Is God a means to an end?

I was taught that the purpose of life for each person is to know, love and serve God, and by this means to be happy with him for ever. Does this mean God is the means to an end, which is happiness?

The CCC 1718 seems to support this, where both St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas are quoted - “…Since in seeking you, my God, I seek a happy life, let me seek you so that my soul may live, for my body draws life from my soul and my soul draws life from you (St Augustine)
God alone satisfies (St Thomas Aquinas).

So does it appear that loving God is not my ultimate end, which is my own personal happiness? God is just the means I use to attain this end. This seems selfish, so I would appreciate clarification.

In finding God you first lose yourself.

You are not totally wrong but slightly off. Let me see if I can help, I’ve been writing a lot about this for my theology class.

Happiness is our end.

Personal happiness as you are imagining it is not really our final end. Instead our end is complete satisfaction and complete happiness. It is that point where you cannot desire more.

Think of even going for a scenic drive and you get to a vista and stop and admire…it’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. You are satisfied and happy in this…but you wonder if there is more…maybe around the next corner…something more beautiful. Our ultimate end is the place where these questions are no more. That place is only in God in perfect harmony with him.

St Thomas states that perfect happiness is the only thing that stands alone as an end, every other human action is a movement toward happiness or at least perceived happiness.

God is not a means to our end…he is our end as ultimate happiness is only found in him in the beatific vision.

God just is. Looking at him as a means to our end sort of divorces him from our end in my opinion. He is not just the final rung of the happiness ladder. He is the end, the being of whom union with brings are fulfillment.

Hopefully that helps.

Perhaps try reading the intro and first 5 questions of the first part of the second part of the Summa theologica.

He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning AND the end. Hence the symbols on the vestments.

1. Crusaderbear,

you tell me God is the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, and so symbols on vestments. This does not address my concerns.
2. Michael Mayo, **

You make God sound like alcohol. You claim that when you find God you get lost. Not so!

3.** Jon S,**

I am very grateful to you for your thoughtful, courteous, respectful, scholarly and rational reply to me. It has given me insights, but still does not resolve my problems fully. I have dipped into St Thomas, but you have given me specific references, which I will need to study and pray about. Thank you so much.


Fundamentally, I agree with you. We agree that each one of us seeks happiness. St Thomas distinguishes between beatitudo and felicitas, and the aim/end of each one of us is personal happiness (beatitudo) . Do you seem to contradict yourself, when you write that our end is ultimate happiness, which is found only in the beatific vision of God, yet God is the end? Does this not mean God is a means to the end, which is happiness? [If you imply that the answer is that God is my happiness, are we drifting into pantheism. This is another issue].

So as you can see I am still not clear, but the challenge is there for me to study, read, reflect and pray.

Again, thank you.

God is the means and the end. We can only attain the end for which we were created if we are united to God. Union with God and happiness are one and the same.

I think there needs to be a distinction between the result and the motivation of seeking union with God.

Your own personal happiness can and will result from your union with God, but it ought not be your reason for seeking Him.

Look at Christ’s life as an example of this distinction. He, more than any other man, lived an earthly life that most definitely would result in union with God in Heaven. And this, among others, was a result. Yet, was that His reason for living the way He did?

Consider Mark 10:44-45.

I am grateful to all who replied to me.

A priest in our parish said that for every difficult question there is a simple answer and it is usually wrong, and for me the query I had is difficult. So I appreciate the replies and they merit much reflection. I feel I am making progress, but I would appreciate more replies, as I am still not fully clear.

Thanks for your reply. I do not fully agree with you, but I almost do. Jesus Christ is not a good example for me as he was God, as well as man. He did not gain union with God through his life, as he was God. I reject adoptionism

You wrote “Your own personal happiness can and will result from your union with God, but it ought not be your reason for seeking Him.”

This awakens memories of what I learned in school over 60 years ago - the difference between perfect and imperfect love of God. But most of us cannot achieve perfect love, as we love God for our happiness, not for his glory.

So in conclusion I think we should aim at loving God for his own sake.

I read in

“His (Thomas Aquinas’) ultimate answer is that perfect happiness (beatitudo) is not possible on earth, but an imperfect happiness (felicitas) is. This puts Aquinas midway between those like Aristotle, who believed complete happiness was possible in this lifetime, and another Christian thinker, St. Augustine, who taught that happiness was impossible and that our main pleasure consists merely in the anticipation of the heavenly afterlife.”

Littlestsouls 2
Your answer is brief, but very sound.

God is the means and the end. We can only attain the end for which we were created if we are united to God. Union with God and happiness are one and the same.

