So goes a pre-Generation X slogan. In another current slogan we are encouraged to “play hard” because “life is short.” Or, “Life is what we make it,” promises a popular expert in trivial philosophies.
We latch on to musings about the meaning of life faster than Madison Avenue can write them into 30-second commercials. With each new dimension of technology, sport, entertainment, luxury, or success, we go about creating a new perspective on culture. As we rapidly tire of current cultural trends and trappings, we go in search of new ones, even if it means building from the ground up. Whatever it is that needs to be done, “do it” is our motto; “just make me happy” is our motivation. Yet my frantic pursuit of amusement leaves me dissatisfied; this life I have defined for myself has no meaning.
When Christ was addressing the disciples about the hard and narrow way of following him, and many left and “walked with him no more, then Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you also want to go away?’ But Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’” (John 6:66-68). It had taken Peter a long time and a hard road to discover truth; remember that not long before the encounter, he had been caught with his eyes on himself, and he faltered (Matthew 14:22-33).
“Where else would we go?” Peter asked. Indeed, there is no other life than that which God has defined for us. God’s Word proscribes the boundaries of the city of God, not for our imprisonment, but for our good. We are created to live within these boundaries, and our lives are defined perfectly when we ascribe to this culture.
The Westminster Divines charted the whole of the Shorter Catechism on this question of life’s meaning, beginning with the first principle expounded: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” The remainder of the catechism serves as the apologetic for this answer: The whole of life is found only God and His Word. These are our boundaries, the recipe for a culture bound to God. If we are in search of a purpose, a meaning for life, that will last longer than the glitter of the latest trinket to catch our eye or the most recent achievement to puff us up, then there is much we have in common with Peter at that moment when he resigned himself to following his Savior—and naught else.
John Piper notes that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” When we put away the lures and lusts of this life, and cling—even tenuously—to the culture of God defined by his Word, we are able to experience ultimate enjoyment and God is ultimately glorified. In our disobedience to his word, in our negligence of his mercy and grace, his glory is never diminished. That is not the horror of our self-centeredness, for God’s glory is thoroughly self-sufficient. Rather, the blackness of ourselves is revealed when we reject his law-word; inasmuch we are denying the very essence of the Gospel. “If anyone desires to come after me,” Christ said, “let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). There is no room for self-definition in these words, only self-denial and redefinition in the image of God, where we are made to enjoy and glorify him.
“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26). Puritan Thomas Watson further broke down the catechism, and after drawing the same linkage between enjoyment of and the glorification of God that John Piper did three hundred years later, posited this follow up query to Q.1: “Why ought men chiefly to design the glorifying of God in all their actions? A. Because God hath made them, and made them for this end, and gives them a soul capable of doing it beyond irrational creatures . . . Because God doth preserve and makes provision for them, that they might glorify him . . . Because God hath redeemed them, and bought them with the price of his Son’s blood, that they might glorify him.”
In the city of God, we can find satisfaction, and in that satisfaction, glorify our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer. Why would I scan the horizon or search the bottom of the sea for more? My purpose is defined only in this language of God. I am without meaning without him.
Both the psalmist and Peter asked non-questions; you see, there is no other answer to “Where are we to go for life?” than “God alone.” God alone will complete the work in us that he has begun. He has made sure the course we are to follow, he has given us his word, and he seals it with his spirit. It’s a good thing, because from where I’m sitting, there’s nowhere else to go.