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Is God For Us or For Himself?

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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?

Here is the answer of which I want to persuade you. Since God is unique as the most glorious of all beings and totally self-sufficient, he must be for himself if he is to be for us. If he were to abandon the goal of his own self-exaltation we would be the losers. His aim to bring praise to himself, and his aim to bring pleasure to his people, are one aim. They stand or fall together. I think we will see this if we ask the following question.

In view of God’s infinitely admirable beauty, power and wisdom, what would his love to a creature involve? Or to put it another way: what could God give us to enjoy that would show him most loving? There is only one possible answer, isn’t there? HIMSELF! If God would give us that which is best and most satisfying, that is, if he would love us perfectly, he must offer us no less than himself for our contemplation and fellowship and joy. “In thy presence is fullness of joy. In thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.” (Ps. 16:11)

This was precisely God’s intention in sending his son. Ephesians 2:18 says that Christ came that we might “have access in one Spirit to the Father.” And 1 Peter 3:18 says, “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous that he might bring us to God.” God is after us to give us what is best – not prestige, wealth or even health in this life, but a full-blown vision of, and fellowship with, himself.

Now we are on the brink of what, for me, was a grand discovery, and is the solution to our problem. To be supremely loving, God must give us what will be best for us and delight us most; he must give us himself. But what do we do when we are given or shown something excellent, something we enjoy? We praise it. We praise new little babies that manage not to be all bent out of shape in birth; “O, look at that nice round head; and all that hair; and his hands, aren’t they big!” We praise a lover’s face after a long absence. “Your eyes are like the sky; your hair is like silk; 0, you are beautiful to me.” We praise a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth when we are down by three runs. We praise the trees in the fall.

But the great discovery I made, with the help of C. S. Lewis and Jonathan Edwards, was not only that we praise what we enjoy, but that this praise is the climax of the joy itself. It is not tacked on later; it is part of the pleasure. Listen to the way Lewis describes this insight from his book on the Psalms.

But the most obvious fact about praise – whether of God or anything – strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless (sometimes even if) shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise – lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game – praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians and scholars … My whole, more general difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else we value.

I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses, but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are, the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. (Reflections on the Psalms, pp. 93-95)

There’s the key: we praise what we enjoy because the delight is incomplete until it is expressed in praise. If we were not allowed to speak of what we value and celebrate, what we love and praise, what we admire, our joy would not be full. Jonathan Edwards said, “Joy is a great ingredient in praise … Praise is the most joyful work in the world.” Therefore, if God is truly for us, if he would give us the best and make our joy full, he must make it his aim to win our praise for himself. Not because he needs to shore up some weakness in himself or compensate for some deficiency, but because he loves us and seeks the fullness of our joy that can only be found in knowing and praising him, the most beautiful of all Beings.

God is the one Being in the entire universe for whom self-centeredness, or the pursuit of his own glory, is the ultimately loving act. For him, self-exaltation is the highest virtue. When he does all things “for the praise of his glory,” he preserves for us and offers to us, the only thing in the entire world, which can satisfy our longings. God is for us, and therefore has been, is now and always will be, first, for himself. I urge you not to resent the centrality of God in his own affections, but to experience it as the fountain of your everlasting joy.

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By John Piper. ©Desiring God Ministries.
Website: www.desiringGOD.org.
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