In my post on mission central, I argued that God is primarily and fundamentally for God. In this post, I want to specify the relationship between the love of God and the glory of God. I’ll argue that God’s love for me is rooted is God’s love for God; hence, God loves me because God loves God. God’s loving-of-me is one way in which God pursues his glory, but is set in the broader context of God-being-for-God. I’ll argue this philosophically and Scripturally.
The Philosophical Data: God is for Goodness alone, and therefore Godness alone
God is only oriented towards himself; and this is why God loves me. How does that make sense?
Argument 1: God only delights in God
P1) God only delights in what is good, true, and beautiful
P2) That which is good, true, and beautiful is that which reflects God’s own character
C1) Therefore, God only delights in that which reflects God’s own character
The conclusion necessarily follows from the premises. Premise 1 seems self-evidently true; God does not delight in the distortions of that which is good. He is utterly opposed to distorted good–i.e evil. In defense of premise 2, I offer this argument. God is The Good, the True, and the Beautiful; the unity of the transcendentals is the triune God. Therefore, all things that are good, true, and beautiful are things that reflect God’s character. The true, good, and beautiful are rays from the True, Good, and Beautiful One. He is their source. Therefore, if God only delights in these things, God only delights in the refractions of his own character.
Argument 2: God only desires God
P1.) God desires only that which is true, good and beautiful
P2.) That which is true, good, and beautiful are that which correspond to God
C1) Therefore, God only desires that which corresponds to God
Once again, I think the conclusion inevitably and inescapably follows if the premises are true. And it seems from the above arguments, the premises are in fact true.
What, then, does this mean for God’s love for the creature? I will defend this assertion from Scripture below, but it seems to me that love has at least two components: desire and delight. Love is, at root, a desire for the good of my neighbor/the other and a delight in their good. This desire and delight overflows into self-giving service of the neighbor.
If this definition of love is minimally correct–that is, if there might be more to be said on love, but not less–then several things follow. First, if God only desires God, and God desires the good of the creature, then God’s desire for the good of the creature must be God’s desire for himself reflected in the creature. In other words, God’s desire for my good is his desire for my participation in himself. He desires my good because he desires to assimilate me to his own goodness. Thus, his desire for the good of any creature is his desire for the refraction and reflection of his own goodness in the creature. Second, if God only delights in God, then God’s delight in the creature must ultimately be his delight in himself. How can this be if the creature is not God? The creature is, at root, a communication of divine perfection; that is, ontologically our essence is to be a reflection of God’s own perfection. Thus, God delights in the creature precisely because it (analogously) reflects his own beauty, worth, and goodness. The creature has no being whatsoever in itself; its existence is, at every instance and moment, derivative.
The Scriptural Narrative: The Relationship Between Glory and Love
What, in the Bible, grounds God’s love for me? I’ll argue that the narrative of Scripture grounds God’s love for creaturely existence in God’s love for himself. Thus, God’s ultimate goal is to display himself. His display of himself consists in the display of triune love, and thus love for all that reflects triune love.
First, what is God’s glory? God’s glory is the display of who he is (Exodus 34 and John 1:1-18). If God’s glory is Jesus, and if Jesus is the “exegesis of the Father” (John 1:18 and Heb 1:3), then we can conclude that God’s glory is God’s revelation of himself.
Why does God redeem a people at all? This gets at the heart of the relationship between God’s love and God’s glory. Scripture gives a solid answer:
3Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, “This is what you are to tell the house of Jacob and explain to the sons of Israel: 4‘You have seen for yourselves what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. 5Now if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, you will be My treasured possession out of all the nations—for the whole earth is Mine. 6And unto Me you shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you are to speak to the Israelites.”Exodus 19:3-6
What does it mean to be a kingdom of priests? It means no less than to “declare the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9) Thus, God had a goal in mind when calling into existence a people for his own possession: the declaration of his own excellencies. What of his promise to Abraham, however? Doesn’t he call Israel into existence so that all of the families of the earth will be blessed?
Yes, he does. But what does this blessing consist of? It consists of the praise of the glory of his grace (Ephesians 1:11-14). It consists of having God alone as our desire (Ps. 42 and Ps. 27). It consists of seeing and participating in the beauty of God. So God’s love for his covenant people is embedded in a larger intention God has in the narrative ark of Scripture: God is the beginning of all things and the end of all things, and he intends to sum up all things in Christ (who is the fullness of divine glory). In other words, God’s love for his people is embedded in an over-arching narrative wherein God gives all things to his Son as a gift, and sums up all reality in Christ (in the same sense that love is the “summing up” of the law–all the law is about love, so all reality is about Christ).
