Am I right?
There are a handful of words that, even after spending my whole life in Christian culture, I have no idea what they actually mean.
I mean, I could probably spout of the dictionary definition. If modernism has taught us anything, it’s how to neatly package humongous ideas. So I probably could have told you that glory had something to do with “weightiness,” but let’s be honest, weightiness doesn’t really mean anything—unless you’re talking about how I feel after my second Filabertos bean burrito.
But glory is probably a concept that we ought to have a better grasp on. After all, the first question of Westminster Short Catechism reads:
Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
If our primary purpose is to glorify God and enjoy him, I probably ought to know what it means to glorify God, right?
HOW I GOT HERE
This came up recently as I was preparing to teach Act I of the God Story: creation.
Now, I love the God Story (read more). I’ve had the honor of teaching through it once or twice, and I’ve listened to others teach it a dozen times or so. I feel like every time I go through it, teaching or listening, I realize just how much I don’t know. This time was no different.
As I was prepping for Act I this time around I got really interested in this question of “What was God’s motivation in creation?” Basically, why? Why did he do it? Why did he take on this monumental task of creating the universe? What moved his hand to start sketching out planets, tectonic plates, willow trees, and chipmunks?
Simon Senek says to start with why. So why’d you do it, God?
ENTER THE WEIGHTINESS
I did some Bible searches using keywords phrases like “created for” I was led to a passage in Isaiah where the prophet is speaking on God’s behalf to the Israelites. He says,
I will say to the north, Give up,
and to the south, Do not withhold;
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.”
Isaiah 43:6-7 (obviously Isaiah did not speak in bold letters. I added that.)
God, speaking through Isaiah, says that he created these people for his glory. That’s his “why.” There is this thing called God’s glory, and Israel was created for it.
Heavy stuff, right?
If you’re like me, you’re probably no closer to cracking this nut.
TAKING A WHACK AT IT
John Piper says, “Glory is very hard thing to define…” and if J. Pipes himself is saying stuff like that you know it’s true.
Turns out I had been defining it poorly, though I couldn’t have articulated my definition until this point. You see, I had skipped “created for my glory” and gone straight to this idea that we ought to be “glorifying God,” or “giving God glory.” It’s a subtle difference, but it turned out to be pretty significant.
To me, glorifying God meant that I needed to give him worship and praise and make his name famous on the earth. I thought that somehow what God ultimately wanted was for me to show the world how great he is. I began to follow that train of thought and realized, “Wait a second… if God’s ultimate goal is for his people to tell him how great he is that’s kind of conceited, right? I mean, is he hungry for some kind of cosmic ego boost he gets every time we sing “How Great is Our God” (in English, then in Spanish, then the chorus in English again… extra points for an obscure African language.)?
That’s not a very appealing picture of God.
Luckily, it’s not the real picture of God. Paul clarifies this when he says,
God, who made the world and everything in it, since he is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is he worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed anything, since he gives to all life, breath, and all things (Acts 17:24,25).
God didn’t say, “I created you to glorify me.” He created us for his glory. Glorifying is a verb. Glory is a noun. I jumped right to the doing version of the word without first understanding the being side of it.
So we’re kind back to square one, right? What the heck does glory mean?
JOHN PIPER TO THE RESCUE
J. Pipes is the man. He offers an incredibly helpful definition that steered me in the right direction. The short version says,
The glory of God is the beauty and excellence of his manifold perfections. It is an attempt to put into words what God is like in his magnificence and purity. It refers to his infinite and overflowing fullness of all that is good. (John Piper)
Glory is an attempt to articulate all that is good. If you took every thing that is good in the world and put it in a bottle, you’d have a glory bottle in your hand. If you can imagine every kind gesture, feeling of love, sacrificial action, quality carne asada burrito, monsoon in the desert, and beautiful sunset gets crammed into your living room, then you’ve got a glorious living room.
I defined it this way: Glory is the atmosphere of God. Every good, pure and beautiful thing in this world comes from God, and only exists because there is part of God’s character in it. When you experience something good, you are experience glory. When you are experience glory, you are experiencing God.
John Mark and Sarah McMillan released a song a year or two ago called The Goodness, and the opening line is
When the day has run its course
You are the goodness
And that’s what glory is. It’s the goodness of God. Think about it like you were eating brunch with the Father, Son, and Spirit. You look around the table and there’s smiling, warmth, love, affection, humility. Then you look down at the table, and there’s waffles, and bacon (bacon is glory, let’s be honest). Your heart swells with contentment at the perfection of dining with the Trinity. It’s so fulfilling.
That’s because it’s what you were created for.
With this understanding, that Isaiah passage could now be read,
whom I created to experience the goodness and perfect of me!
Wow! That’s not a selfish God at all. This God created humanity because he wanted them to experience good. He wanted them to get in on the love and affection that he was experiencing with the Trinity.
This paints a picture of God that lines up with the overarching narrative of Scripture: that God is a good Father. He wasn’t playing some distorted game, or running some grand experiment in creating the heavens and the earth and all humanity. He did it because he’s a good Dad that wanted a family that would eternally enjoy his goodness.
I wouldn’t mind getting to know that God more. And I wouldn’t mind experiencing that kind of glory more often.