We’re going deep today. I mentioned on Monday that I have a batch of related questions to offer you, Pastor John — all big, all touching on several points of theology, all similar, all accumulated over the years from reading audience emails. I think they’re the kinds of questions all of us will face at some point as we read our Bibles and develop an appropriate God-centered vision of the universe. So, as a first foray on this podcast into this matrix, I’ll put all the related questions on the table for you, in brief.
Our God-centeredness here at Desiring God raises questions about the integrity of creation — questions about us humans in particular. So, here are those questions: Are we, as creatures, simply a means to God’s own self-glorification? Do we exist for a purpose beyond God’s own self-glory? And does God love us beyond his love for himself, or is the first fully subsumed by the second? Are we, as image-bearers, simply mirror-holders for him to see himself? Do we count? Does God love or delight in his creatures for what they are in themselves? Speaking of unbelievers, does God delight in materially blessing creatures that do not or will not believe in him? But speaking of believers, does God love to love us simply because it blesses us? Is such a category even operable? How would you tackle a matrix of questions like these?
It might be helpful to clarify what gives rise to these kinds of questions, then give a very brief, one-sentence answer to each of those nine questions, then step back and look at the Bible and see what it is about God and his ways that makes those very brief answers justifiable and compelling, and then explain why those answers make sense.
What Provokes the Questions
So, what gives rise to these questions is that I, and many others in the history of the church, have emphasized the biblical teaching that God created and redeemed his people for his own glory — meaning, to cause his glory (his greatness, his beauty, his worth) to be known and treasured and shown in the universe. That’s what I think “for his own glory” means.
“Stars and stones and mountains are means to God’s self-glorification, but not the way humans are.”
“My sons . . . my daughters . . . whom I created for my glory” (Isaiah 43:6–7). We’re chosen, predestined, adopted, redeemed through the blood of Christ for the praise of the glory of God’s grace (Ephesians 1:4–7). And that teaching — namely, that all things are from him and through him and to him, to his glory — that teaching causes all these questions to be raised. So, let me respond to each of these nine questions with a very short answer and then look at the main thing in Scripture.
Nine Brief Answers
Question 1: Are we simply a means to God’s self-glorification?
No, not simply, because stars and stones and mountains are means to God’s self-glorification, but not the way humans are. It’s not that simple.
Question 2: Do we exist for a purpose beyond God’s own self-glory?
No. There is no such thing as “beyond God’s glory.”
Question 3: Does God love us beyond his love for himself, or is the first fully subsumed in the second?
God has no greater love than the love he has for his Son, who is “the radiance of [his] glory . . . and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). And that love for his Son is, therefore, a love for his own infinitely glorious self. To love us with that same love cannot be improved upon.
Question 4: Are we as image-bearers simply mirror-holders for him to see himself?
No, he didn’t need us in order to simply see himself. He has done that with infinite joy in the fellowship of the Trinity from all eternity.
Question 5: Do we count?
Yes, he did not need to create, and he did not create for nothing.
Question 6: Does God love or delight in his creatures for what they are in themselves?
What humans are in themselves, apart from our reliance on God and rejoicing in God, is what hell is for. It is not wise to want to be loved the way a human in hell might be loved.
Question 7: Does God delight in materially blessing creatures that will never believe in him?
Yes, God delights in the overflow of mercy even where it is spurned.
Question 8: Speaking of believers, does God love to love us simply because it blesses us?
God’s blessing us is never simply for us without also being for him because there is no eternal blessing where our good does not include God.
Question 9: Is that category even operable — namely, the category of God’s loving us simply because it blesses us?
No, it is atheistic to think it would be good for God to bless us in a way that did not glorify his grace by our enjoyment of it.
From Suppressing to Rejoicing
Now, let me see if I can put some biblical truth underneath those short answers.
First, we need to take really seriously the fact that there is a powerful atheistic tendency in every human heart. That’s what it means to be fallen and depraved and sinful by nature. Humans “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18). What truth do we suppress? “They did not approve of having God in their knowledge” (Romans 1:28, my translation). They “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images” (Romans 1:23). “The mind [of] the flesh is hostile to God” (Romans 8:7). In other words, the Bible teaches that human beings by nature are going to be powerfully resistant to any doctrine that emphasizes the absolute supremacy of God in all things and that makes God the ultimate good of all that is good.
“Our ultimate good always consists in knowing and treasuring and showing God’s glory.”
Then the second thing to notice from the Bible is that, over and over and over again, God himself and all that he is for us in Jesus is shown to be the ultimate good, the ultimate fulfillment, happiness, satisfaction, and joy of the redeemed human heart. If you trace God’s love from its origin in the eternal grace of God, through his redeeming work in Christ, to the ultimate and greatest, most beautiful, most satisfying end, that end is always God — God himself enjoyed supremely in the heart of the redeemed.
Jesus prays for us that we would see his glory (John 17:24). That’s his ultimate, final wish of love for us — that we would see his glory, and that we would be able to love him with the very love that the Father has for him. Peter says that Christ suffered for us “that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18), where we find “fullness of joy . . . pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). That’s what God will be for the redeemed.
Out with Atheism
Now, what this boils down to is this: it never makes sense to speak of God delighting in doing us good and God delighting in his own glory as though our ultimate good could be distinct from the glory of God. It never makes sense to talk like that; it can’t be, because our ultimate good always consists in knowing and treasuring and showing God’s glory.
The resistance to this wonderful truth that God’s glory shines in me by my happily exulting in him, as if there could be some greater happiness if I could just be me — distinct from reliance on God, distinct from rejoicing in God, distinct from glorifying God — that resistance is evil. It is a remnant of the atheistic nature we were born with, and we need to ask God to take it away.