Therefore, glory and love are not opposed, but God’s love for me is one way in which God displays his glory. His love is a species of his glory like apple is a species of fruit. Can it therefore be said that God’s love for the creature is an end in itself? Yes. Can it be said that God only pursues his own glory? Yes.
Here, Jonathan Edwards is helpful (as usual–in fact most of this post is influenced strongly by his thought!). Edwards distinguishes between “chief” ends and “ultimate” ends. “Chief” ends are those ends which are over-arching and pursued for their own sake. They are ends more valued than anything else.
There are two examples of chief ends. A man might take a journey to visit a friend. But on the way, he stops to admire a forest preserve. Both are ultimate ends in that both are pursued for their own sake. He is not seeing the friend so that he can admire a forest preserve, nor is he admiring a forest preserve in order to visit his friend. But visiting his friend is his chief end, in that is the end more highly prized. In God’s case, God’s love in the fellowship of the Trinity–the love the triune God shares in the divine nature–is more highly prized than any creaturely expression of it.
However, there’s another sense in which an end might be a “chief end” that more precisely clarifies the relationship between God’s love for me and God’s love for God. A woman of God might have a chief end of “speaking the praises of God.” Thus, she visits a sick friend to pray with her and minister to her. This showcases the relevant relationship between a “chief” end and an “ultimate” end. This woman of God’s ultimate orientation to life is to “speak the praises of God.” However, she is not visiting her sick friend in order to speak the praises of God–as though the visitation is a means to some other end. Rather, in visiting her sick friend, she speaks the praises of God; her chief end finds expression in the ultimate end.
This is precisely the way God’s glory and God’s love relate, I argue. God’s glory is his chief end; God chiefly aims to express and display his own beauty and worth in all of creation. This chief end is the context for ultimate ends. God doesn’t love me so that he can achieve some other end called “displaying himself.” God’s chief end finds expression in the ultimate end of loving me. In other words, God loves me as an end in itself; and this is identical to God pursuing his own glory as an end in itself. For God displays himself in loving me. However, God’s pursuit of displaying God remains his chief end, while his love for individual creatures is an ultimate end that expresses that chief end.
This, I think, is what passages like Isaiah 48 teach. “Not for your sake, O Israel, but for the sake of [his] name”, God saves his people. Now, this doesn’t mean God doesn’t save Israel for their sake in any sense. A common Hebraism is to say “not X, but Y” as a way of emphasizing Y as chief and overriding. (See Jeremiah 7:22: God says he did not command sacrifice, but obedience. Well, of course he commanded sacrifice. But he commanded obedience as more fundamental; sacrifice is supposed to be an expression of obedience)
Thus, God saves a people for his own sake fundamentally. This means that he does it for the sake of his people as an end in itself, yes; but he saves his people as an ultimate end expressing the chief end: displaying God’s own beauty.
Is God a Divine Narcissus?
If God does everything to display God, does this make him Narcissistic? No, for three reasons. First, Narcissism is an inappropriate love for self. A swimmer isn’t narcissistic if she takes pride in breaking an olympic record. She becomes narcissistic if she overemphasizes the breaking of the record–i.e if she emphasizes it beyond what it is worth. No one is prideful for recognizing the worth they have; they are prideful if they attribute more worth to themselves than is appropriate. God, however, is infinitely valuable. He is the Source of all Beauty, Goodness, and Truth. It is therefore impossible for him to esteem himself too highly. His infinite self-esteeming corresponds to his infinite worth.
Second, if God is The Good, the True, and the Beautiful, then He must only desire and delight in himself. God is the Source of the Transcendentals. Therefore, for him to delight in compassion, humility, kindness, etcetera is for him to delight in himself. He is in a unique position because of what he is: the Source of all good. In delighting in virtue, God is delighting only in himself refracted and reflected.
Third, narcissism and pride excludes the well-being of other things. However, as shown above, God’s pursuit of God grounds God’s love for me. Thus, when God displays God, God elevates creation to make it more God-displaying; this is good news, as creation flourishes only when it displays God. If creation was made to display God, then it is more itself when it does so; it therefore flourishes when God glorifies himself.
The best gift of the gospel is not something other than God. The best gift of the gospel is God himself. Creaturely existence is lovely, beautiful, and good precisely because it displays God. I get to enter into the triune dance–that’s amazing! I get to see the contours and colors of the triune dance reflected all around me in creation. That’s the best news ever!! There is nothing that could satisfy us more than seeing God and participating in his beauty.
And in God giving himself in creation, God displays who he is. His self-gift is his self-display. He gives himself because he displays himself. He loves us because he loves himself. And thus, I am included in God’s self-delight. That is a gift I do not deserve, but God delighted to give.