We get loads of hard questions that require us to think carefully. Like this one: Is God independent from his creation, or is God dependent on his creation? Does he need his creation, or does he not need his creation? The implications here are huge. The email is from a listener named Chris.
“Dear Pastor John, I have followed your ministry for many years. I have long considered myself a seven-point Calvinist as well — specifically when it comes to the argument that we are in the best of all possible worlds because God is after the greatest amount of glory for himself and the greatest good for his people. But I see a potential conflict with the independence of God.
“If it is true that God truly exists independently and without need of anyone or anything, does this conflict with him needing creation in order to display the fullness of his attributes and receive the fullness of his glory? Another way of asking it is this: Could God have been just as glorified without creation? If so, then does the doctrine of best of all possible worlds lose meaning? If he could not have done it another way, because of his commitment to his glory, then wasn’t he in a sense forced all along to act out of a dependency on creation?”
Let’s take three of Chris’s phrases and analyze them and then move toward a general answer to his concern. I’m not picking on Chris here; I think virtually everybody who asks this kind of question runs into these kinds of difficulties.
Let’s start with the phrase “glorified without creation.” He asked, “Could God have been just as glorified without creation?” Now, the passive verb glorified implies that there’s a glorifier. If we supplied this glorifier, the question answers itself. Here’s what it sounds like: “Could God have been just as glorified by creation without creation?” No. If there’s no creation, then creation cannot glorify God. Since creation is everything that is not God, the only thing outside God that could glorify God is God’s creation.
“God has no need of anything outside God to make him any more God, any more perfect, any more complete than he is.”
There aren’t any other viable options for God being glorified by anything outside God except creation, which brings us to the real question; namely, does God’s intra-Trinitarian glory, before there’s any creation at all — just Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the eternal joy of the Trinity, and in the beauty and holiness of that fellowship — need to be glorified by creation?
Does God Need Anything?
Chris asked, “If God truly exists independently and without need of anyone or anything, does this conflict with him needing creation in order to display the fullness of his attributes and receive the fullness of his glory?” Now, that’s a tricky question because the word need changes meaning mid-sentence.
The first use of the word need is that God is fully God, complete without any defect in himself at all. Chris says, “If God truly exists independently and without need of anyone or anything . . .” Stop right there. That’s right. The answer is yes, yes he does. He is independent from all that is not God. As such, he has no need of anything outside God to make him any more God, any more perfect, any more complete than he is.
So far, so good. God has no need at all for anything to make him more God, more complete, more perfect. But then the sentence continues: “Does this conflict with him needing creation in order to display the fullness of his attributes and receive the fullness of his glory?” Well, now Chris has made the word need here refer to God’s display of his fullness and receiving glorification from outside of God. That was not the issue in the first half of the sentence.
It’s one thing to ask, “Does God need anything from outside God to be the independent, full, perfect, complete, all beautiful, all-glorious, all-worthy God that he is?” The answer is no, he doesn’t.
It’s another thing to ask, “Does God need a recipient of his glory outside of himself in order to receive glorification from outside himself?” Well, of course he does. The answer is really contained in the way the question is posed. Although, I’m going to come back to this: the word need might not be the right word there because it has connotations that would be all wrong.
God Cannot Be Forced
But let’s cut to the chase. His concern began with my claim, and he agrees with my claim that this is the best of all possible worlds from creation to consummation, all things considered. This is the best world for God to accomplish all he aims to accomplish — namely, the revelation of the full range of his glory in the sum total of all his attributes, climaxing in his grace, supremely revealed in the redeeming work of Christ on the cross, with all its undeserved benefits for his people and, best of all, their enjoyment of him in his glorious presence forever and ever. It is the best world for the accomplishing of that. That was his ultimate purpose.
“God does not need creation in order to be God, and he is not forced to create it.”
The implied question from Chris is “If this world is best, and God must surely do what is best, then is God, to use Chris’s words, ‘forced all along to act out of a dependency on creation?’” That is, since this world accomplishes all that God aims for it to accomplish in revealing the fullness of his wisdom, and the holiness of his nature, and his righteousness and wrath and goodness and mercy and love, for the enjoyment of his people, then is he forced to create this world and thus be dependent on it, and thus be less perfect in himself?
Now, here are three reasons why I think we are sent on a wild goose chase by the word forced — three reasons why that word cannot properly describe God’s action in creation and redemption. Let me read again what he said. He said, “Is God then forced all along to act out of a dependency on creation?” Since he has to do what’s best — that’s the best of all possible worlds — therefore, he has to create; therefore, he’s forced; therefore, he’s imperfect. I think that’s a wild goose chase. To use that kind of language for God is wrong and unhelpful in three ways or for three reasons.
1. Free from Coercion
First, for some, the word forced would connote that there is a power outside God that coerces him to act against his internal preferences. That’s not the case. That implication of force does not apply to God, and we should get it out of our heads.
2. Free from Internal Struggle
Second, for others, the word forced would connote an internal struggle within God, with one side of God not wanting to create the world and another side of God wanting to create the world. The creating side then wins and forces the other side of God to submit. But there’s no such warfare in God. God is one and acts with all his being consenting.
3. Free to Do What He Loves
Third, I think this is the most important thing of all, which is why I’m a Christian Hedonist, and why I see that Christian Hedonism is not icing on the cake of theology. I mean, it is so close to the center of who God is. Here’s the third point.
“This is the best world for God to accomplish all he aims to accomplish.”
God, in fact, creates and governs and redeems the world because that is what he loves to do. He delights to create and guide and save. He is doing in it what he is doing to bring the people into joy in himself. But we do not call doing what you love to do being forced. Nobody uses being forced for doing what you love most to do.
In fact, we call being able to do what you love to do freedom. That’s the meaning of freedom — being able to do whatever you love to do and not regretting it in a million years. It’s the fullest of all freedoms when the actor of freedom has no regrets. In a million years, God will be approving of the wisdom and the gladness of his action.
So, in conclusion, no, God does not need creation in order to be God, and he is not forced to create by any coercive power outside himself or inside himself. Instead, he loves to create and govern and redeem. Doing fully and completely what you delight to do, what you love to do, without regret in a million years, is the freest of all freedoms. Therefore, God is the freest of all beings.