Saturday, November 11, 2006

God's glory

1. The glory of God is a signature theme in Reformed theology. However, the usage, and attendant concept, is not self-explanatory. So we need to unpack the concept.

In OT usage is has two basic meanings:

i) It’s bound up with the notion of honor or reputation—God's honorable, praiseworthy character. His good name. That sort of thing.

ii) It’s also a semi-technical term for the Shekinah.

Not surprisingly, this usage (via the LXX), along with its conceptual connotations, carries over into the NT.

iii) The glory of God is a summary attribute.

iv) It’s an essentially revelatory concept. The outward manifestation of God’s nature and character, viz. God’s presence in the Shekinah, or God’s presence in Christ (as the Shekinah Incarnate), or the manifestation of God’s wisdom and grace in the gospel. That sort of thing.

2.Given its essentially and inseparably revelatory aspect, it’s a mistake to treat the glory of God as primarily self-referential.

It’s a form of divine self-revelation, but a revelation is a revelation to another who is other than oneself. It is other-directed rather than self-directed.

The point of a glorious self-revelation is the effect it will have on others. God can be glorious in himself without revealing himself to be glorious to another or others. So the purpose of a glorious self-disclosure is not constitutive of glorious subject (God), but for the beneficial effect it will have on the target audience (the elect).

3.I’d also draw a distinction between the glorious object and the glorious objective.

God is the glorious object in the sense that he is the exemplary source of glory. He alone is intrinsically and archetypally glorious.

But the objective of this self-manifestation is the impact it will have on the observer or beneficiary.

Not only is this implicit in the very concept of glory, as a revelatory concept, but this is made explicit in passages wherein God glorifies his people (e.g. Jn 17:22; Rom 8:17-18,21,30; 1 Cor 2:7; 2 Cor 3:18; 4:17; Phil 3:21; 1 Thes 2:12; Heb 2:10; 1 Pet 5:1,4,10).

4. Put another way, I’d draw a distinction between faux theocentrism and genuine theocentrism. One can get duped into a faux theocentrism by adopting the most theocentric *sounding* formulation.

It sounds more theocentric to say that God does everything for his own glory. But that’s deceptively simple:

i) If you put it this way, then that makes it seem as if God is incomplete. (Van Til’s “full-bucket” problem.)

ii) What is worse, when we glorify God, we thereby add to his glory. But that doesn’t seem very theocentric, now does it?

What started out sounding very theocentric ends up sounding very androcentric.

5.In order to avoid this artificial tension, we need to draw some distinctions:

i) In Scripture, not only does God glorify his people, but God is glorified by his people.

If we stick to the revelatory concept of glorification, then this is not a problem. It simply means that his people mirror the glory of God, in their finite way.

His glory is revealed to his people—and in his people. For the subjective impression which divine glorification makes on his people is, in turn, a further manifestation of his glory. God’s glory is revealed in the transfiguring effect which it has on the elect.

ii) To evoke my prior distinction, God is the immediate object of glory. The source of origin as well as the standard of excellence.

But the immediate objective of his self-revelation is the glorification of his people, so that they may glory in their Creator and Redeemer.

Yet the objective will reflect the object. So an indirect consequence of this outward orientation is to signify the glory of God. Because his glory is exemplified in his people, that, in turn, points back to the glorious source.

iii) To say that man can only find his self-fulfillment in God is thoroughly theocentric.

6.To return, now, to an earlier point, and expand on that point: what about the notion of a God who is protective of his own honor and reputation?

To some extent, this is a bit anthropomorphic. The assumption of an honor-code, such as we find in ANE shame cultures.

It’s not as if God is affected by our opinion of him. But there are two literal considerations:

i) Although God is unaffected by man’s opinion of God, man is affected by man’s opinion of God.

As divine image-bearers, we know ourselves by knowing God. To the degree that we entertain a false concept of God, we will also entertain a false self-conception. Idolatry is self-destructive.

There’s also a reciprocal sense in which we can know God by knowing ourselves, but only if our self-image truly corresponds to the imago Dei.

ii) Irrespective of its potential benefits, God upholds the truth. To hold a false conception of God is wrong simply because it’s untrue. Truth is an end in itself. An intrinsic value.

In God’s moral order, falsehood will not go uncorrected. God is the source and standard of truth. So error will not have the last word.

Poythress, in his commentary on Revelation, brings out the contrast between true religion and counterfeit faith. Idolatry is forgery. The devil is the archetypal plagiarist.

The reprobate are not allowed to redefine reality to their own liking. They are not permitted to redefine God to their own specifications.

iii) Incidentally, this touches upon the eschatological aspect of glorification in Scripture. Not only is there a direct relation between salvation and glorification, but a contrastive relation between damnation and glorification.

The saints are glorified, and the damned are not, but one side-effect of glorification is to expose the lies of the Enemy once and for all.

7. In terms of historical Reformed theology, you can find my basic distinctions in Wilhelm a Brakel, the 17-18C Dutch-Reformed theologian:

“The creature can neither add glory nor felicity to [God]; however, it has pleased the Lord to create creatures in order to communicate his goodness to them and consequently render tem happy,” The Christian’s Reasonable Service (Soli Deo Gloria 1992), 1:193-94.

“The objective which God had in view with predestination is the magnification of himself in his grace, mercy, and justice. This should not be understood to mean that anything can be added to the glory of God, but rather that angels and men, in perceiving and acknowledging this glory, would enjoy felicity,” ibid. 214.

“The purpose of election is the glorification of God. This is not to add glory to him, for he is perfect, but to reveal all his glorious perfections which manifest themselves in the work of redemption to angels and men, in order that in reflecting upon them felicity many be experienced,” ibid. 219.


  1. Thanks for this, Steve. A very thought-provoking post.

  2. Same here. I had always wondered about the question, "Isn't it arrogant for God to seek glory? To want people worshiping him all the time?

  3. Yes, God doesn't need our worship, but we need to worship God.

    Unless we worship God, we will end up worshipping something other than God, something less than God. We will deify the creature.

  4. Thanks, Steve, this was a great post.

    BTW, I'm curious, do you think it would be facile to simply say that God is glorified (in His justice, wisdom, etc.) in the damnation of the reprobate, too? Is there more to it, so to speak? Like will God's people be able to share in this aspect of His glory as well, maybe by grasping a little bit more of His infinite mercy and love toward us in their damnation (since absent the grace of God that could very well have been us)?

  5. Yes, God is also glorified in judgment.hs

  6. Maybe to get at what Mathetes' concerns are a bit: God's glory is also the best thing for the creatures. It might be arrogant of God to want His own glory, if that were *at the expense* of the creature. However, that is not the case. God's glory is the best thing that could happen to the creature.

    Arrogance can be defined as putting your own interests above the interests of others. According to Philippians 2, Jesus Christ manifestly did not do that.

  7. Thanks Steve,
    Really liked your mirror analogy here.
    Dr. Joel Beeke referenced Brakel at a Sola Scriptura conference at my church last week. Gonna have to give some more thought about buying those volumes :)

  8. Perhaps I should make my dog worship me so that it doesn't worship a lesser creature than me, or spend all its time licking itself.

    Perhaps I should cause it enormous pain and suffering so that it the glory of my healing power (via the vet hospital) is revealed to it.

    Or perhaps I shouldn't get a dog in the first place if I have this kind of stupid outlook, after all, I'm perfect and self-sufficient, right?