Is God for Us or for Himself?
- Monday, May 05, 2008
My experience in preaching and teaching is that American evangelicals receive this truth with some skepticism if they receive it at all. None of my sons has ever brought home a Sunday school paper with the lesson title: "God loves himself more than he loves you." But it is profoundly true, and so generation after generation of evangelicals grow up picturing themselves at the center of God's universe.
I am going to make the assumption, though, that the vast majority of you do not want to usurp God's place at the center of his universe. You probably have two other objections coming to your minds against making God so self-centered. One is that we don't like people who act that way, and the other is that the Bible teaches that we shouldn't act that way. I'll try to answer these two objections, and in doing so, I hope I can also show why God's commitment to his own glory is immensely relevant for your life.
First Objection: we don't like people who are enamored with themselves.
We just don't like people who seem to be very enamored by their own skill or power or looks. We don't like scholars who try to show off their specialized knowledge or who recite for us all their recent publications and lectureships. We don't like businessmen who go on and on about how shrewdly they have invested their pile of money and how they stayed right on top of the market to get in low and out high every time. We don't like children to play one-upmanship hour after hour. Unless we are one of them, we disapprove of women and men who dress, not functionally, simply and inoffensively, but to be in the latest style. They do this so they will be thought in or cool or preppy or north-woods or laid-back or whatever the world this week says you are supposed to look like.
Why don't we like all that? I think it is because all those people are inauthentic. They are what Ayn Rand calls "second-handers." They don't live from the joy that comes through achieving what they value for its own sake. Instead, they live second-hand from the praise and compliments of others. We don't admire second-handers, we admire people who are composed and secure enough that they don't feel the need to shore up their weaknesses and compensate for their deficiencies by trying to get as many compliments as possible.
It stands to reason, therefore, that any teaching which would seem to put God in the category of a second-hander would be suspect to Christians. And for many the teaching that God is seeking praise and wants to be admired and is doing things for his own name's sake, does in fact seem to put God in such a category. But should it? One thing we may say for certain. God is not weak and has no deficiencies. "All things are from him and through him and to him" (Romans 11:36). He always was. Whatever else is, owes its being to him and so can add nothing to him which is not already flowing from him. That is simply what it means to be God and not a creature. Therefore, God's zeal to seek his own glory and to be praised by men cannot be owing to his need to shore up some weakness or compensate for some deficiency. He may seem, at a superficial glance, to be in the category of second-handers. But, he is not like them and the superficial similarity must be explained another way. There must be some other motive that prompts him to seek the praise of his glory.
Second Objection: seeking one's own glory is not loving.
There is another reason, from experience, why we don't like those who seek their own glory. It is not merely that they are inauthentic, trying to conceal weakness and deficiency, but also that they are unloving. They are so concerned for their own image and praise that they do not care much for what happens to other people. This observation leads us to the Biblical reason why it seems offensive for God to seek his own glory. 1 Corinthians 13:5 says, "Love seeks not its own." Now this indeed seems to create a crisis, for if, as I think the Scriptures plainly teach, God makes it his ultimate goal to be glorified and praised, how then can he be loving? For "love seeks not its own." "For my own sake, for my own sake I act, my glory I will not give to another" (Isaiah 48:11). But if God is a God of love, he must be for us. Is God for himself or is he for us?
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