When Time Does Not Heal:
The Application of the Chief End of Man to the Wounded Heart

By Greg Wright, 2006

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Does time really heal all wounds?
Most of you have probably heard the proverb, "Time heals all wounds." It is not surprising that people would say this, because there are many afflictions that do heal over time. Given enough time, bleeding stops; chigger bites quit itching; babies are delivered; headaches cease; the dentist stops drilling; and people recover from colds, flu, and many other afflictions.

Time also helps us to deal with ongoing afflictions. The loss of a limb is a very severe thing, and it would be heartless to speak of getting over it. Yet, even with this kind of loss, people learn, over time, to adjust to their new circumstances.

Some people also attempt to apply this principle to the loss of a loved one. Even as you stand grieving over the one you have buried, they say, "Time heals all wounds."

To the contrary, when I first began corresponding with people who had lost loved ones, I found many people who had not healed over time. Even ten years later, many were bitter against God, and many seemed to be in perpetual agony over the one they had buried. I was not surprised, because I realized that true and lasting comfort is only for Christians. On many occassions I have wanted to be able to offer the Christian's comfort to a non-believer, and I have had to stop myself and realize that if this person does not know Jesus as his Lord and Savior, not only is this kind of comfort not available to him, but it won't even make sense to him. The world can burn candles, create memorials, and cherish memories, as can the Christian. They can gather with friends and family and talk about the old times. But only the Christian has access to that true and lasting comfort that is available through Christ alone.

Since Christians have many supports that non-believers lack, I would expect to find that Christians handle tragedy better than non-Christians. In some cases they do. As these believers stand firm in their faith in the midst of unthinkable horrors, tragedy provides the dark backdrop that makes the Christian hope shine. Nevertheless, many other believers do not heal up over time. Seeming to fare no better than non-believers, many years later they remain bitter against God and endure perpetual agony over the ones they have buried or the losses they have experienced.

Healing and the chief end of man.
There are probably many reasons why this happens, and I won't pretend to know all of them. Certainly, the severity of the loss is a factor, and the encouragement that is available to the wounded person is a factor as well. But there is one reason that stands out, and I believe it is a dominant reason why many people, instead of traveling through the Valley of Bereavement, seem to go around in circles in that valley and never quite move on. The reason is this: Many Christians do not have a clear and practical understanding of the doctrine of the chief end of man. And even among Christians who do know this doctrine, many have not made it a guiding principle for their lives. They may be able to recite it, but they have not learned how to apply it.

For this reason, my purpose is to encourage all of us that a clear understanding and practical application of the doctrine of the chief end of man is necessary for dealing with life's problems. Without a clear and practical understanding of this doctrine, the Christian will be ill equipped to face the inevitable losses he will experience. We must understand this doctrine, and we must learn how to apply it in all of our circumstances.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism states this doctrine succinctly by way of its first question: "What is the chief end of man?" Many of you already know the answer, "Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever."

What is man's chief end?
Let us begin by examining this confessional statement. First, what do we mean by the word end? We certainly do not mean it in the same way that we would speak of the end of a rope or the end of a journey. Rather, to speak of the end of man is to speak of his goals, his purposes, and the things he wants to accomplish. In the course of everyday life, we have many ends. We work in order to provide for our families. We eat in order to live and in order to enjoy the food that is set before us. Some of you play soccer in order to have fun and occasionally to even enjoy the thrill of victory. We obey traffic laws, even in places where they do not make sense, in order to avoid getting an expensive speeding ticket.

But some ends are more important than others. The question asks, "What is the chief end of man?" By chief end, we certainly do not mean the end that the world chooses as its favorite. Most people have very little concern for the glory of God. Nor do we mean the underlying end that drives all other ends. Very few people have the glory of God as the underlying motivation for how they pursue other ends. Rather, to speak of the chief end is to speak of that end which is most important. It is the one end that should be the compass for directing the pursuit of all other ends. Although we, as Christians, pursue many of the same ordinary and necessary ends that the world pursues, this one end, the glory of God, should guide how we pursue them. Whatever zeal we have for the ends we pursue, the underlying end that determines how we pursue them should be the glory of God.

