Is God Less Glorified in the Judgment of Sinners?
Peter writes in to ask: “Pastor John, is the statement, ‘God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him’ a universal statement, or meant only for believers? For those who are judged, is there a different way to say it, that God is most glorified in them through his judgment against them? In other words, what is the flip side of the positive side of your famous statement?”
This is a crucial clarification that needs to be made, so thank you for the opportunity. Yes, I love to say: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in God, in him, which naturally raises the question: Do I think God is less glorified in people who don’t even believe in him and, thus, find no satisfaction in him at all? Which is really another way of asking: Is God less glorious because evil exists? Is he less glorious because unbelief exists, because judgment in hell exists? And my statement also raises the question whether God is less glorious if I have a low season of joy in him. So, let me start with that last question.
The Glory of God in the Particulars
When I say God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him, I mean, in the act of enjoying God, we make God look more glorious in that moment, in that act, than we would if we were bored with him or hostile to him. That is what I mean. An enjoyed treasure is an honored treasure. A neglected treasure is a dishonored treasure. That is what I mean. So, I am talking about any given moment in the life of a believer.
In the act of enjoying God, we make him look more glorious in that moment than we would if we were bored with him.
God commands us to glorify him all the time in all that we do (1 Corinthians 6:20; 10:31). So, at any given moment, the question arises: Am I, by my thoughts, my feelings, my bodily actions, showing God to be the treasure that he is or not? That is what I think it means to glorify God: show him to be the treasure that he is. The point of my little saying is simple and limited. In our reckoning of whether we are showing God to be our supreme treasure, one key issue — not the only one — one key issue is whether we are satisfied in him at that moment.
If other things in that moment are more satisfying than God, then we are not making God look supremely valuable and supremely satisfying. So, in that moment God is not most glorified in us. That is what I mean by it. It is a pervasively relevant question, because it is a valid question at any moment and has to do with our ultimate calling at every moment to glorify God in those moments and make him look extremely, supremely valuable.
And not only is it pervasively relevant, this point and this question, but it is for many people and some theological traditions shocking and threatening, because it says: Your emotions, your spiritual affections — and those spiritual affections are real emotions, though they are never merely worldly emotions since they are aroused by the Holy Spirit — they are always crucial in obedience.
Your emotions, your spiritual affections, are always crucial in obedience.
There are a lot of traditions and a lot of people who don’t like that thought that our emotions are crucial in glorifying God in any given moment in obedience to God. You can’t obey the command to glorify God fully if your emotions towards God are non-existent for him or unengaged in him or less than they are for other things. You can’t. That is the point of that statement.
But even though my little statement that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him is pervasively relevant and valid in every moment and is shocking and threatening to some, it is only one important question to ask about how God is glorified. That is why the question we are addressing here is so important.
The Steadfast Glory of God
So, in answer to the question, “Is God less glorious if I have low seasons of joy in him?” is no. He is not. His glory does not rise and fall as my effectiveness in showing him glorious rises and falls. He remains glorious in my low seasons and my high seasons and, though I don’t show his glory as clearly as I should in those low seasons, even those seasons will be used by God’s overall scheme to show himself in other ways more glorious — though I may lose some of the pleasure of being a part of those ways.
“Satan and his devils and his people cannot hold God hostage and rob him of his glory as they rebel against him.”
Now, I would say the same thing about that other question. Is God less glorious because evil exists? Is he less glorious because unbelief exists or because judgment or hell exist? No. Satan and his devils and his people cannot hold God hostage and rob him of his glory as they rebel. They can’t successfully say, as they are thrown into the lake of fire, “Ha! At least we robbed you of your glory by not being satisfied in you and not making you look like a supreme treasure.”
The word hallelujah occurs in the New Testament four times, all of them in Revelation 19:1–6. And what is God being praised for there? I will read it.
“After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven,” — that is us — “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.’ Once more they cried, ‘Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.’” (Revelation 19:1–3)
The prostitute represents Babylon, the archetypal city of unbelief and hostility to God. And one thing is clear here: such opposition from Satan and from men will not result in everlasting frustration in heaven, but is an everlasting praise — not because sin is praiseworthy, but because God’s response to it is true and just. “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute” (Revelation 19:1–2).
So, is God less glorious because evil exists? Is he less glorious because unbelief exists? Is he less glorious because judgment and hell exist? The answer is no. As Psalm 76:10 says, “Surely the wrath of man will praise you.”