In many Christian circles we hear lots about the theme of glory as God’s ultimate goal for the creation. But by giving such prominence to glory, glory may be getting more glory than God.
Here’s what I mean. If God’s glory is seen to be a sort of spiritual commodity he wants or needs for himself, then glory gains a standing as high as God—which is the ‘glory’ of glory. This silent assumption is present in any claim that the creation was made in order to glorify God. It suggests that God must have been inadequate apart from the creation—and that glory is what he needs to be complete or well rounded. Perhaps he needs glory in order to be fully God? Or to be more satisfied with himself?
I know that a common claim is that the pursuit of glory is a divine right—the arbitrary prerogative of Deity to do whatever he pleases. But that still doesn’t dismiss the greatness of glory as something God wants for himself. And this glorification of glory also carries with it an assumption that we, like God, are also to be glory-mongers, given the high status glory holds. If God tells us he wants us to give glory to him, we need to work like beavers to achieve it. That’s our duty. And from that we get our own glory.
How do we glorify God? Certainly by enjoying him and by thanking him. But in the history of this tradition I see something much bigger has emerged as the greatest glory-producer: obedience to Scriptures. The harder we work in obeying all that God expects of us, the more this thing called glory begins to accumulate on his behalf.
And to the degree we adopt obedience as a pathway to glory (to both God’s glory and ours) God, we find, then becomes removed by at least one step from the action point of faith. Faith, after all, is the focus of our soul. In faith we are saved as we respond to the unconditional promises of God when the Spirit reveals God’s love to us through those promises. Faith comes when we set our eyes on Jesus as our exclusive basis for coming to the Father. Faith is a function of hearing God’s words about his Son. So if glory is the goal of our faith—a goal implicit in calling it the “chief end” of human existence—we have a subtle shift of gaze from Christ himself to a duty to obey his commands. That, by the way, means the gaze is actually on ourselves, as in: “how am I doing as I meet all your demands, Lord?” The “I” supplants the “you” of faith.
So let’s dismiss the glory of glory and attend to the glory of God himself. God is glorious! He doesn’t need any glory from us or from his creation. Instead he spills his glory out freely to his creation, a creation that displays his creative glory.
But we need to be more specific. It is the reality of the Trinity. He, alone, can resolve our confusion about why and how God’s calls on us to glorify himself. His glory is a relational reality—the dramatic exchange of mutual love and delight—that can even have a displayed quality as brilliant light or fire when the creation is excited by the presence of the dynamic love and creative activity of God the Father, Son, and Spirit.
The meaning of glory is offered most fully in John 17—where Jesus spoke aloud to the Father before going to his death. Jesus received glory from the Father, and he reciprocated that glory to the Father. As the linkage of glory to sacrificial death in the analogy of the planted-wheat of John 12 made clear, glory was displayed in the Son’s willingness to die for all who would believe.
Glory is what Jesus shared with the Father and the Spirit even before there was a creation (17:5). And what was the eternal motive for this whole exchange? Love! The Son’s real mission on earth wasn’t to gain glory but to give access to that eternal Father-Son-Spirit glory which the Father had given him “because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (17:24). So it is that God is not a glory-monger but a glory-sharer. And when the Spirit coaches us to glorify God—as in 1 Corinthians 10:31—it must be understood in light of 1 Corinthians 13, “the greatest of these is love” so that we love him, and out of that love our own celebration of his goodness—our own giving of glory—is poured out.