Keep Asking Why

Published on June 7, 2010 by CT in Blog, Theology

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I have started to read The End For Which God Created The World by Jonathan Edwards, and I realize I am in for a difficult read.  But I am also immediately reminded of a behavior we see in children every day that we should seek to emulate:  the constant question of “why?”

I don’t have any children yet (at least one that can talk), but I suspect my daughter and I will have a conversation in a few years which will end with me saying something and her saying, “Why?”  To which I’ll respond with another answer, and she’ll ask, “Why?”  And on and on we will go.

Edwards answers the ultimate “why” question in this book, and he takes a longer road to get there, for which we are all better off.  He begins with a discussion of terms, and one of the terms he uses in his argument is an “ultimate end.”

Edwards describes an ultimate end as follows:

An ultimate end is that which the agent seeks, in what he does, for its own sake; what he loves, values, and takes pleasure in on its own account, and not merely as a means of a further end.  As when a man loves the taste of some particular sort of fruit, and is at pains and cost to obtain it for the sake of the pleasure of that taste which he values upon its own account, as he loves his own pleasure, and not merely for the sake of any other good which he supposes his enjoying that pleasure will be a means of (emphasis added).

If we were to say this another way, we might say:  “An ultimate end is the last and final reason something exists.”  Or to make it more personal:  “Our ultimate end is the last and final reason we exist and do what we do.”  Or to make it more divine:  “God’s ultimate end is the last and final reason He exists and does what what He does.”

These are not simply questions to be addressed by philosophers and theologians; they are questions we must all wrestle with if we are going to go further and deeper into our worship of and service to God.  We are already living out our answers to these questions whether we know it or not, so resolving them Biblically in our minds is the means to living more Biblically.

The key to thinking about an ultimate end is the exploration of why that end exists.  In other words, ultimate ends are done for their own sake and not some other reason.  They are the end of a chain, not the links.  There are no “in order to” or “so that” statements that follow an ultimate end.  They just end.

Each one of us should consider the ends of our own chains, starting with thinking about some aspect of our lives and then asking ourselves the question “why?”  For example:

I have a job.  Why?

In order to provide for my needs and the needs of my family.  Why?

So that our needs will be met.  Why?

So that we can continue to live.  Why?

So that can serve God.  Why?

And so on…

Pick any part of life.  There’s a frog on my porch.  I got married 4 years ago.  I exist.  Jesus died on a cross.  The sun is 93 million miles from earth.  Water exists in three forms.  Ask why.  Keep asking why until all the branches of answers converge into one massive and glorious trunk that reveals a truth that is meant to fill our lives with inexplicable joy.

I suspect I know where Edwards is headed in his exploration of the ultimate “why” question, but before we get there, I wanted to ask you to thoughtfully consider, and weigh in on, the following:

Question:  What is your ultimate end?

  • http://wordsofeternallife.org/ Mike_McArthur

    Hi Chris,
    Having absorbed a lot of John Piper's teaching I suspect his catch phrase (we exist for the glory of God) is also where Jonathan Edwards is heading.

    However, I am wondering if the 'why' question is enough on its own or whether we also need faith? My training is in science, and obviously scientists are professional askers of the 'why' question, but with only the scientific method and what can be measured as their raw materials we find that the conclusion generally drawn is that there is no ultimate purpose. This is in fact a very unsatisfying answer to humans and many of us continue seeking for a purpose, and I think that even there we can attribute some sort of 'faith' as the motivator – a faith that 'there must be more than this'.

    I will be interested to discover what Edwards has to say about the role of faith in discovering the ultimate purpose (end).

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Chris_Tomlinson Chris_Tomlinson

      Mike, I will be interested in that as well. My hypothesis is that we could reason our way to say all things exist for the glory of God, certainly with the assumption that God exists and is good. I think Scripture would lead us down this path as well. Perhaps faith is the necessary part to embrace this truth though; you may not have been saying this directly, so my apologies if I'm putting words in your mouth, but reason won't take us to the point where we actually believe what our reason may tell us.

      • http://wordsofeternallife.org/ Mike_McArthur

        Hi Chris,
        I think you summed it up well in that final sentence: "reason won't take us to the point where we actually believe what our reason may tell us." If someone has an open mind and follows through with asking 'why' they will end up with the choice of either total pointlessness (i.e., no purpose to anything) or that God has to exist. I personally cannot imagine living in complete consistency with a worldview of utter purposlessness, and it seems that most of the philosophers who espouse such theories actually lived lives of desperately trying to prove that they did have a purpose (the purpose of 'proving' that there is no purpose). I would argue that faith has much more influence over our reason than reason would like to admit.

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  • http://savefast.dnsalias.net/ Sofia

    Hi Chris,
    Having absorbed a lot of John Piper's teaching I suspect his catch phrase (we exist for the glory of God) is also where Jonathan Edwards is heading.

    However, I am wondering if the 'why' question is enough on its own or whether we also need faith? My training is in science, and obviously scientists are professional askers of the 'why' question, but with only the scientific method and what can be measured as their raw materials we find that the conclusion generally drawn is that there is no ultimate purpose. This is in fact a very unsatisfying answer to humans and many of us continue seeking for a purpose, and I think that even there we can attribute some sort of 'faith' as the motivator – a faith that 'there must be more than this'.

    I will be interested to discover what Edwards has to say about the role of faith in discovering the ultimate purpose (end).