How do we glorify God?
Having addressed the meaning of the term chief end, now let us consider how it is that we glorify God. First of all, we do not make God glorious. God is glorious already. If we weren't even here, God would still be glorious. Before there were any angels, any created beings whatsoever, God was already glorious, glorious within Himself. No, what we do is we affirm His glory. We acknowledge the glory that is already there. We recognize His glory, and we respond to it.

We glorify God in many ways. For example, we do this when we sing about God. That is why we prefer, in worship, to sing songs that are God-focussed and God-exalting.

We glorify God in our hearts. We do this by bringing every thought and every attitude under the guiding light of the glory of God.

We glorify God in our actions. We glorify God every time we choose to obey Him.

And we glorify God by the way we respond to life's difficulties. Whenever we are able to say, "Thy will be done," we glorify God. Even when God deals with us in ways that are mysterious, when we resolve to trust Him no matter what, we glorify Him.

How does man enjoy God?
These are some of the ways in which we glorify God. Now, for the other part of the question, how is it that part of our chief end is to enjoy God?

We enjoy God by being at peace with Him. To be able to rest at His table and to know that our sins are forgiven is the spring from which all other enjoyment of God must flow.

We enjoy God, because God has created us to have a zeal for justice, but reliable, consistent justice is found in God alone. Earthly judges will sometimes take bribes. Earthly judges have been known to reshape the law to accommodate their own prejudices. God alone is the one judge who always does what is right.

We enjoy God because of his blessings. From the splendor of the sunrise that cheers our early mornings to the azure skies that brighten our days, God has surrounded us with beauty. Even in sunsets, God seems to leave His signature in the fiery sky, as if to assure us that night will not last forever. And although cloudy days come, hiding for a season the glory of millions of stars, even the clouds are adorned with a beauty of their own. More could be said of the rivers, brooks, and mountains that thrill our hearts. From the tiniest flowers that welcome the arrival of spring, to the tallest giraffe who lifts his head above all other creatures towards heaven, nature reflects the very heart of God -- the God who delights to bless us.

We enjoy God because of the way He has revealed Himself in His word. While worldly philosophers stumble around in darkness, God blesses us with the light of his wisdom. The sages of this world clog the bookstores with their man-centered wisdom. They lead millions astray through their songs, their movies, and their teachings. Meanwhile, God has given even the most common and ordinary person access to such a rich treasury of wisdom and understanding, that it will lead and guide him through every season of this life and bring him safely home.

We enjoy God because God has been pleased to make His dwelling inside of us through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit teaches us while we read our Bibles. He convicts our hearts when we sin. He leads us in the ways of righteousness. He comforts us when we are sad. And He motivates us to be compassionate towards others. It was the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit that brought life into our souls; it is the preserving work of the Holy Spirit that keeps us from shipwrecking in our faith; and it is the guiding work of the Holy Spirit that leads us through all of life and into the life to come.

Sometimes the Holy Spirit surprises us with an especially deep sense of the presence of God. William Cowper wrote about this, and you can find his words in the old Trinity Hymnal on page 520:

Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord, who rises with healing in his wings:
When comforts are declining, He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.

In holy contemplation we sweetly then pursue
The theme of God's salvation, and find it ever new;
Set free from present sorrow, we cheerfully can say,
Let the unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may.

What a wonderful thing God has designed for us, that the pursuit of our chief end--the pursuit of His glory--should also be our primary source of joy.

Biblical support for this doctrine.
Having briefly considered the doctrine of the chief end of man, let us now examine how this doctrine is supported in the Bible. What are some of the verses that support the idea that man's chief end is to glorify God? All of these verses will be from the New American Standard Bible.

Consider 1 Corinthians 10:31, "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."

Consider also Colossians 3:23, "Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men."

One verse talks about eating, and one verse talks about working. Both are common and ordinary activities. Yet, the glory of God is to be the underlying principle that determines how we do both.

This is easier to understand when we consider that we were created not for ourselves but for God, as we find in Colossians 1:16-17, "For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities -- all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together."

