School’s out, friends. While that might mean water parks and popsicles and bike rides for some people, for me it means the end of my systematic theology group. September seems so far away it almost hurts. Who will talk with me about God’s providence or His incommunicable attributes? Ontology? Eschatology? I’ll probably spend my Monday nights this summer sitting on the couch missing my friends, thanks.
I had fun studying this year and I learned so much about God through biblical teaching. You’d think with prickly topics like atonement and the gifts of the Spirit that our discussions would have easily gone the way of arguments and board game tantrums. (Actually, the only tantrums seemed to happen during game night). Most of us worried about one topic, though. What would happen to our happy little group when we talked about predestination? The “P” word. For some people, the mere mention of the word recalls embarrassing holy wars. Monday night came around and we all put off the opening prayer with small talk. After a few minutes, we knew we had to start or admit that we feared the discussion. One of us prayed and asked, “So what did you all think of the chapter?”
Then Dale walked in late. “What did I miss?”
“Nothing,” the discussion leader answered. “We just asked the ‘what did you all think’ question. Since you’re standing there, why don’t you start?”
“Well,” Dale said, “I appreciated how the focus of the chapter stayed on God’s glory. Like, God’s purpose is to glorify God. So when I read the verses and Grudem’s explanation, I could ask myself if this gave glory to God. It took away any fight I may have had in me on the subject.”
Dale probably didn’t know it at the time, but his reminder of God’s glory set the tone for the whole night. When it was all over, nobody raised their voice or interrupted or even shot cold looks to the other camp because, hey, we all found ourselves in the same camp. It took the focus off of us and put it on God, where it belongs.
God’s glory is His own, and why not? He’s ultimate. He’s totally sovereign. In case you’re wondering what “Glory” means, it means the fullness and significance of God. Glory is everything in and about God. There’s nothing in existence that could ever compare to Him. Satan tried. He got screwed. Then Satan convinced Adam and Eve to try comparing themselves to God, screwing mankind. God is above any comparison. Anything else is idolatry. Isaiah 42:8 says, “I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor My praise to graven images.”
His very presence is His glory. Moses asked to see it in Exodus 33:18. God said, “Tell you what, how about I show you my goodness? The fullness of just one attribute. I’m telling you, if you saw my face it would kill you.” Imagine seeing God and His awesomeness making your brain blow up like a firecracker.
So if God’s attributes add up to make His glory, then I want to talk a little about some of them. In John Piper’s landmark book, Desiring God, he often mentions Psalm 115:3. “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” Nothing surprises or frustrates God because everything works for His glory. He has dominion over everything. Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the LORD'S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” But what about sin? Didn’t sin surprise God? Then why in Ephesians 3:11 does Paul say, “This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord”?
And remember that eternity is more than an unending continuation of time. God, who is eternal, exists outside of time. Scholars have said God’s eternity enables Him to see all of time, from beginning to end, at once. This news brings comfort because we can know that God sees Jesus on the cross at the same moment that He sees our sin. That means that from the very beginning, God intended to reveal himself through the work of Jesus, His death and resurrection. God revealed Himself in this way and made it possible for us to have a relationship with Him. But God doesn’t answer to time. Orbits and seasons don’t bind him. Cornelius Van Til said for God to depend on a temporal series of events would mean He denied His eternity. Nowhere does scripture make any such claim of this denial.
Okay, retraction time. For the first time in the brief history of the Press, I’m going to say that I was wrong in a previous post. That’s what happens when a person continues to learn about a God too big to comprehend. A while ago, I wrote a post about free will. In it I said that God, out of love, willfully set aside the fullness of His omniscience regarding our salvation. But where did I get that idea? Its absence from scripture should have been a big red flag. No, I think I had come to a place where I assumed I understood God enough to make unscriptural claims on His behalf. As I write this, I can hardly believe I’d do such a thing, but that’s the result of a person trying to base their understanding of God on themselves. Yep, Xerox copies.
God is not beholden to any law of creation. To place God within the bounds of creation would be to diminish Himself; to place mathematics, science, or time as a standard of authority higher than God. This would eliminate His sovereignty. Why would He do such a thing? To say “because He loves us” would imply that we are equals worthy of God’s service, but this sounds much like the sin of Adam and Eve. I wonder if God would tell us what He said in Isaiah 46:5. “To whom would you liken Me and make Me equal and compare Me, that we would be alike?”
This sort of stuff could depress you. “What about my dignity? What about my individuality?” What about it? Listen, apart from God, we’re undignified sinners like everyone else. But in relation to God, we have dignity as people who bear His image and He loved us enough to send Jesus. He’s the one who knew you before you were born, who knows your name and the number of hairs on your head. Is it really so bad that we can only reflect God’s glory?
Think of it this way. We are mirrors. Any good in us comes from God, whether by common or particular grace. The book of James says that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father. When people see good in us, or we see it in ourselves, it would do us well to recognize God as the only source of that good. Like Jesus said in Mark 10:18, no one is good except God alone. It couldn’t have come from us. The book of Romans states pretty clearly that before we came to know Jesus, we were dead to sin. I mean, totally enslaved to sin, completely unable to do good. Only the power of the Holy Spirit enables us to do anything righteous because of what Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
As believers, we need to recognize that any autonomy we may have claimed should have died with Jesus when we accepted Him as our Lord and Savior. What of ourselves do we now have to show? We are only mirrors. Where we were once made ugly by sin, now we reflect a God so wonderful that David proclaimed in Psalm 40:5, “Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders which You have done, and Your thoughts toward us; there is none to compare with You. If I would declare and speak of them, they would be too numerous to count.”
I like the idea of recognizing my relationship to God’s glory. For one, it can make sharing the Gospel so easy. Everything can be brought around to glorify the Father, to tell of Jesus who best revealed and glorified the Father. For another, understanding the dynamic of my relationship to God’s glory helps me to understand my purpose. I am here to bear witness.