After the question: Does God exist? to which God answers, I Am (Exodus 3:14), the next question that has shaped us most deeply at Bethlehem is: Why did God create the world?
The short answer that resounds through the whole Bible like rolling thunder is: God created the world for his glory. We’ll talk in a moment what that means, but let’s establish the fact first.
Notice the key verses in Isaiah 43:6b–7: “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.” Even if the narrowest meaning here is I brought Israel into being for my glory the use of the words created, formed, and made are pointing us back to the original act of creation. This is why Israel ultimately exists, because this is why all things ultimately exist — for the glory of God.
The Bible Is Clear
When the first chapter of the Bible says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27), what is the point? The point of an image is to image. Images are erected to display the original — to point to the original, glorify the original. God made humans in his image so that the world would be filled with reflectors of God — images of God, seven billion statues of God. So that nobody would miss the point of creation. Nobody (unless they were stone blind) could miss the point of humanity, namely, God — knowing, loving, showing God.
The angels cry in Isaiah 6:3, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” It’s full of millions of human image bearers. Glorious ruins. But not only humans. Also nature! Why such a breathtaking world for us to live in? Why such a vast universe? I read the other day (can’t verify it!) that there are more stars in the universe than there are words and sounds that all humans of all time have ever spoken. Why?
“God created us to know him and love him and show him.”
The Bible is crystal clear about this: “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). If someone asks, “If earth is the only inhabited planet and man the only rational inhabitant among the stars, why such a large and empty universe?” The answer is: It’s not about us. It’s about God. And that’s an understatement. God created us to know him and love him and show him. And then he gave us a hint of what he is like — the universe.
The universe is declaring the glory of God and the reason we exist is to see it and be stunned by it and glorify God because of it. So Paul says in Romans 1:20–21:
His invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God.
The great tragedy of the universe is that, while human beings were made to glorify God, we have all fallen short of this purpose and “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man” (Romans 1:23) — especially the one in the mirror. This is the essence of what we call sin.
So, why did God create the universe? Resounding through the whole Bible — from eternity to eternity — like rolling thunder is: God created the world for his glory.
To Help Us Feel It
Isaiah states it plainly in Isaiah 43:7 (“created for my glory”), and presses home the reality over and over to help us feel it and make it part of the fabric of our thinking:
Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; . . . And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 40:4–5)
I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. (Isaiah 42:8)
Break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! For the Lord has redeemed Jacob, and will be glorified in Israel. (Isaiah 44:23)
For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you. . . . I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another. (Isaiah 48:9–11)
And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” (Isaiah 49:3)
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. (Isaiah 60:2)
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor . . . to give them . . . the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. (Isaiah 61:1–3)
Glorify Is Different from Beautify
This is why God created the world — “that he may be glorified.” This does not mean: “that he may be made glorious.” Don’t take the word “glorify” and treat it like the word “beautify.” To beautify means to take a plain room and make it beautiful. We don’t take a plain God and make him beautiful. That is not what glorifying God means.
“We don’t glorify God by improving his glory, but by seeing and savoring and showing his glory.”
When God created the world he did not create out of any need or any weakness or any deficiency. He created out of fullness and strength and complete sufficiency. As Jonathan Edwards said, “Tis no argument of the emptiness or deficiency of a fountain that it is inclined to overflow.” So we don’t glorify God by improving his glory, but by seeing and savoring and showing his glory (which is the same as knowing, loving, showing).
Or switch to the word “magnify” (so Philippians 1:20, “that Christ be magnified” megalunthesetai). We magnify his glory like a telescope not a microscope. Microscopes make small things look bigger than they are. Telescopes make unimaginably big things look more like what they really are. Our lives are to be telescopes for the glory of God. We were created to see his glory, be thrilled by his glory, and live so as to help others see him and savor him for what he really is — to know, to love, to show his glory.
That is why the universe exists. If this takes hold of you the way it should, it will affect the way you think and feel about everything. Now you know why everything exists. You don’t know everything. There are billions of things you don’t know. But you are never at a loss to know something important about everything. Because you know that everything exists for the glory of God, you know something about everything. And this is one of the most important things you can know about anything. And so to know this one thing — that all things exist for the glory of God — is to know something supremely important about everything. Namely, for what purpose it ultimately exists. That is amazing.
Why This Particular World?
But we can’t leave it here. It’s too general. It’s too disconnected from the specific persons of the Trinity and from the flow of history the way God is guiding it. The question is not just, “Why did God create the world?” but why this world? Why these thousands of years of human history with a glorious beginning, and a horrible fall into sin, and a history of Israel, and the coming of the Son of God into the world, a substitutionary death, a triumphant resurrection, the founding of the church and the history of global missions to where we are today? Why this world? This history?