Now let us consider the biblical support for the other part of man's chief end, the enjoyment of God. First, God alone satisfies spiritual hunger and spiritual thirst. Two of the most powerful motivations that people have are hunger and thirst, and the Bible often uses these drives to speak of our longing for God. In Psalm 42:1-2 we read, "As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for Thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; when shall I come and appear before God?"

Second, God stabilizes our hearts. The preciousness of God has a way of stabilizing our hearts when we see trouble on the horizon. In Habakkuk 3:16, the prophet is in great distress because of impending disaster: "I heard and my inward parts trembled, at the sound my lips quivered. Decay enters my bones, and in my place I tremble. Because I must wait quietly for the day of distress, for the people to arise who will invade us."

Yet, even in the midst of his distress, the prophet is able to rejoice in the one supreme possession that no enemy can take away: "Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds' feet, and makes me walk on my high places," (Habakkuk 3:18-19).

The high places are dangerous places, places where it would be easy to trip and fall, places where we are tempted to accuse God, places where fresh springs of bitterness flow freely and where the precipice of despair is never far away. Yet the strength this man has in God enables him to walk even there.

Also, consider Psalm 73:21-28. The Psalmist is upset because of the apparent prosperity of the wicked and the difficulties of the righteous. Then he remembers God, and when he does, he realizes that the treasure he has in God surpasses all the temporary blessings that the wicked enjoy. "When my heart was embittered, and I was pierced within, then I was senseless and ignorant; I was like a beast before Thee. Nevertheless I am continually with Thee; Thou hast taken hold of my right hand. With Thy counsel Thou wilt guide me, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For, behold, those who are far from Thee will perish; Thou hast destroyed all those who are unfaithful to Thee. But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, That I may tell of all Thy works."

This passage reminds me of something that happened -- I guess it was the first January after Stephen had passed. I was trying hard to be brave, to engage other people in conversation, and to share in their joy. I ran into a friend in the LifeWay cafeteria. Knowing he had a young child, I asked him about how they had spent Christmas. He seemed to delight in talking about the chaos, the wrapping paper flying everywhere, and all the fun they had together.

After losing a loved one, sometimes you go through a season where you feel like you are acting a part in a play -- as if you are standing outside of yourself, listening to yourself talk. That's the way I felt as I interacted with my friend. Nevertheless, I was trying to share in his joy, as well as the general joy he had in the Lord, for this was a godly man.

As I was leaving the cafeteria, I said to myself, this is his portion, but what is my portion. That was when I was reminded of this passage, Psam 73:21-28. I was reminded that God is my portion, and this portion transcends everything else.

Much more could be said, but I think these verses are sufficient to support the statement that man's chief end is not only to pursue God's glory but to pursue God, Himself, learning to delight in Him and to cherish Him. When trouble comes and all other joys are taken, this one all surpassing joy remains -- the enjoyment of God Himself.

How we are distracted from our chief end.
Or at least that is how it should be. But this is not the way it is for most people, even Christians. Because of our fallen condition, we are easily distracted from the glory of God by other pursuits, and we are easily drawn away from the enjoyment of God by the enjoyment of other things.

Meanwhile, tragedy has a way of clarifying things. It jolts us back to spiritual realities that we would otherwise ignore, and it reminds us of neglected priorities. One way it does this is by diminishing our ability to focus on normal tasks.

People who have lost loved ones often complain of a diminished ability to concentrate on their work. This can be a very dangerous time. Often employers do not understand, and people sometimes lose their jobs because of diminished productivity. That's the down side of this, but there is an up side as well. Never has there been a more important time to consider eternity. Never has there been a more important time to draw near unto God. Sometimes the journey through the Valley of Bereavement is very long. For anyone who has lost a child, he should think in terms of years, not months. Nevertheless, those who draw near unto God will find refreshment along the way. In a dry and thirsty land, they will find streams to quench their thirst and food to sustain their souls. Sadly, one relationship lies buried in the ground. But this need not be the end of your joy. For now is the time to pursue the most important relationship of all. Now is the time to pursue God with all your heart.

