In what way is God’s love for us most clearly seen?
Last week I posted an article in which I argued that if God is going to love us in the fullest and highest manner, he must seek from us the praise and adoration of all that he is. It is a portrayal of God in Scripture (see John 4:23) that almost destroyed C. S. Lewis’s faith. Today I want to continue thinking on this theme. So let me begin with an illustration.
If God is to love my wife, Ann, optimally, in the most superlative way possible, he must bestow or impart to her the best gift he has, the greatest prize, the most precious treasure, the most exalted and worthy thing within his power to give. That gift, of course, is himself. Is there anything better than God that God can give her? No. Nothing in the universe is as beautiful and captivating and satisfying as God!
It isn’t enough that God gives to Ann a Snickers when she’s hungry or good health instead of disease or a new car when the old one breaks down. Even though she may take great delight in a new diamond ring, such a gift could never be an expression of God’s greatest love and affection for her. This isn’t to say these things aren’t wonderful. Of course, they are. But they pale in comparison with God himself.
So, if God loves her, he will give himself to her and then work in her soul to awaken her to his beauty and all-sufficiency. In other words, he will strive by all manner and means to intensify and expand and enlarge her joy in him. All of which is to say, and I owe this thought to John Piper, that God’s love for Ann is seen not in him making much of her, but in him graciously enabling her to enjoy making much of him forever.
So God comes to Ann in the person of Jesus Christ and says: “Here I am in all my glory. Look at me. Behold me. Study me. See me. Explore me. I am incomparable, infinite, immeasurable, and unsurpassed. So, be satisfied with me! Enjoy me! Celebrate who I am! Experience the height and depth and width and breadth of savoring and relishing me!”
Does that sound like God pursuing his own glory? Yes. But it also sounds like God loving my wife perfectly and passionately. The only way it is not real love is if there is something for Ann better than God: something more beautiful than God that he can show her, something more pleasing and satisfying than God with which he can fill her heart, something more glorious and majestic than God with which she can occupy herself for eternity. But there is no such thing! Anywhere! Ever!
If I stood on the platform of Bridgeway Church week after week and said to the people in attendance: “Bridgeway, men and women, young and old, my aim in all that I do is to get you to tell me and everyone else how unbelievably great and good and glorious I am. So come on. Praise me. Adore me. Spread the fame of Sam Storms far and wide. Tell others what they are missing by not being here. Explain to them all of my attributes and personality traits and be sure you convince them that no one can compare with me.”
If I did that, at minimum they should get up and walk out and never return. Perhaps even better, they should openly rebuke me, mock me, laugh at me, and then do whatever they could to get me institutionalized in a psychiatric hospital as an incurable megalomaniac of the worst possible sort. If you’re not familiar with the word “megalomania”, the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “delusion about one’s own power or importance” (889).
So, if that is how they should treat me should I dare to make such claims for myself, how does God escape the same judgment? Why he does he get off the hook? Why don’t we mock him as a colossal megalomaniac? Why shouldn’t God be vilified and rejected? Why shouldn’t we take offense at him in the same way they would take offense at me?
The reason is simple. I’m not God. He is. I’m not perfect. But he is. I’m not glorious or the most adorable being in the universe. But he is. I’m not the most valuable treasure in all the world. But he is. I’m not infinite in knowledge. He is. I’m not all powerful. He is. There are countless individuals more virtuous than me. But none are more virtuous than God. I cannot satisfy your soul beyond anything else in life. But he can. If you focus on me and what I can do for you, you will end up empty and deeply unsatisfied, just like the Samaritan woman at the well. But if you focus on God and all that he is for us in Jesus, you will never again thirst or go spiritually hungry or lack for the joy that your soul most deeply desires.
Do you see the difference? Do you now see why God can, indeed, why God must seek his own glory and praise and adoration and can do so as an act of supreme love rather than an act of selfishness and lunacy?
The point that I have labored to make is that if God is going to love us to the fullest, if God is going to seek our eternal happiness and welfare, he must be committed above all else to the pursuit of his own glory. He must do whatever is best suited to magnify his own name and to advertise his own glory. That is why he is so energetic and passionate about seeking out people who will worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23).
My conclusion is that if God is going to love us, he must first love himself. The most loving thing that God can do for you is to love himself pre-eminently. As John Piper has said, God is the only being in the universe for whom self-love and self-seeking is the consummate expression of his love for others.
Are you still turned off by this? Does it seem arrogant and egotistical of God to be pre-eminently concerned with his own glory? C. S. Lewis thought so, at least initially. The reason why isn’t difficult to ascertain. We intuitively recoil from people who are always seeking their own glory and exploiting others to enhance their reputation or position. We value altruism and hold narrow self-seeking in contempt. And rightly so.
So, again, how does God escape our disdain? How can we be asked to admire God for seemingly doing what we condemn in others? The answer is in the nature of moral excellence, which demands that we value what is most valuable and honor what is most honorable. Both the Bible and common sense tell us that we must cherish what is most valuable.
God is the supremely valuable being in the universe. His majesty exceeds that of all others, his holiness is incomparable and his beauty transcendently attractive. God is the pre-eminently worthy One and the most honorable being in existence. That is why we worship only him and ascribe all glory to his name (Exod. 20:3-4).
How could we describe God as righteous and good if he ever failed to pursue and preserve that which is supremely valuable and of greatest worth? That is why God must take ultimate delight in his own glory or he would be unrighteous. It is incumbent on everyone to take delight in a person in proportion to the excellence of that person’s glory. Whose glory can compare with that of God? If God were not to delight supremely in God, he would not be God, or at least he would be an unrighteous one and thus unworthy of our delight.
For God to fail or refuse to value himself pre-eminently would implicate him in the sin of idolatry. Idolatry is honoring anyone or anything as god, instead of God. If God were ever to act in such a way that he did not seek his own glory he would be saying that something more valuable than himself exists, and that is a lie. Worse still, it is idolatrous. The reason it is sinful for us to seek our own glory is because there is something more valuable and important than ourselves: God. We are but creatures. For the same reason it is righteous for God to seek his own glory because nothing is more important or more worthy than God. He is the Creator.
To sum up: God loves himself infinitely. He has to! His own glory is the principal focus of all his energy and efforts. It follows from this that everything he does is designed to win praise for that glory from his people.
So, if God is going to love you, he must do two things. First, he must give himself to you. He is himself the greatest gift. Second, he must work to secure from your heart the praise of his glory. Why? Is it because he is weak and deficient and our praise of him boosts his ego? No! It is because, as C. S. Lewis discovered, our enjoyment of God is not complete until it is expressed in praise and adoration.
My point is that if God is going to love us to the fullest, he must do what Jesus said he does. He must seek people who will worship him. Therefore, if God really loves us, he must work to bring us into the enjoyment of who he is (there’s our happiness) and thereby win from our hearts praise for himself (there’s his glory).
Thus, for God to seek his own glory and for God to seek your happiness are not separate or antithetical endeavors. Our highest good or happiness is in the enjoyment of God. God's highest good is in being enjoyed. Thus, for God to work for your enjoyment of him (that's his love for you) and for his glory in being enjoyed (that's his love for himself) are not properly distinct. That is the gospel of Christian Hedonism.
Father, you are committed above all else to find men and women, like us, to worship and praise you, to declare your greatness above all else. Thank you, Lord. Thank you for loving us so much that you would do this for us.