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Thursday, September 08, 2016

The Commentariat Speaks (3)

In a post entitled “Why is God So Selfish?” a commenter is perplexed about the things God does primarily for his own glory:

“God didn’t make this world for us, He made it for Himself. He made it to show off how strong and powerful and perfect He was. We were supposed to be His little mirror that He could stand in front of all day and look at Himself. He’s just a show off, and now all I can think of is that when you pray to Him to ask for help, is he really helping you because He knows He should, or is He doing it to show off what He can do?

God just seems selfish to me, and how He wants us all to worship Him, and practically bow down at His feet, and anyone who does otherwise is sent into a fiery pit. You know who that reminds me of? Adolf Hitler.”

Uh, yeah, okay. The implicit question here is not an uncommon one; so common, in fact, that even the obligatory Hitler comparison barely registers. Dawkins and Hitchens said worse.

So why does God need glory from men anyway? After all, “It is not good to eat much honey, nor is it glorious to seek one’s own glory,” as the writer of Proverbs assures us.

The World and Its Fullness Are Mine

The biblical answer is, of course, that God does not need anything from us. He does not go around seeking glory for its own sake. All the enthusiastic praises and bowing and scraping in the universe add nothing to the One who is perfectly and perpetually full. Asaph speaks for God in assuring his people, “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine”. God possesses more intrinsic glory than is possible to measure. David wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God”. The seraphim before God’s throne cry out, “The whole earth is full of his glory!” To imagine our praises add anything to this cosmic grandeur is to imagine a single tear enhances the volume of the oceans, or (put mathematically) that ∞ + 1 is equal to anything greater than infinity. It is a self-aggrandizing illusion.

Still, the commenter has a point: we are advised many times in the pages of holy writ to Give unto the Lord glory”. If it is not God himself who is directly enjoining us to praise him, then a whole succession of historical proxies is definitely doing so on his behalf. God may not need our worship and adoration, but it is clear that vast numbers of his followers believe giving him glory is the only appropriate response to his greatness.

My Son, Give Glory to God!

Perhaps a clue to this puzzle is found in the story of Achan, the unfortunate Israelite who stole some of the things devoted to God and buried them under his tent. When Joshua, the Israelite commander, discovers the culprit, he says to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord God of Israel”.

Here Joshua is not suggesting that Achan should try offering a sacrifice for his sin, or breaking into song, or even falling on his face. By “give glory to God”, Joshua simply means “tell the truth”. God knows the way things really are, and now he has revealed it to Joshua. The people around are all looking at Achan and the smart ones are thinking, “Yep, that’s gotta be the guy right there” and “Oh, man, is he gonna get it”.

The only one in the whole camp whose thinking and speech are not in line with reality is Achan.

The Voice of the Universe

I suspect when the psalmists and other writers of scripture implore us to “Give glory to God”, they are simply asking us to recognize eternal truth, to touch base with reality, to bring our own human voices into harmony with the voice of the universe itself.

Remember the Pharisees who rebuked the Lord’s disciples for crying out, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest”? I love the Lord’s response: “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out”. Reality demands that God be glorified. It is not God “showing off”. It is in the natural, unfallen order of things. It is the human race that is out of step with the fundamental operation of the universe, not God.

Glory, Glory Either Way

The thing is, God doesn’t need us to glorify him intelligently and willingly. We will glorify him whether we obey him or not. Achan did, though he wasn’t particularly happy about it. Nadab and Abihu glorified God “before all the people” quite involuntarily by being incinerated for their rebellion. Despite his grief, their father Aaron is said to have “held his peace”. That was a smart move.

But whether we give glory to God deliberately or inadvertently, we are not helping him in any way. Mankind is not some sort of cosmic mirror into which God peers whenever his self-image is a bit bruised and he needs an ego boost. What we are doing when we glorify God is simply choosing to align our own thinking with the way things really are. We are doing nothing more creditable than acknowledging a grand truth that already is and has been for all eternity.

In short, when we give God glory it is ourselves we are helping most.

To withhold our praises is not to say anything profound or clever about God. It is to say something perfectly banal about the condition of our own hearts: that we are proud, ungrateful, spiritually blind and wholly out of touch.

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