I remember Mama standing in front of me, her hands poised on her hips, her eyes glaring with hot coals of fire and saying in stentorian tones, "Just what is the big idea, young man?"Have you ever wondered, “What’s the big idea of the Christian life?” or “Why are we here?” Though this and other questions of ultimacy should be asked and honestly faced, I fear a great many people in our society never take the time or effort for such contemplation. I remember an episode from the sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond,” in which Ray’s daughter asks her unprepared father: “Why are we born? Why does God put us here, Daddy?” And Ray mumbles something about heaven’s being overcrowded and thus God sends us to earth to ease the congestion. He then feigns a sneezing fit and runs from the room.
Instinctively I knew my mother was not asking me an abstract question about theory. Her question was not a question at all--it was a thinly veiled accusation. Her words were easily translated to mean, "Why are you doing what you are doing?" She was challenging me to justify my behavior with a valid idea. I had none.
Recently a friend asked me in all earnestness the same question. He asked, "What's the big idea of the Christian life?" He was interested in the overarching, ultimate goal of the Christian life.
To answer his question, I fell back on the theologian's prerogative and gave him a Latin term. I said, "The big idea of the Christian life is coram Deo. Coram Deo captures the essence of the Christian life."
This phrase literally refers to something that takes place in the presence of, or before the face of, God. To live coram Deo is to live one's entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God. (R. C. Sproul)
Now, in my opinion, Ray’s antics were funny--the absurdity of it all! This was a lighthearted television show. But in all seriousness, how many today could do no better in answering the “big idea” question of an inquisitive child? What is the meaning of life? Sadly, our godless culture is languishing under nihilistic philosophies which say that there is no meaning to life whatsoever. Their logic, though based upon a wrong premise [that there is no God], is solid. If there is no God, and thus we exist for no reason, then there can be no “big idea.”
Of course, if we exist meaninglessly in a universe of blind chance, if there is no “big idea;” from whence comes the notion, this idea, of a “big idea”? As C.S. Lewis aptly observed, when a man falls into water he feels wet. But fish, who live in water, have no sense of wetness. If the world is meaningless, and man is merely a small part of the world, man should have no conceptual category of “meaning.” Yet questions of ultimacy, though perhaps downplayed, never altogether disappear. These questions persist because man is created in the image of God.
The Bible alone sufficiently answers questions of ultimacy. To find out “why we’re born” we must look to God in His word. The questions posed to the fictitious “Ray Barone” and the very real R.C. Sproul, are essentially one and the same. Sproul answered his inquisitor that the “big idea” of Christianity, it’s ultimate goal, is to live one’s life fully and consistently aware of God’s presence and authority; “to the glory of God.” Does Sproul’s answer surprise you? It seems many people, including Christian people, think the ultimate goal of life is going to heaven. Though that is a goal of Christian living, it’s not the goal.
Sproul rightfully observes that “going to heaven” is not the center or essence of the Christian life. Rather, the essence of Christianity is coram Deo. What does it mean to “live one's entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God,” as Sproul put it? First, this will require mental effort. True, all orthodox Christians believe God is omnipresent, and therefore we are always in His presence. But are we mindful of His presence? Sunday, at church--yes. But what about Tuesday morning or Friday afternoon? To live coram Deo will necessitate that we foster a sense of God’s abiding presence--not just when we feel our need of Him or when we are being religious.
Second, coram Deo will not only challenge us mentally or intellectually, but also morally. We realize this omnipresent God’s authority not only extends to our actions but even to our thoughts. God is always with us and we are always under His authority. We must therefore think and behave according to His preceptive will as revealed in scripture. At no time and in no sense are we autonomous or our own. Body and soul, we belong to God. Christ is our Lord everywhere and always.
Finally, coram Deo challenges us not only mentally and morally, but also in the arena motive. The Christian who would live thus must strive to be godly not only in thought and deed, but also in motivation. Everything he does will be done to the glory of God. How susceptible we are to desiring glory for ourselves. How addicting is the praise of man. The Christian may indeed be gratified by the appreciation of others, but this gratification he offers to God. And this gratification can never be what motivates him. Coram Deo requires excellence, for one cannot halfheartedly do anything to the glory of God. Therefore, the Christian worships, works, and plays with all his might and to the best of his ability; all to God’s glory alone.
The Westminster catechism reads: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” Here we find that when we live coram Deo on earth, heaven is thrown in. What a marvelous thing. The treasure of Christ and the enjoyment of God now and always, is our exceedingly great reward. It’s the “big idea.”