Interview with

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Audio Transcript

Why did God create us? It’s a grand and glorious question, and it touches the biggest issues of our lives that we can ever ask about. It is also today’s question from an APJ listener named Natalie. She writes in: “Pastor John, thank you so much for this podcast. I listen to every episode. I am a thinker — an overthinker, probably. And of late, my mind has been dwelling on the sufficiency of God himself, that he needs no one or nothing he creates. I affirm Acts 17:25 and Psalm 50:7–15. But the question I cannot answer is this, Pastor John: Why did God create us?”

This question is very important, both because of very high-level theological and philosophical reasons, and because when the alarm goes off this morning at 5:00 or 6:00 or 7:00, how you answer this question makes all the difference for why you get out of bed.

Sufficient in Himself

So, at the theological and philosophical level, the question is important because the way you answer it has a huge impact on the way you understand the nature of God himself; that is, What does it mean to be God? The technical term here that people debate is God’s aseity. The word aseity is built on the Latin words a, which means “from,” and se, which means “self.” So, the word means “from himself.”

God’s aseity is his existence from himself; that is, he exists without influence or input or resources or forces or anything from outside himself. Or the shorthand way to say aseity in common English would be God’s self-sufficiency. This is important because the biblical picture of God is that he is complete and sufficient and flawless, and without any defect or deficiency in and of himself. That means, before there was any creation, and apart from any creation, and independent of any creation, God was completely and flawlessly God.

“Creation did not make God more God or improve upon his perfection.”

Think, for example, of Exodus 3:14, where Moses asks God what he should say to the people of Israel when they ask him, “Who sent you?” And God says to Moses, “I Am Who I Am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I Am has sent me to you.’” In other words, God’s very name, Yahweh (which is built on the verb “I am” and occurs over six thousand times in the Bible) — every time you read the name, usually translated capital L-O-R-D in the English versions, that very name bears witness to the absolute existence of God in and of himself. “I Am. That’s my name. I Am: I depend on nothing, nobody to be who I am. I am absolute reality. I had no beginning. I will have no ending. And in relation to creation, I am not becoming what I am.”

Lots of people, especially process theologians, think that God is becoming God, that he is getting better all the time; he’s growing into what it means to be God. By creating the world and interacting with the world, he gets better. That’s not the way the Bible speaks. It’s not the way I think. I don’t think that’s the way we should think about God. We cannot improve upon God. He cannot improve. He says, “I Am. I always have been fully, perfectly, flawlessly God before and apart from all creation.” That’s what the doctrine of aseity, or God’s self-sufficiency, affirms and protects. And I think that’s a biblical reality that we should believe and stress.

Trinitarian Fullness

And I think the biblical reality and teaching of the Trinity — God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — is essential to that doctrine of God’s self-sufficiency. Because what the Trinity implies in the relationships between the Father and the Son and the Spirit is that God is love and has always been love. The Bible says, “God is love” (1 John 4:16). He has always been love. Before there was a world to love, God was love.

The divine Son is and always has been, in the fellowship of the Trinity, God’s image and God’s delight. He’s called both of those in the Bible. Jesus, before he was the incarnate Jesus Christ, was the Son of God. And in the fellowship of the everlasting, eternal Trinity, he was the perfect image of God, and he was the delight of God. God did not have to create the world in order to have full, satisfying joy in the fellowship of the Trinity.

So, the doctrine of aseity, or God’s self-sufficiency, not only protects the self-sufficiency and absoluteness of God’s Godness from any suggestion that creation is essential to his being (that’s the danger: thinking that creation is part of his being and his being perfect), but aseity also protects God’s nature as a Trinity of fully satisfied persons delighting in each other eternally apart from creation.

No Randomness in God

All of that implies a negative: God did not create the world out of any deficiency or defect. Creation did not make God more God or improve upon his perfection. So we ask, “Is there any way to answer the question, Why did he create the universe? Have we described God’s essential being and his Trinitarian fullness and his happiness in such a way as to virtually rule out any motive for creating the world, any motive that would not compromise his self-sufficiency?”

“God does everything to communicate and display to his creatures his own glory.”

I think it would be a great dishonor to God if we said that the creation of the universe was merely random or whimsical, with no purpose, no motive, no wise and purposeful design or motive at all, lest that purpose or motive be somehow construed as God finally being happy. “He’s got a creation to love,” or something like that. “Through creation he completes himself.” That would be a great dishonor to God to say that he couldn’t create with a motive and with wisdom and design without jeopardizing his Godness.

So, that answer to why he created the world, I think, would be called a heresy — like he was just whimsical, had no meaning, had no design in it, no motive behind it, no wisdom. That’s why the doctrine of God’s aseity is important, to protect us against that heresy.

Love Overflows

How, then, do we answer the question why God created? And I go to a passage like Isaiah 43:6–7 (and there are more, many more), remembering, by the way, that every promise of the Old Testament is yes in Christ for us Christians (2 Corinthians 1:20). For all who believe in Christ, those Old Testament promises are true. Isaiah 43:6–7 says,

Bring my sons from afar
     and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
     whom I created for my glory,
     whom I formed and made.

Now, on the basis of that text and many like it, I see that pervading the entire Bible is the teaching that God does everything to communicate and display to his creatures his own glory, his greatness, his beauty, his worth. The whole panorama of his perfections, he communicates that, displays that to his creatures, as the overflow of his love.

And I add very quickly: the reason that the communication and display of God’s glory is the overflow of his love is because that glory both rejoices the human heart supremely and reflects the greatness of God supremely. Or to say it with my favorite words, which you know, Tony, and we love together: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. God’s eternal love in the fellowship of the Trinity was a perfectly God-satisfying, God-glorifying joy. Before there was any creation, God’s fullness was on display for God among the persons of the Trinity. And God’s fullness was the undiminished delight of the persons of the Trinity.

“It’s the nature of the fullness of the divine love to share itself. That’s just what love is like in God.”

And this is what he communicated in creation to us, to his people. He gave to all who would have it, all who would receive it as their treasure, he gave us a share in the God-displaying, God-glorifying delight that God has in God. And if you press even harder on me and say, “But why? Why did he do this if he was so full and happy without creation?” I would say it’s the nature of the fullness of the divine love to share itself. That’s just what love is like in God. And this sharing is not the completion of God or the improvement of God. Jonathan Edwards, I think, said it most memorably when he said, “It is no argument of the emptiness or deficiency of a fountain that it is inclined to overflow.”

God’s Purpose — and Ours

When the alarm goes off now at 5:00 or 6:00 or 7:00 tomorrow morning, you can know, and this is glorious — individually, personally, existentially so relevant — you can know the purpose for which God made you and why you should get out of bed. We exist to see and savor and show the beauty and worth and greatness of God in every sphere of our lives. Paul said, “Whether you eat or drink [in other words, in the most nitty-gritty things], or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

We exist to bring our lives into alignment with the purpose of God in creation — namely, his purpose to communicate his glory in the overflow of his God-exalting, soul-satisfying love. And what that alignment looks like is this: our magnifying God’s glory by finding him to be the most satisfying reality in the universe.