I sing lullabies to my four-year-old son.
I usually make them up on the fly, and they sound horrible. He appreciates them, though, and so, every night as I tuck him into bed, by his request, I sing him another one. I sing. I pray. I speak a blessing over him. And then I tell him that God loves him, and that he proved it when Jesus died on the cross.
What if one night he looks up at me and asks, “But Dad, you say that God created everything for his glory, and you’ve taught me that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, and I’m just wondering, how does all this work? Is God all about his receiving glory, or is he about giving love? Is he all about getting praise for himself or showing love to others?”
You might wonder the same thing, and perhaps with more specificity. Where should all the talk go, to God’s glory or to his love? Furthermore, is his love really love, or is it just a bait-and-switch to sell us on all the glory stuff? Is it, as one author fears, “just a cog in the bigger glory machine”?
See the Glory
First, let me say, it’s unhelpful to position God’s glory and his love against one another, as if they’re two separate, competing realities. They’re not. But the reasons might not be so obvious, and since “Calvinists” like me have been accused of getting this wrong, I’ll start here and explain.
The sum of all God’s manifold perfections is most vividly demonstrated in the death of Jesus Christ for sinners. Or another way to put that: God’s glory is most vividly demonstrated in his love.
This truth is seen definitively in Jesus (John 1:16–18; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Hebrews 1:3), but it didn’t just pop onto the scene with his incarnation. Going back to Exodus 34, after Moses had asked for God to show him his glory (Exodus 33:18), God responds by proclaiming his name: “The Lᴏʀᴅ, the Lᴏʀᴅ, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6).
Here was God’s opportunity, at the beginning of his rescue mission, to clear the air on how it works. All right, God, Moses says, please show me your glory. We should be on the edge of our seats, leaning in, panting for the answer. God could have flexed his power and spun out a couple hurricanes. He could have mentioned a few words and created several galaxies. He could have snapped his fingers and made all humans on earth simultaneously fall to their knees in homage. But he answers, I am full of grace and mercy. And so he is.
He proved it outside of Jerusalem in 33 A.D. when he gave his Son to save those who deserved his wrath (Romans 5:8; John 3:16). This was the moment when, in the most profound way, we could see the glory. It wasn’t in thunder or fire, but in the self-giving wounds of our Savior who loved his own to the end (John 13:1).
What Love Does
“God’s love for us—seen most vividly in the death of Jesus for sinners—is a love that frees us to enjoy him.”
So God’s glory and God’s love are incomprehensible apart from one another. His greatest glory is the supreme manifestation of his love. We don’t choose to favor one over the other. Instead, if we want to know God’s glory, we must look at this love and its concrete expression in Jesus’s self-sacrifice. And the more we press into the experience of his love, the more we’ll understand his glory — and that understanding is actually part of the love. God’s love for us includes his bringing us to delight in that love. We come to love the way he loves us, which, if we are seeing rightly, says more about him than it does ourselves.
Listen, we know how dirty it is in these hearts of ours. We know. You know. Yet he loves us. Oh, how he loves us. And the more we sing that line, knowing the truth about ourselves, the more our hearts melt in gratitude when we utter those words.
“Me?” we wonder. “He loves me?” Yes, he does.
And then we’re overcome. What a God! Who is like him? What grace! We’re bewildered by him. No, actually, we’re satisfied in him. In ways to which nothing else in this world can hold a candle, we are glad in him. We’re full of joy because of what he’s done, because of who he is. Above all things, we want him. This is what his love does. It’s part of what makes it love.
But wait a minute, isn’t this glorifying him?
My Happiest for His Brightest
“So which is it, Dad?” my son asks again. “Is God all about getting praise for himself or showing love to others?”
God’s love for us — seen most vividly in the death of Jesus for sinners — is a love that frees us to enjoy him. That is our deepest experience of praise. That is when his glory shines the brightest to our eyes. And that is what he is all about.
His love is a raging torrent that reshapes the landscape of our souls, saturating our lives with his sufficiency, opening our eyes to his worth, making us glad beyond our wildest dreams. And he’s committed to that. He’s most committed to the very thing that makes us most happy.
You can call that love.