“And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:11)
It’s a motive question. All we do flows from one of three motives, or a combination of them: love for God, love for others, and love for self. Love for self usually wins out in any competition of loves, even in religious activity. The altruistic, especially the regenerated altruist, may act sometimes out of love for others. But God calls us to love him above all. And not just with our hearts (our affections); not just with our souls (the choices we make); not just with our minds (our intellectual endeavor); but with, indeed, all of these to the maximum–with all our strength. Once this order is in place, loving God above all else, passionately and unconditionally we will pursue his glory, not our own, and we will do so in worship, in service, in the pursuit of holiness.
Why have I wrestled a lifetime with the question of the ultimate purpose of life? Is it an attempt to love God with my mind in search of theological precision? Not really, at least not primarily. What I hold consciously as my ultimate purpose does shape my mind, to be sure, and drives my actions; but above all, it defines my relationships.
Go back to the beginning. Why did God create us in his likeness? To prove his creative capabilities? Was it not the overflow of his love-nature (I John 4:8,16) to create a being to join the Father, the Son, and the Spirit in their circle of love? But for lovers to be one, they must be compatible. So he created us God-compatible. He wanted to “walk with us in the cool of the evening.” We blew it, of course, became morally dysfunctional, out of sync with our ultimate lover, estranged. More– we divorced. And it is we who took the initiative in the divorce proceedings. But his nature did not change, and he reached out. To do what? Rescue the ones he loved from eternal banishment? Yes, but so much more. He wanted to restore the God-compatibility. “Regeneration,” we call it, and “sanctification.” To what end? Is that the end, the ultimate? No, no. To be one with him, to share in a passionate, intimate love relationship- that was his goal.
This ultimate plan of God is so incredible I can’t understand it, let alone explain it. But an intimate conversation between the Son and the Father astonishes us with what he had in mind. The seventeenth chapter of John has been so pre-empted by the ecumenical movement to teach unity among believers–important as that is–that we may miss the point of what he was saying to the Father in John 17:11; “My prayer for all of them is that they will be one, just as you and I are one, Father–that just as you are in me and I am in you, so they will be in us….so that they may be one, as we are–I in them and you in me, all being perfected into one.”
Astonishing! The only way to describe what God is after is to say that he has designed a relationship so intimate in some mysterious way it’s like the relationship between the Father and the Son.