Is God Glorified in Those Who Reject Him?
We know God is most glorified in those who most love him, and that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. But is God at all glorified in those who reject him? It’s the question from an international listener named Jenred.
Jenred asks, “Pastor John, if God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in him, why does he use that nearly constant refrain, ‘so that they may know that I am the Lord,’ in reference to things that would not bring about the satisfaction of anyone, and were certainly not done for that specific purpose? There are many times when God seems, to me, perfectly content with people seeing his glory and realizing that he is God, even though that realization is in terror and judgment. How do you make sense of this?”
This is a really important question, especially for someone like me, a Christian Hedonist. It’s an important question for everyone because it’s about God’s ultimate purposes, both in painful things as well as pleasant things. It’s a question about how these purposes relate to the glory of God and his commitment to glorify himself in everything he does.
Upholding His Glory
Let me restate the question so that we all have it clear and can see the relevance of it.
He’s responding to the central claim of Christian Hedonism — namely, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. His question assumes, rightly, that God is zealous for his glory. He’s always committed to uphold and magnify and communicate his glory.
“When people refuse to be satisfied in God, the glory of his wrath is magnified when they are justly punished.”
He alludes to the first question of the Westminster Catechism, which asks, “What is the chief end of man?” Then it answers, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
His question begins by putting in place things that we agree on:
- God is always upholding and magnifying and communicating his glory in everything that he does in history.
- God is most glorified in us when we’re most satisfied in him.
Those two premises are biblical, I believe, and it seems Jenred agrees. For Jenred, they create problems — problems of understanding verses like in Ezekiel: “Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I have made the land a desolation and a waste because of all their abominations that they have committed” (Ezekiel 33:29).
In the book of Ezekiel, the prophet says 72 times that God will do things so that you may know that he is Lord. It’s astonishing. It happens over and over again. Jenred assumes, rightly, that this is an expression of God’s zeal for his glory.
Then he identifies the problem — some of these things that God does in order that we may know that he is the Lord, that he may get glory, are painful things toward us that don’t quicken in people satisfaction in God. He wonders, “Well, if God is most glorified by our being satisfied in him, how can he get glory like Ezekiel says he does by doing things that don’t satisfy us but damn us — send people to hell?”
Now, there are at least two answers.
1. God’s Global Glory
First, when I say, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him,” I am referring to how God is most glorified or magnified in us — that is, in us who believe. I’m not talking about a general, cosmic statement about how God maximizes his glory in the universe. I’m talking about whether God is more glorified this afternoon in John Piper’s heart and life by my being satisfied in him, or whether he is more glorified this afternoon by my being less satisfied in him.
“God means for the world to see him as glorious both in his mercy and his wrath.”
That’s the issue, because what I’m trying to argue for is that all believers should pursue, and I mean pursue with all their might, maximum satisfaction in God over against money and sex and leisure and family and even ministry. My argument for that pursuit is that God is less glorified on any given day in my heart and life if I am begrudgingly obedient rather than being joyfully obedient because he satisfied my soul.
That’s the first answer. The statement that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him is not a statement about the way God maximizes his glory in the universe and all his creatures. It’s a statement about how God commands people to glorify him in this world in their hearts.
2. The Glory of His Wrath
The second answer: when people refuse to be satisfied in God and live lives of preferring other things to God and finding more satisfaction in other things than God, the glory of his wrath is magnified when they are justly punished. In other words, God is not only glorified when his people are satisfied in him. He is also glorified when he is defied by people and then pours out on them a just and holy wrath, and the glory and rightness and moral beauty of that wrath is made visible.
This is the point of Romans 9:22–23. It goes like this: “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory?” That’s what’s going on in Ezekiel when repeatedly God says, “So that you may know that I am the Lord.” This holds true even when he’s performing acts of judgment.
God means for the world to see him as glorious, both in his mercy and his wrath. It’s not as though God is glorious when he shows mercy and inglorious when he shows wrath and judgment. Both his wrath and his mercy are glorious. They are perfectly just, perfectly proportioned, perfectly expressed.
I would say, in view of the logic of Romans 9:22–23, that part of the glory in the display of wrath and mercy is that the wrath is intended by God to make the mercy look all the more astonishing and precious and beautiful and glorious.
God’s Glory in Judgment
Let me end the way the Bible does in the book of Revelation, as the glory of God, the praises of God, rise both in response to judgment and in response to salvation. Here’s Revelation 19, with some excerpts from verses 1–7:
“God has designed his wrath to make his mercy look all the more astonishing and precious and beautiful and glorious.”
I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” (Revelation 19:1–2)
Once more, they cried, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.” (Revelation 19:3).
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready.” (Revelation 19:6–7)
The hallelujah to God’s glory will rise forever and ever, both for the mercy experienced at the supper of the Lamb, and for the judgment that falls upon those who have rejected that mercy and dishonored God in unbelief. Nothing I say or mean by the sentence “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him” is intended to contradict any of that, but only affirm it.