: “I called for my lovers, but they deceived me; my priests and mine elders gave up the ghost in the city, while they sought their meat to relieve their souls.” And so we find this note of relieving the soul, bringing back the soul, is involved for the third time in the unity of this chain of references in Lamentations 1:11, 16, and 19.
What is the conclusion as man turns away from the revelation of God and from the true God who is there? From what perspective should we be looking at our post-Christian world? Certainly every Christian should have two reactions to our generation. The first is that we should cry because we watch our culture being destroyed—not only that individual men are lost, but that our whole culture is being destroyed as well. The second reaction is that we should be aware that insofar as the culture was built on biblical Reformation thought and that the generations immediately preceding us have turned from that truth, there must be death in the city unless there is a turning to that truth.
This article is adapted from Death in the City by Francis A. Schaeffer.
Though we are in post-Christian times, when the culture is becoming increasingly secularized, Christianity is far from “over.”
Rebecca McLaughlin discusses what it looks like for parents to prepare their teens for a life in a post-Christian world, reflectong on kids' propensity to ask hard questions and why that's a good thing,
Rather than seeing our cultural challenges today only as obstacles for our kids, I’m increasingly convinced they’re opportunities to do three important things.
What does it mean to be fluent in the gospel, and why is it an essential part of living as a disciple of Jesus?