I was at a talk recently by the Papal Nuncio to Ireland, the American Charles Brown, who said we belong to an “et… et” church, which sounds better that “both… and”. But it leaves the problem still not fully resolved. Our happiness is still our end, and union with God is the way to attain this.

*Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great * (1Tim 3:16 NRS).

As do I!

I agree with you; He didn’t gain personal happiness through His earthly life (He already had it - Philippians 2:5-7 is especially relevant), so that couldn’t have been his motivation for living that way. That was my point.

Likewise, if we’re to seek to imitate Christ, then our motivation is not to be our personal happiness. Yet it will certainly be one of the results of living according to God’s will.

Happiness is just a natural consequence of a soul that’s been united with God.

You seem to admit that our ultimate happiness is union with God. The fact that God is also the means to attain that happiness, i.e. Himself, does not seem problematic in that light. At least not to me. God Himself is the only Possible means to union with God, because of a simple logical deduction: the end is infinite, because the end is God. The means must be proportional to the end. Therefore, the means must be infinite, and the only infinite being is God. Therefore God is both the end we seek and the means to that end. Does that make sense?

Well put!

We cannot attain union with God if we are not united to God! It is very humbling to consider that we cannot bring about any good (including our own happiness) on our own.

It’s not at all selfish to desire happiness. Happiness is meant to be our homeostasis, so to speak. It’s God’s desire for us, He put that desire in us, and it’s what drives much of what we do, even if we may look for it in all the wrong places. Happiness is also God’s state of being, one which He desires to share. These are the teachings of the Church. We’d be foolish to not desire happiness. There’s something that will completely satisfy us, but it won’t be found here on earth, apart from Him. We’re here to begin to learn that lesson, of our need for Him, and this life, combined with revelation and grace, can accomplish just that.

So, yes, God is our peace, our well-being, our joy, our satisfaction, our happiness

Think of happiness as being a quantity that you can measure with a little meter. The more closely you are aligned in your life with God the higher your meter goes. This ability to be happy is itself a gift from God and was created for your benefit to allow you to align with God. But happiness itself is not the end.

Or like a little water detector that beeps faster the closer you get to water. You use your detector to find the water. The water then gives you more life. Is the beeping the goal? No, water is the goal, the beeping is one of the means that allows you to achieve it.

God created us with certain feedback controls to keep us able to align with him while also giving us certain freedoms. Just like a Father raises his children to enjoy hearing his voice, feeding them, guiding them, but allowing them to grow, make mistakes and learn to love.

I am grateful for the reply from fhansen, which I appreciate very much.

For me homeostasis means balance, or the need to maintain coordination, hence the Catholic “et…et” idea is important. I think I need a balance between my free will and God’s grace, and between seeking my happiness and God’s glory.

I think this thread could conclude now, as for my part I have a better understanding, but still I am not clear due to my limitations.

Perhaps the Jesuits got it correct with their motto of “ad majorem dei gloriam”, understood as a prayer, not a statement of fact.

In conclusion I should aim at loving God for his own sake, but in general this is impossible here on earth, so realistically I should settle for aiming at my own happiness, so what I learned in the old catechism over 60 years ago was not wrong. God made us to know, love and serve him in this life so as to become happy with him for ever in heaven.

Finally finally, many thanks for all who contributed here and helped me to get a better understanding, and to CA for allowing us to have this positive debate.


many thanks. I saw your comment after my previous post.
I really am not too happy with your reply, as it may seem to imply I should love God to get a higher reading on my meter, achieving a better seat in heaven (closer to God).

I came across this passage from St. Alphonsus, which mad me thing of this thread:

[quote=St. Alphonsus Liguori, Practice of the Charity of Jesus Christ]Thus we see that the desire to go and see God in Heaven, not so much for the delight which we shall experience in loving God, as for the pleasure which we shall afford God by loving Him, is pure and perfect love. Nor is the joy of the blessed in Heaven any hindrance to the purity of their love; such joy is inseparable from their love; but they take far more satisfaction in their love of God than in the joy that it affords them. Someone will perhaps say: But the desire of a reward is rather a love of concupiscence than a love of friendship. We must therefore make a distinction between temporal rewards promised by men and the eternal rewards of Paradise promised by God to those who love Him: the rewards given by man are distinct from their own persons and independent of them, since they do not bestow themselves, but only their goods, when they would remunerate others; on the contrary, the principal reward which God gives to the blessed is the gift of Himself: I am thy reward exceeding great. [Gen. xv. 1.] Hence to desire Heaven is the same thing as to desire God, Who is our last end.


Many thanks to you, and to all, who contributed to this thread.

I am very impressed with CA for allowing this discussion to take place and am grateful for the encouragement and help I received from the answers.

In thinking of this topic I think of Romans 9:3: (NRSV)

*For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. *

I wonder if this expand our reflections.

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