God is the answer no matter what your loss is. There are many kinds of losses that we experience in this life, and any of them can turn our hearts upside down. Even something very normal like the empty nest can be unsettling for many parents.

Men sometimes take the loss of a job very hard. It is not just the lack of income and the diminished ability to provide for their families--these are bad enough--but their very identity is at stake. Who they are is intimately tied to what they do. How easy it is for us to forget what our most important identity is. We are children of The King. We are spiritually united to Christ. We have a covenant relationship with the Lord of Lords. And the commission we have from Him transcends all others. Whether you are an engineer, an architect, a burger flipper, or anything else, your primary purpose in this life is to glorify God.

While many people find their identity in their professions, some people find their identity in their service to others. I have sometimes interacted with single moms who have lost their only child. With no spouse to encourage them, they sometimes feel like they no longer have a reason for living. Their reason for living was all tied up in that child. It was that child who gave meaning to their lives, and it was the necessity to caring for that child that kept them working when life was hard, sometimes holding down two or three jobs. Now the child is gone.

The reason for living.
The apostle Paul had a different reason for living. His responsibilities were overwhelming, and there were many people who depended on him. Yet, these duties, important as they were, were not the primary things that motivated Paul. No, it was Paul who said, "For me, to live is Christ."

We are never without a reason for living, as long as the glory of God is the underlying motivation for all we do. And as long as we have our mind to think with, we will have the ability to glorify God. Even a cripple who is lying on his back in a nursing home can glorify God.

And note that all of the things above can be done, even by someone who is not able to leave his bed.

Pain and the chief end of man.
Speaking of pain, pain can be as powerful a motivator as hunger and thirst. When I am in pain, I want relief now. While there is nothing wrong in seeking relief from pain, there is always a danger that our desire for this relief will become so overwhelming that we will seek it in ungodly ways. That is one reason why it is so important to keep the glory of God before us. A focus on the glory of God will encourage us to avoid addicting drugs and drunkenness. A focus on the glory of God will encourage us to avoid the distractions of pornography and gambling. And a focus on the glory of God will encourage us to remember what God has said about how He uses affliction in our lives. Romans 8:28-29 says, "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that he might be the first-born among many brethren."

How does God use pain and affliction? According to this passage, God uses pain and affliction to make us like His son. This is not the route we would choose, is it? We would choose a different route, wouldn't we? Most of us want to be more like Jesus, but we would rather do it though Bible studies, seminars, and almost anything other than pain and suffering.

Now, God certainly uses these other teaching resources. Nevertheless, I have to admit that even the things that are taught through these resources are further clarified when God forces us to seek Him in the midst of pain.

As we seek relief from pain, we must clearly understand what our primary mission is under these circumstances. Relief from pain is our secondary mission. Our primary mission is to glorify God in spite of the pain. When you can affirm the integrity of God in the midst of your pain, confessing Him as the wise physician, you glorify God. And when you are willing to have God make you more like Jesus, no matter what it costs, you affirm the beauty of the character of Christ.

Grief and the chief end of man.
Another powerful motivator is grief. People want relief now. Just like with pain, some turn to alcohol and drugs. But God is glorified when we turn to Him. After Steve died, I wondered if I would ever be happy again. Four months after he was buried, one evening I was so miserable that it was hard for me to think clearly. So I walked over to the piano, sat down, and started playing whatever came to my mind. This poem came out of that:

There's a song for the hurting,
A poem for the sad,
A balm for your healing,
A word to make you glad.
There's a mountain made for climbing,
A hand to help you through,
A love beyond your wildest dreams,
He's waiting there for you.

There's a light behind the shadows,
There's laughter in the rain,
There's color in the sunset,
There's joy beyond the pain.
There's an ocean made for dying,
Where the waves come crashing down,
But there's One who walks among the waves,
And He won't let you drown.

And it's Jesus;
It's His heart that's grieving when you cry,
He proved His love at Calvary when He went up there to die,
The hands that held the nails are reaching out to hold you tight,
And by His mighty strength and power
He'll lead you through the night.
The one who bled at Calvary now holds you to His breast.
Just put your trust in Jesus Christ, and He will give you rest.

