Capitalism is about maximising things. Your aim is to maximise your productivity in order to maximise your profits in order to maximise the amount of value you add to the world. Or something like that.
What about Christianity? It is possible to make it sound similar. Your aim is to maximise your productivity in order to maximise the amount of good you do in order to maximise the extent to which your life brings glory to God. Or something like that.
The common factor is the concern to maximise things. Is God in the business of maximisation?
I’m not sure he is.
Why did God create the world? Was it in order to bring more glory to himself? Is God’s central concern to maximise the glory given to his name? And was this the reason for creating the universe? Is God + creation more glorious than God without creation?
Surely not. God the Holy Trinity enjoyed perfect bliss before the world was created. Creation wasn’t the answer to some defect in God. Creation doesn’t add anything to God, nor does it make him happier than he was before.
So why did God create the world? Just because! It was simply a gratuitous overflow of his eternal happiness. God didn’t need to create, but he did anyway. It is a gift!
What does that mean for us maximising things? It means that when we think the purpose of our lives is to maximise something, we need to be careful. Is this really what God wants us to be concerned about? Or are we absorbing something from a culture that is obsessed with maximising things?
I’m not saying we should never think about maximising things, or about being productive. Of course, it matters how we make use of the time and resources we have been given. But that doesn’t mean it should be the central consideration governing every detail of our lives.
Perhaps just doing something for sheer enjoyment is not always a bad thing? Yes, having fun can increase our productivity. Happy people are more productive, after all. But that is to make enjoyment into something instrumental, and to rob it of all its fun. Creation as a whole doesn’t exist in order to maximise something. So there’s no reason why every moment of our lives should be carefully planned to maximise something either. Like our Creator, it is OK for us to do things ‘just because’, without it needing to serve some greater purpose. To do so is surely a foretaste of the eternal joy of the new creation.
(Astute readers might think I’m having a go at John Piper, and Jonathan Edwards behind him. I’m not sure if I am. I hope I’m not. I’m certainly having a go at something that sounds a little bit like them. But I suspect, and hope, that it would be a caricature. Which is why I haven’t mentioned them. Except in parentheses.)