“The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
from the Westminster Shorter Catechism
Lately I’ve been thinking about what glorifying God looks like. How do we do this? What does it mean?
Perhaps one of the reasons I’ve been pulled into these musings is that it’s been a recurring theme coming from those in the neo-reformed camp.
“Give God the glory.”
“Don’t rob God of his glory.”
“God gets all the glory.”
There was a nagging thought in the back of my mind that wouldn’t go away when I considered the idea of glorifying God: God is self-serving, and interested only in his own glory. At some level, I suppose, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I mean, if you’re the most powerful, magnificent, and other being in the universe, who else would you glorify?
But the deeper I dug into this thought, the more uncomfortable I became with it. Questions started to arise in my mind that I was afraid to address. Was God so insecure that he would demand (read: dictate, determine) the praise of his creatures? What exactly was it about him that needed to be glorified or magnified? Power? Holiness? Distinctness? Sovereignty?
Is that what set him apart from all other deities?
I began to grow weary of the pat answers that did little more than create an image of a god who was after nothing more than his own glory.
Then again, why shouldn’t he be? He is God after all.
But isn’t there something inside you that balks at the thought? Isn’t there something in all of this talk of glory that, despite all the logical consistencies of something like TULIP, makes God frightening? Or worse yet, unloving?
What if we took a step back and looked at what God is trying to communicate to us through the whole of Scripture? There seems to be a story unfolding that reveals a most unusual central character.
As he reflected on the story, St. John wrote, “The person who doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love” (emphasis added). So this is who God is.
Obsession with one’s own glory hardly looks like love, and if love is how God defines himself, shouldn’t that be how we see him?
I turn at this point to N. T. Wright, who said it far better than I could have said it myself.
“[John Piper] sees [God’s righteousness] as God’s concern for God’s own glory, which implies that God’s primary concern returns, as it were, to himself. There is always of course a sense in which that is true. But the great story of Scripture, from creation and covenant right on through to the New Jerusalem, is constantly about God’s overflowing, generous, creative love—God’s concern, if you like, for the flourishing and well-being of everything else. Of course, this too will redound to God’s glory because God, as the Creator, is glorified when creation is flourishing and able to praise him gladly and freely. And of course there are plenty of passages where God does what he does precisely not because anybody deserves it but simply ‘for the sake of his own name.’ But ‘God’s righteousness’ is regularly invoked in Scripture, not when God is acting thus, but when his concern is going out to those in need, particularly to his covenant people. The tsedaqah elohim, the dikaiosynē theou, is an outward-looking characteristic of God, linked of course to the concern for God’s own glory but essentially going, as it were, in the opposite direction, that of God’s creative, healing, restorative love. God’s concern for God’s glory is precisely rescued from the appearance of divine narcissism because God, not least God as Trinity, is always giving out, pouring, out, lavishing generous love on undeserving people, undeserving Israel and an undeserving world. That is the sort of God he is, and ‘God’s righteousness’ is a way of saying, ‘Yes, and God will be true to that character.'”
This truth cannot be overstated.
God is, by definition, love. All other attributes and actions that God possesses and commits must conform to this standard. It is who he is, and that is what remains unchanged and unchangeable about him.
John Wesley, in his Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament wrote the following concerning 1 John 4:8: “‘God is love.’—This little sentence brought St. John more sweetness, even in the time he was writing it, than the whole world can bring. God is often styled holy, righteous, wise; but not holiness, righteousness, or wisdom in the abstract, as he is said to be love; intimating that this is his darling, his reigning attribute, the attribute that sheds an amiable glory on all his other perfections.”
What then does this say of God’s glory?
John Piper famously said that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” Not necessarily untrue, but if I understand John 13:34-35, 1 Corinthians 13:13, and Philippians 2:5-11 correctly, then this statement would be far truer if styled, “God is most glorified in us when we most explicitly model his self-giving love to those around us.”
God’s glory is found in his love.