What I learned that evening is that even when I was so overwhelmed with grief that I could not think straight, I could still find rest for my soul by crying out to God. However, there is something else that I did not know at that time, but which I have now come to understand. It is this: As I was seeking comfort from God, I was also pursuing the chief end of man. For it glorifies God when a grieving person discovers this precious truth: that when the worst happens, Christ is enough.

Temptation and the chief end of man.
Tragedies, as described above, are not the only things that distract us from our chief end. Some of life's biggest challenges come not as tragedies but as temptations. Peer pressure can be a very powerful force, especially for young people. What is more important: being accepted by your friends or glorifying God? Sometimes the pursuit of your chief end may mean displeasing your friends. Are you willing to stand alone, if necessary, for the glory of God?

Peer pressure does not end in childhood but continues into adulthood. Are you willing to lie in order to keep a client? Do you say bad things about your fellow workers in order to make yourself look better? When you make a mistake in your job, do you look for other people to blame? Have you sacrificed your family on the altar of Corporate America? Your answers to these questions will very much depend on what you regard as your chief end. If you consider your chief end to be the glory of God, this end will inform your thinking about how to pursue your career.

Your chief end will also affect how you raise your children. It is amazing how much attention is given to raising good athletes and good students and how little attention is give to raising good Christians. Many parents rely on the Sunday School teacher to educate their children in matters of faith. However, this works best when the Sunday School is reinforcing material that has already been taught in the home. It is amazing how an ordinarily distracted child will perk up when he hears his Sunday School teacher affirming things he has already heard at home. Are you teaching your child how to be glorious within himself (how to stand out and attract attention to himself) or are you teaching him how to glorify God?

Your chief end will affect how you regard your possessions. How much does your desire to impress others affect what you buy? Does it bother you when others obtain things that you cannot afford? Beware of inordinate love for the things of this world, and beware of inordinate desire for the approval of others.

Your chief end will affect how you regard your time. Do you regard your discretionary time as your own, to fritter away in meaningless diversions, or do you seek to use it for the glory of God?

Is there anything in your life that you would withhold from God: your spouse, your children, your home, your income, your possessions? All of it belongs to God, and all of it is subject being taken away by God at any time. Do you love God more than your wife or husband? Do you love God more than your children? Do you love God more than your possessions? Do you love God more than your health? Is the underlying and driving motivation of your life for God or for these other things. Sometimes we really do not know until God takes them away.

Your personal journey and your chief end.
Please turn to the Gospel of John chapter 21. Having denied Jesus three times, and having seen his Lord crucified, Peter is anxious to reaffirm his love and devotion for Him. Jesus knows this, and begins to prepare Peter with some questions, starting in verse 15.

"So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?' He said to Him, 'Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.' He said to him, 'Tend My lambs.' He said to him again a second time, 'Simon, son of John, do you love Me?' He said to Him, 'Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.' He said to him, 'Shepherd My Sheep.' He said to him the third time, 'Simon, son of John, Do you love Me?' Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, 'Do you love Me?' And he said to Him, 'Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.' Jesus said to him, 'Tend My sheep. [But this time Jesus continued.] Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself, and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.' Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when HE had spoken this, He said to him, 'Follow Me!' Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His breast at the supper, and said, 'Lord, who is the one who betrays You?' Peter therefore seeing him said to Jesus, 'Lord, and what about this man?' Jesus said to him, 'If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!'"

It is part of our fallen condition that when trials come, it is easy to look around and wonder whether God is dealing more roughly with us than with someone else. Well, I have good news and bad news. Some journeys are, indeed, rougher than others. If you are on a rougher journey, that is the bad news. The good news is that the journey you are on is your journey; it is the journey God has chosen for you; and God is there, with you, to help you through it. Nevertheless, regardless of what kind of journey you are on, regardless of what kinds of things God has called you to endure in this life, the command is the same -- "Come, follow me."

Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. If you have this before you, and if this the guiding principle of your life, then you will follow Jesus wherever He leads you.

Let us pray.
Dear heavenly Father,
Please lead us,
And please give us the strength to follow.