by Sean Luke
The blazing, burning center of the Biblical story is God. The story of the Bible does not ultimately revolve around us; it ultimately revolves around God. The point of the Bible is not God’s love for humanity, or God’s intention for our good. The point is this: God is the Melody in every music, the Love in every laugh, the Kindness in all genuine kinship. Just as light in our world tells us of a Sun, beauty in the world tells us of God. All things were made to display him. Therefore, we must adore him.
What exactly does this mean for God and humanity? And how would our lives change if we believed this?
God’s God-Centered-ness and Humanity’s Good
God does all things for his own sake.
For my name’s sake I defer my anger,
for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,
that I may not cut you off.
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
for how should my name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another.
(Isaiah 48:9-11, ESV, emphasis mine)
God’s forgiveness, in other words, springs from God’s passion for the sake of his name. Indeed, he chose Israel that they might proclaim “the excellencies of him who called them”; the people of God exist to proclaim the excellencies of God. (1 Pet. 2:9, ESV) God is the “beginning and end” of creation (Rev. 1:8); that means that the “end” or goal of creation is God himself. Aquinas thought that the whole world of material and immaterial things was made to represent and imitate God’s nature, and in this way God is the end of all creation (Summa Theologica 1.65.2). All creation exists, then, to reflect God’s perfections.
Far from being devastating news, this is the best news in reality: reality is not about us. What a weight off our shoulders. We are free from being God, and so can live under the Lordship of One who is far more competent than us. Phew! But this is also good news for another reason.
If God made all things to display his own perfections, then he made humans to display his perfections. That means that “displaying God” is not just something that human beings do; human beings are little displays of God’s character. This is at the heart of what it means to be an image of God: we reflect God’s likeness into the world. We were made to display the One who is infinitely worthy, beautiful, majestic, and supreme. There is no greater honor. God’s bestowal on us of God-reflecting being, then, is a gift of the utmost significance and wonder.
Human Life to the Glory of God Alone
If all of life is, at bottom, intended to be a display of God, then the world is truly charged with the grandeur of God. But perhaps more fundamentally, if God is at the center of your world, then your orientation towards salvation completely changes. Yes, God is to be adored for his mercies towards you. But he is to be adored for his mercies towards you because, in showing mercy towards you, he has shown himself to be the kind of God who is merciful. This is a subtle distinction, but an important one. Imagine if I loved my wife only because she makes amazing chili for me. While she does make incredible chili, I’d be a terrible spouse if I loved her for that reason. The reason I love my wife’s chili is, chiefly, because it shows her worth. The loveliness of the meal does not primarily consist in its taste (though it includes the taste!). The loveliness of the meal primarily consists in how it displays my wife’s servant-hearted, Christ-reflecting character.
We praise God for his benefits because, in his many gifts to us, we see his character shine forth; and we find the divine character absolutely lovely. In other words, the good news of the gospel is not “God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life.” The good news is that God is king, God reigns, and God is infusing the whole world with his own beauty and glory.
Is God just using me to get some other thing called “glory”? Isn’t he actually unloving if he cares about his glory above all else? Not at all. In fact, if being truly human is to reflect God, then God’s delight in true humanity and in creation is ultimately his delight in himself displayed. Therefore, God’s delight in creation is his delight in himself. And as God renews creation, his delight in creation becomes ever more his delight in himself. As fifteenth-century theologian Nicholas of Cusa says, God contemplates himself in the “vestiges” of creation.
Creaturely existence, at its best, is what it looks like when God speaks of himself in words made of the stuff of human life. The world is a poem, and its central theme is God. So take your place in the grand refrains of praise, and sing the praises of the Creator.
- Do you agree that salvation is ultimately about God and not ultimately about us?
- If salvation is ultimately about God’s glory alone, how does that change the way you think about praising him?
- How does displaying the glory of God shape the way you think about mission?
Image credit: NASA/SDO (adapted), licensed under CC BY 2.0.