We live in fractured and chaotic times. And we also know that God’s glory is important. So, when we survey our world, and we mentally run the numbers, so to speak, to find the evidence, which side of the scale tips? Does this world bring God mostly honor? Or does it bring God mostly dishonor? In creation, and in this drama of human history, which side is winning out?
I love unique, big-picture questions like this one today from a listener named Sam in Brighton, England. “Dear Tony and Pastor John, I have been listening to your podcast for two years now, and have found it invaluable in my own personal journey toward a Christ-centered life. The key foundation of the APJ ministry is that God wishes to be glorified in the everyday actions of his creatures, and that this is both satisfying and pleasing to him. I greatly enjoy the study of history and what it tells us about the human condition. My interests are in human conflict and approaches to peace. So often it appears, however, that human history is full of violence, war, and suffering. My question is this: How does this enormous weight of non-God-glorifying acts stack up against God’s desire to be glorified? I realize that God ultimately requires nothing from us, but how can he be satisfied if, quite possibly, there have been far more God-dishonoring acts across the span of human history than God-glorifying ones? How does the philosophy of Christian Hedonism answer this imbalance?”
Maybe there’s an imbalance — but maybe not. Sam’s observation is that on the one hand, the Bible teaches that God aims to be glorified in this world. That’s absolutely right. God says, for example, in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” And Isaiah 43:7 says that God’s people are created for the glory of God.
And the prophets teach that eventually the earth will be covered with the glory of God like the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14). In Ezekiel 20, several times, it says that just when it seemed that the world or evil got the upper hand, God says, “But I . . . acted for the sake of my name” — my glory (Ezekiel 20:22). So, it’s really clear from the Bible that God intends for nature and history and redemption to serve the glorification of his excellence. Yes.
Then on the other hand, Sam points out, because he’s a student of history, that the world seems to be full of non-God-glorifying acts more, he would think, than God-glorifying acts. And he wonders how I would address that, especially from the standpoint of Christian Hedonism. So let me try in six steps.
Creation Declares His Glory
First, I would observe that nature, from the smallest subatomic particle to the largest gathering of galaxies, is constantly, without pause, and in millions upon millions of ways, declaring the power and the wisdom of God in this world. Every animal, every human mind and body, every flower, every tree, every cloud, every river, the sun, the moon, the stars, and all the interworkings of these realities — they all give an exquisite testimony to the brightness and truth of the glory of God.
“God is always and everywhere shouting the wisdom of all that he has made.”
It would be difficult to quantify this and say that somehow this is less, say, than the calamities of the world that might detract from the glory of God. God is always and everywhere shouting the wisdom of all that he has made. “The heavens [are telling] the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). “In wisdom [he has] made them all” (Psalm 104:24).
And just this morning in my devotions, I read that section in Romans 1:18 to the end of the chapter, where it says everybody knows God, and the creation of the world, all the works that he has made, is revealing the invisible attributes of God. There’s just no room for saying that God is not revealing his glory continually through the things he’s made. So, that’s the first thing I would observe. It is an overwhelming testimony, and oh how blind the world is!
God Always Acts for His Name
Second, I would draw attention to the phrase in the Bible “that they may know that I am the Lord.” That phrase occurs 88 times in the Bible; 72 of them are in the book of Ezekiel. That’s amazing.
Even more amazing is that this phrase is used both when God’s people are being saved and when they are being judged. It’s used when secular nations are getting the upper hand and when they are being punished. So, I think the intention is that in all of history, whether we see it or not, God is acting for the sake of his name, so that someday we will have eyes to see the way he worked for his name and his glory in the events that did not seem that way to us at all at the time.
God’s Glory Often Shines Unseen
Third, and this is the most clear and specific and stunning illustration of what I just said — namely, the cross of our Lord Jesus. As Jesus comes to the end of his life, and he contemplates that in the next hours he will be crucified, he prays like this (this is John 12:27–28):
“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
In other words, in the absolute worst, most sinful event in the history of the world, the grace of God was being put on display, and nobody saw it. God’s glory was shining. The fact that nobody saw it doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. Later, through the eyes of faith and with divine interpretation, we do see it. That’s what 2 Corinthians 4:6 says — we do see it. But when it happened, nobody saw it. And I think that’s the way it is with most of what God is doing in this world in this fallen age.
Human Sin Magnifies God’s Grace
Fourth, when we ask why there is such pervasive failure on the part of God’s people in this world to live in a way that glorifies God, and why the Bible itself is such a relentless history of failure by God’s people, not to mention the nations, Romans 3:19–20 gives a remarkable insight.
Paul has just finished indicting the whole human race, Jew and Gentile, under the power of sin, and then he says this:
Now we know that whatever the law says [all those Old Testament quotations he’s just given to show the pervasive sinfulness of the human race] it speaks to those who are under the law [that’s Jewish people] so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of law no human being will be justified in his sight.
In other words, one of the purposes of the history of failure among God’s people is to stop the mouth of every human being and make clear that no one can get right with God through law-keeping, but only through absolutely free, glorious sovereign grace. So, God intends to show that humans are in an absolutely hopeless condition, and thus to magnify the freedom and the beauty of his grace.
All Will Be Clear in the End
Fifth, this leads to the observation that in the end we will be able to see the God-glorifying purposes of God more clearly than we can now. Consider two images. You’ve probably all heard these. I find them both very helpful. First, the imagery of a tapestry. I think Corrie Ten Boom used to talk about this. Now we see the ugly loose strands at the bottom of the tapestry — nothing beautiful about it that we can see, except by the eye of revelation. But then we will see it from the top, and the tapestry will be complete. It will be beautiful, with the strands all in their proper place. And that will be what history is.
“In the end, we will be able to see the God-glorifying purposes of God more clearly than we can now.”
Or consider the image, similarly, of a painting. God is now painting a mural of universal history and creation and redemption. And as that mural comes into being, we see this corner; we see that corner; we see this darkness; we see that little bright spot. And we can’t make much sense out of it as a whole, just staring at history with all of its mixed colors and shapes. But in the end, when it’s complete, everything will fit together; everything will make sense. It will be a perfect display of the glory of God’s wisdom and power and grace.
We Will Delight in God Fully
The last thing I would say is this: Christian Hedonism says that God will succeed in finishing the tapestry and completing the mural in such a way that there will be a perfect communication of the perfections and beauties of God in all their proper proportion. And God will succeed also in creating a people for himself who finally have eyes to see that glory for what it really is — and hearts finally able, with appropriate intensity, to delight in God’s beauty the way they should. And that delight will be the consummation of the demonstration of the glory of the grace of God.