Well, since I said I would write a blog on this in a previous blog, I think it is time, seeing as how there might be some possible misunderstandings that have arisen.
There is a popular notion in the evangelical world today that I think has become part of our folklore and can very easily misrepresent the character of God by attributing to Him motivations for creation that I do not believe are true. Some would say that God’s purpose, intent, and motivation for creating humanity and all of creation was for His own self-glorification. I think that this is a difficult position to sustain biblically and theologically.
My basic argument is that if we were to say that the purpose in God’s creation of humanity is for His own self-glorification without major qualification, I believe that we do damage to God’s character. I want to briefly lay out my reasons why I would not and do not say that God created man to glorify Himself.
1. Theological Consideration: We implicitly deny His aseity, implying some sort of lack or need in God. The aseity of God is a doctrine which says God is without any need. Literally, He is “of Himself.” This means that God does not need man in any way whatsoever. He was not in heaven twiddling his thumbs before creation and therefore decided to create us to avoid eternal boredom. It was not that God was lonely and needed companionship. Neither was God in need of someone to respond to His being with glory. Therefore, God did not and does not need us to glorify Him. If God truly has the attribute of aseity, than this motive of self-glorification, unless qualified to a great degree, moves beyond our consideration.
2. Practical Consideration: By saying that God’s purpose in creating us was to glorify Himself, we turn God into a egotistical glory monger who no longer has any analogy of being to which we can identify. This, in turn, does damage to our understanding of the imago dei in which humans have been created. Now, this might be the case. Being a practical consideration, it is inherently going to be the weakest. God could very well be egotistical and self-consumed and we, as His creation, cannot say anything to change that. As well, being the case that He is the infinite, we could say that this type of motive, while repulsive in the human context, is allowable in the context of the Greatest Conceivable Being. But I do not believe this is the case if our understanding of the transcendent moral downfalls of egotism is correct. Even among the best and brightest of our kind, we do not honor glory mongers. Why? Because anyone who only seeks to draw attention to themselves is seen as a dysfunctional human who needs physiological help. We understand that one of the greatest characteristics that humans can possess is being focused upon others even in their own greatness. Do we really want to allow God to bear a great dysfunction and call it a virtue simply because His is deserving? I would be very careful with this.
3. Analogous Consideration: Consider an analogy for a moment. The closest that you and I can come to understanding the motive for creation is in having children. We have the ability to decide whether or not to have children. While we are not the ultimate creator of our children, we do serve as secondary causes and, from a human standpoint, do have a choice to make in the decision making process. When Kristie and I decided to start having children, we had reasons. But what if someone were to ask me why I had my first daughter Katelynn and I said, “Because I wanted to glorify myself. My primary purpose is that she would one day know how great I am.” You would probably send me off somewhere in a paddy wagon and rightly so. But this is not the case. Kristie and I had Katelynn because it was a joy to share life with others. We receive great pleasure from this. We wanted someone to love, not necessarily someone who would love us. Katelynn will naturally respond in recognition of us and bring honor and glory to us so long as we deserve it. But our deserving of this does not equate to the motive behind our decision. I believe it is the same way with God. God is perfect and deserving of glory, and we, as His children, should recognize Him for who He is and thereby give Him glory. But this does not imply that His purpose in creation was for this end.
3. Biblical Consideration: If I were to hand a person a Bible who has never read it before and ask them to tell me why they think God created everything, I doubt that they would ever say at the end of the day, “The best I can tell is that God has created all things with the purpose that He receives glory.” What they would probably do is be overwhelmed by the generosity and mercy of God. I think the most natural conclusion from Scripture is to say that the God of the Bible created all of creation so that He could share of Himself. Therefore, generosity and grace would be the primary motive in creation, not self-glorification. Notice, from the very beginning, God is seen as a giving God with no explanation as to why. Adam was given life. God gave Adam the earth to rule over. He gave him the animals. If that weren’t enough, He then gave him Eve. Even when they rebelled, God initiated a plan for their redemption. He gave them children and began to work through the line of one of them so that He could eventually redeem man who did not deserve to be redeemed. He gave Abraham a promise that He would be a father of many nations and that through him he would give the world a great blessing. When the fullness of time came, He gave His own Son over to a terrible death for man. I am sorry, but I do not find an egotistical God whose purpose in creation is self-glorification. It is just not there, but maybe I have missed something. But we are not done. If God is so concerned about self-glorification, why is it that He is found consummating all things by sharing in His glory with us. Finally, when all is complete and the restoration of all things has come to pass, He gives glory over to humans.
“The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:16-17; emphasis added)
“And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:30; emphasis added)
“Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3)
Shining like the stars is a vivid illustration of receiving glory. I do not believe that God is presented in the Scripture as one who seeks His own glory, as noble of a confession as that may sound, but one who is sharing in His glory. Indeed, if we define glory as “weightiness” through a recognition of the character of something, God does and should receive glory in all things. We, as His children, have as our primary purpose of existence to glorify Him, but that does not equate to saying that His primary purpose in creation is to glorify Himself.
1 Corinthians 10:31
“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” This is our purpose statement, not necessarily God’s.