Friday, March 19, 2010

God's Love is a Means to His Glory

One thing that I've been thinking about over these last couple days was spawned from listening to a recording of a Sunday School class that I taught on the Second Greatest Commandment. (It was actually out of the study that I did for that lesson that gave birth to For Our Benefit; see here, and here.)

In the lesson, I was speaking on how the essence of our love for our neighbor must be defined by, controlled by, and flow out of our love for God. A person in attendance asked if the gist of what I was saying undermined at all the notion that God created us for His glory. As I understood him at the moment, I answered, "What I'm saying doesn't undermine that at all. It actually establishes that very thing."

The Problem

Then he made a comment which, upon hearing it again, leads me to believe that even though it sounded like we were agreeing and saying the same thing, we really believed two different things about the subject. We spoke the same words, but meant different things by them. The comment he appended to "God created us for His glory," was "...because of His love."

Now, at the time, even as he said that, I offered hearty agreement. And I've actually listened to that recording a couple of times since then and haven't thought anything of it; it never occurred to me that I would have -- or even should have -- responded differently on second thought. But as I listened to that recording again a couple of days ago, and as I've mulled it over since, I think there is indeed something very wrong with that, that is, with saying: "God created us for His glory because of His love for us."

The Confusion

Put simply, it confuses the end and the means. Specifically, it makes God's pursuit of His glory subordinate to His love. In reality, His love is subordinate to His purpose to glorify Himself. It makes God's love the ground for the pursuit of His glory. Biblically, however, God's pursuit of His glory is the ground of all His acts of love. The error makes God's love His ultimate end and the pursuit of His glory the means of achieving the end of being loving. The truth is that God's glory is His ultimate end and loving undeserving people is a means to achieving that glory. God did not create us for His glory in order to love us. Rather, it is Biblical to say that God loved us in order to glorify Himself.

The Doctrine

I keep saying, "Biblically," and "Biblical," so I'd better back that up, right? I'll do it by turning to one of my favorite passages in the Bible: 2 Corinthians 4:4, and 4:6. They say:

The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. ... For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

There is a parallelism in these two verses which sheds glorious light on the concept I'm trying to explain. Let's note the parallels before going any further:

Verse 4: The light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Verse 6: The Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

So we see there's a correspondence. Each verse is teaching the same thing. The question is, what are they teaching, and what does it have to do with what I'm talking about?

These verses present three levels of the redemptive work of God. At level one, there is light. This is speaking of the Divine work of regeneration, when God gave us eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to believe. Regeneration is not the end, but the means to something more ultimate, namely, level two. At level two there is the knowledge of the Gospel. This is where God's love is consummately expressed: "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." The love of God expressed in the Gospel is level two. But even that is not the end, but is itself the means to something more ultimate, namely, level three. At level three, there is the glory of Christ who is the image of God, or the glory of God in the face of Christ. The Gospel -- the Good News -- is the Good News of God's glory!

The Good News is not merely that Jesus died for us! The Good News is that Jesus died for us in order to bring us to God (1Pet 3:18)! The loving, atoning work of Christ in the Gospel is a means to a greater end: that the people God has created would finally glorify Him by enjoying and being satisfied by His glory, for which they were created.

2 Corinthians 4:4 and 4:6 teach us that God did not open our eyes to see the glory of the gospel.
He opened our eyes to see the gospel of the glory.

So, when my commenter in Sunday School remarked that "God created us for His glory because of His love for us," he was subtly, yet extremely importantly, mistaken. God did not create us for His glory because He loved us. He loved us because it is by loving us that He achieves His greatest glory.

What Difference Could that Possibly Make?

A reasonable, yet frustrated objector might ask what in the world this has to do with anything. Is it just religious philosophy? Is it just argument for argument's sake? Is this just an entirely impractical seminary discussion?

I don't think so. I think that the position you take on this very issue defines who your God is, because it defines most fundamentally what your God is about. It defines what your God's ultimate purpose is in all that He does.

A God who submits the pursuit of His glory to a greater desire to "love" implies that He regards the objects of His love more highly than He regards Himself. While that might sound noble and selfless to man's reasoning (because of our man-centered view of love), it either (1) makes for a pitifully weak and small God -- because He is not worthy of His own chief regard -- or (2) it makes for an unrighteous God -- because even though He is worthy of His own chief regard He regards more highly something that is less worthy. This God is neither worthy of worship, nor able to save.

However, a God who is unwaveringly committed to upholding and displaying the glory of His name demonstrates a chief regard to Himself. In His own perfect judgment, there is nothing that deserves His allegiance more than Himself. This God then determines and defines His love by His ultimate purpose to bring glory to Himself. "Love," then, comes to mean benefiting the object of love by presenting to them what satisfies them most fully, namely, the glory of God which deserves unwavering allegiance. This God is absolutely worthy of all worship from all creatures. And it is out of such sufficiency that He is able to save freely.

Amazing, isn't it, the difference one little phrase can make?

UPDATE: See a follow-up post, where I answer an anticipated objection, here.

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