Use or Enjoyment?
“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” Colossians 3:2,3
St Augustine, as he reflected on gratitude, identified two fundamental modes of relating to reality: use and enjoyment.
To use means taking up what is currently before us for the purpose of some greater end. Most of us are working towards a greater purpose and aiming to achieve something. This will be especially true in a society like ours. Some of these purposes are focused on self. There was a stage when we tried to get the best degree possible to secure a better future. Some of our fellow students become our competitors. Then we go through a stage of searching for a life-partner. Every friendship, connection and Facebook post become an opportunity to project a better image of ourselves. We started working and we join an office where we join many of our colleagues in the same race. If a promotion is possible, you want it.
Using, using, using: people, things and opportunities to push ourselves a bit further ahead.
Others have more altruistic motives. They share the same mode of use in life, yes, but for the sake of others. And as above, every stage of life provides a context and opportunity for this. This is to be lauded for Jesus did tell us, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but to lose his own soul?” You may have seen movies like Regarding Henry, Patch Adams or the more recent Up in the Air and wept some tears of regret.
The mode of use in life has its place for self or others.
Enjoyment has a different character. When we enjoy something, we are grateful for it, resting in the blessing of its presence. Some of you will remember the first time you held your firstborn in your arms. Your child gave you a new incentive to leave work early and rush home. When I was on a 3 weeks mission trip after Sarah was born, I was terribly Sarah-sick by the second week. Someone said that the home is a destroyer of ambition. Indeed. Time seems to stand still when I am at home with the people I love. Or it may be a book, a friend or a cup of cappuccino. Or it may be a moment spent with your aging parent.
So which is better, use or enjoyment as modes of living? We can debate about it.
St. Augustine teaches that we can only truly enjoy God and others in God. If we live to enjoy God, that is the ultimate. For the things and people we enjoy without God, is finite and often end up in sad memories. But in Christ, we are living not just for the present but for eternity. And in enjoying Him, we see people, things and the world around us with a different perspective.
Perhaps there is something after all in the first line of the Shorter Westminster Catechism: “Man’s chief aim is to enjoy God and glorify Him forever.”