And the short answer to that question is, for the glory of God’s grace displayed supremely in the death of Jesus. Or to say it more fully: this world — this history as it is unfolding — was created and is guided and sustained by God so that the grace of God, supremely displayed in the death and resurrection of Jesus for sinners, would be glorified throughout all eternity in the Christ-exalting joys of the redeemed. Or let’s just keep it short: this world exists for the glory of God’s grace revealed in the saving work of Jesus. This means that Bethlehem is not just a God-centered church, but a Christ-exalting church and a gospel-driven church. For us there is an unbreakable connection between the glory of God, the glory of grace, the glory of Christ, the glory of the cross.
The Glory of God and the Cross of Christ
Now let me show you this from God’s word. We can do it in five steps.
1. The apex — the high point — of God’s display of his own glory is the display of his grace.
“God predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace” (Ephesians 1:5–6). In other words, the glory of God’s grace — what Paul calls “the riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7) — is the highpoint and endpoint in the revelation of God’s glory. And the aim of predestination is that we live to the praise of the glory of this grace forever.
This is the endpoint of his glory, and everything else — even God’s wrath serves this. So Paul says in Romans 9:22–23, “Desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, God has endured with much patience vessels of wrath . . . in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy.” Wrath is penultimate. The glory of grace on the vessels of mercy is ultimate.
2. God planned this — the praise of the glory of his grace — before creation.
“God chose us in him before the foundation of the world . . . to the praise of the glory of his grace” (Ephesians 1:4, 6). Grace was not an afterthought in response to the fall of man. It was the plan, because grace is the summit of the mountain of his glory. And he created the world for his glory. He planned the world for the glory of his grace.
3. God’s plan was that the praise of the glory of his grace would come about through the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
“He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ . . . to the praise of the glory of his grace” (Ephesians 1:5–6). This predestination to the praise of the glory of God’s grace happened “through Jesus Christ.” In the eternal fellowship of the Trinity, the Father and the Son planned that God’s grace would be supremely revealed through the saving work of the Son.
Again, Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:9: “God called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” So, before the ages of time began, the plan was for the revelation of the glory of the grace of God specifically through Christ Jesus.
4. From eternity God’s plan was that the glory of God’s grace would reach its high point in the saving work of Jesus on the cross.
We see this in the name that was already on the book of the redeemed before the creation of the world. Before there was any human sin to die for, God planned that his Son be slain for sinners. We know this because of the name given to the book of life before creation. “Everyone [will worship the beast] whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:8).
The name of the book before creation was “the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” The plan was glory. The plan was grace. The plan was Christ. And the plan was death. And that death for sinners like us is the heart of the gospel, which is why in 2 Corinthians 4:4 Paul calls it “the gospel of the glory of Christ.”
5. Therefore, the ultimate purpose of creating and guiding and sustaining this world — this history — is the praise of the glory of the grace of God in the crucifixion of his Son for sinners.
This is why Revelation 5:9 and 13 show that for all eternity we will sing “the song of the Lamb.” We will say with white-hot admiration and praise, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). We will praise ten thousand things about our Savior. But we will not say anything more glorious than this: you were slain . . . and ransomed millions.
“God created the world to display his glory so that his people might know, love, and show him.”
So we ask in conclusion, Why did God create the world? And we answer with the Scriptures: God created the world for his glory. God did not create out of need. He did not create the world out of a deficiency that needed to be made up. He was not lonely. He was supremely happy in the fellowship of the Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He created the world to put his glory on display that his people might know him, and love him, and show him.
And why did he create a world that would become like this world — a world that fell into sin, a world that exchanged his glory for the glory of images? Why would he permit and guide and sustain such a world? And we answer: for the praise of the glory of the grace of God displayed supremely in the death of Jesus.
Some Concluding Questions
This means that the ultimate reason for all things is the communication of the glory of God’s grace for the happy praise of a redeemed multitude from every people and tongue and tribe and nation. All things are created and guided and sustained for the glory of God, which reaches its apex in the glory of his grace, which shines most brightly in the glory of Christ, which comes to focus most clearly in the glory of the cross. So I ask:
- Is the glory of God the brightest treasure on the horizon of your future? Paul expressed the Christian heart in Romans 5:2: “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”
- Is the glory of grace the sweetest news to your guilty soul?
- Is the glory of Christ in your life the present, personal embodiment of the grace of God?
- Is the glory of the cross the saddest and happiest beauty to your redeemed soul?