Since writing this essay in which I observe that the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC) is a bit self-centered, some folks have accused me of taking the question out of context. Question 2 (What rule teaches us this? A: The scripture) and Question 3 (What do the scriptures principally teach? A: What we are to believe about God and what duty we have toward God) address this specific issue. The three questions must be taken as a whole, and when understood as a whole, there is nothing self-centered about the first question.
But this line of argument misses my point. While it is certainly true that the WSC does get around to duty and obedience, all those things that are required of God are subsidiary to the primary question, “How do I enjoy God?” The context is my pleasure. My point is that the questions are turned around.
At this point I could quote the fathers, the various kontakia of the Orthodox Church, and Orthodox theology in general, but instead I’ll turn to a favorite Protestant hymn, which gets this relationship right: Trust and Obey, by John Sammis.
When we walk with the Lord / in the light of his word, / what a glory he sheds on our way. / While we do his good will, / he abides with us still, / and with all who will trust and obey. Refrain: Trust and obey, for there’s no other way / to be happy in Jesus, / but to trust and obey.
The third verse possibly expresses it best of all:
But we never can prove / the delights of his love / until all on the altar we lay; / for the favor he shows, / for the joy he bestows, / are for them who will trust and obey.
I would argue that this hymn says the same thing as the WSC, except it gets it in the correct order. “What is the chief end of man?” The Orthodox answer to that question is that we were created in the image of God, which made it possible for us to be conformed to and transformed into God’s likeness. We are clay and the chief end of this clay is not to be “happy clay” but to be shaped and molded to look like God so that God can be happy. That necessarily begins with obedience and, if God so pleases, will result in our eternal joy.
Our enjoyment of God is the effect, not the goal.