Enjoying God, Coram Deo
by Burk Parsons
I am a confessional Presbyterian pastor. As such, I subscribe to the Westminster Standards, consisting of the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. Over the years I have heard the Westminster Standards criticized for being too erudite; some have charged that the Westminster divines (theologians) were so concerned with doctrinal precision that they failed to display the beauty and loveliness of the faith in their documents. Although I appreciate their concerns, I always remind such critics that the Westminster catechisms begin with the language of glorifying and enjoying God, and that the Standards exist to explain in doctrinal terms how Scripture directs us to glorify and enjoy God in all we think, do, and say.
I first came across the Standards at a Ligonier Ministries conference about twenty years ago. I had no idea what they were, but as a student it was one of the only books I could afford. I spent four dollars on a copy of the Standards and devoured them from beginning to end. I quickly concluded that they were the most helpful summary of biblical doctrine I had ever encountered, and it was the doctrinal precision of the Standards that made them so beautiful to me.
The first question and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is as follows: “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” When I read that, I didn’t struggle to understand the first part of the answer: “To glorify God,” but I did struggle to understand the second part: “to enjoy him forever.” Why didn’t the Westminster divines provide us with an answer that echoed Jesus’ answer when He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37)? Why didn’t they just say, “To glorify God,” and leave it at that? What did they mean by “enjoy him forever”?
Over time, I have come to see the wisdom of the words to enjoy God. They capture the all encompassing nature of our relationship with God; namely, being chosen by God, called by God, united to God in Christ, justified by God, indwelt by the Spirit of God, adopted by God, sanctified by God, and loving God and neighbor to the end that we might glorify God. And although we will not be able to grasp the full meaning of enjoying God until we meet Christ face to face, we can know and experience now in part what it means to enjoy God because the Son of God, Jesus Christ, has met us, has dwelt among us, and now dwells within us by the Holy Spirit. Throughout history, our covenant God has graciously dwelt among His people in various ways, and yet we eagerly look forward to that glorious day when God will establish His eternal presence with us in the new heavens and new earth that we might fully glorify and enjoy Him, coram Deo, before His face, forever.