“to glorify God and enjoy him forever”

One of my favourite things to come out of Reformed Christianity (right up there with Scottish a cappella Psalm-singing) is the first question of the Shorter Westminster Catechism:

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

For some reason, the Lutheran artist FLAME seems to think that this statement has something to do with affections, as in his song “Used to Think” on the album Extra Nos:

They say that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever (That’s cool)
You know what that sound like to me on a practical level is coming to together (Bridge)
Serving your neighbor, enjoying creation
To me Luther said it better (He did)
Instead of focused on affections
No diss to Jonathan Edwards
If our faith justifies us
And God saved and baptized us
We set our gaze outside of us
Extra nos, but

Now, my expertise is neither Lutheranism nor Reformed Christianity. I am an Anglican who spends a lot of time reading ancient and medieval stuff. And Malcolm Guite.

Nonetheless, this is, in fact, extra nos, outside of us, which is FLAME’s big thing in the album Extra Nos. As FLAME puts it, “If our faith justifies us / And God saved and baptized us / We set our gaze outside of us.” First, the Westminster divines did their seventeenth-century duty and piled up Bible verse upon Bible verse for both “glorify God” and “enjoy him forever”; whether you think they used Scripture wisely, I’ll leave up to you. You can read the whole catechism here.

Clearly, though, it’s the use of “enjoy him forever” that is troubling to FLAME.

This is too bad, because the dude has a Master’s in theology, and he seems pretty down on a whole lot of stuff. So I would have thought that St Augustine of Hippo’s De Doctrina Christiana would be under his belt. In St Augustine’s scheme of how the universe and the human heart operate, there are res (“things”, if you will) that we use (utor) and res that we enjoy (fruor). Ultimately, every res that is not God exists to be used, and the purpose of its use is for us to enjoy God.

God is the only res we are meant to enjoy in the Augustinian understanding of enjoyment.

The enjoyment of God and God alone, in fact, sets our gaze outside of ourselves automatically. It drives us from merely enjoying a sunrise to enjoying God through a sunrise. It drives us from merely enjoying ice cream to enjoying the God who gave us taste buds. We do not simply enjoy music, we enjoy God through the music. And St Augustine, from comments in Confessions, seems to have been a music fan who struggled with this.

The point of the Augustinian concept of enjoyment is not seeking some sort of emotional or affective experience. It is about seeking him of whom St Augustine says, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” It is not about, “Am I enjoying God? What can I do to enjoy God more?” It is about realising that God is the only proper res for us to enjoy.

So that’s just one point.

Another point is FLAME’s highly significant choice of words here: “We set our gaze outside of us.” In the Christian-Platonist framework of Augustinian theology, the final end of man, the telos of the human race, is the beatific vision of God Himself. We gaze outside ourselves upon the glory of God (sometimes now in a foretaste, but most likely not until the eschaton).

According to ancient physics (Platonic, Epicurean, and others), when we gaze upon something, we actually make contact with it. This is why, as explained by Father Andrew Louth in an excellent article called “Experiencing the Liturgy in Byzantium,” so many late antique liturgical objects are silver — the shining light hits the eye in a particularly powerful way, drawing your gaze to the liturgy and thus to God. (I recommend St Maximus the Confessor if you’re interested in Byzantine conceptualisations of how we meet God in the liturgy.)

And so, when we set our gaze outside ourselves and on God, instead, this is driving towards the Beatific Vision, something we’ll never fully encounter this side of glory according to St Augustine. But this vision is not a static thing the way we think of vision today. It is immersive and an encounter. A crude analogy is that the vision of God is more like when I saw Dune on the weekend in an AVX cinema than it is like when I looked at a portrait of Henry VIII in Rome. I was drawn into Arrakis through sight, sound, and touch, as my chair itself rumbled with the story on-screen.

This gazing outside ourselves which itself is a means of entering into intimate communion of God is, I would argue, precisely what St Augustine means when he talks about us enjoying God. If you are truly, truly enjoying something, you are not thinking about the affective experience. The experience has swallowed you up.

Setting aside the question of proper and improper enjoyment, I know I have had moments of sitting at, say, a choral eucharist or other musical event where I was completely lost to myself. It was sublime in the truest sense of the word. That, only more so, is what Augustine means. And it can only be found extra nos. Outside ourselves.

I say this not as some sort of anti-FLAME or anti-Lutheran or pro-Reformed statement. I say it because most of us Latins, Anglican, Lutheran, Reformed, are hopelessly Augustinian. Deeply, deeply Augustinian. Indeed, I joke sometimes how remarkable it is that when Martin Luther rejected the tradition and went back to read the Scriptures for themselves, his interpretation was astonishingly like St Augustine of Hippo’s.

I say this because this statement from the Westminster Shorter Catechism, from my limited vantage point as an Anglican scholar of late antiquity, has a lot of St Augustine lurking behind it, and I think it’s precisely the sort of thing a Lutheran should support.

5 thoughts on ““to glorify God and enjoy him forever”

  1. “themselves”, meaning the scriptures? So, “reading the scriptures for the scriptures”. Am I understanding you correctly?

    • I’m not sure. Either that, or two things happened at once, one of which should have been, “Scriptures themselves”, and the other, “Scriptures for himself.” Hm.

  2. I have absolutely no idea who FLAME is, but it seems really odd he’s setting the Westminster Catechism’s definition of the end of man against Luther’s definition of justification. Apples and oranges! I think you’ve framed it well as a misunderstanding.

    Also, this is not the first time you’ve brought up Malcolm Guite. Have you done any posts on him before or do you have any recommendations for a first time Guiter?

    • Hi Vince! FLAME is a hip-hop artist who converted from some sort of “Reformed” evangelicalism to Lutheranism, went to seminary, and then made two new Lutheran albums, Extra Nos, which I reference in the post, and Christ for You. When he’s rapping about Lutheranism, I enjoy it as much as I am capable of enjoying rap music. But when he takes on other Christian traditions, it reminds of the chief problem of so much inter-Christian polemic: he misses the mark.

      Malcolm Guite’s YouTube is here: https://www.youtube.com/c/MalcolmGuitespell and his blog is here: http://malcolmguite.wordpress.com. As far as books, I recommend After Prayer, a collection of his poetry, and Faith, Hope, and Poetry, a theological analysis of English poetry from the Dream of the Rood to Seamus Heaney. I started with his theology then moved into his poetry. He’s one of the only living poets I like.

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