Thursday, December 14, 2006

What does it mean "to give glory to God"?

Some years ago I undertook a study of the glory of God in which I located, read, and categorized every occurrence of the word “glory” in the Bible, as well as several corollary words. Part of the way through this study I became a bit perplexed at what the Bible could possibly mean by the phrases “give glory to God” or “glorify God” (see, e.g., Jer. 13:16 & Rev. 14:7). After all, I reasoned, what do I have to give God that he does not already have? How can I in any way, or in any sense, give God anything?

I was greatly helped in this by getting clear in my mind what the two primary meanings of the words for “glory” are. First, “glory” means radiance, effulgence, brilliance, brightness, and the like. It is the intrinsic brilliance of God that is of necessity, and in a variety of ways, displayed and beheld and prized and praised. As one carefully studies the Bible, he will see that we are never commanded to give God glory in this sense of the word. That would be like asking a book of matches to add to the brilliance of the sun—not only would it fail, it would be utterly consumed in the attempt!

Second, “glory” means honor or respect or praise or credit. Take, for example, Matthew 15:29-31, “Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain and sat down there. And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel.”

What happened here? The crowd (1) beheld the outworking of the great power of God through Jesus, (2) they had a natural and irrepressible sense of awe and wonder in their souls about it, and (3) they expressed that awe and wonder by giving verbal honor or credit or praise where these things were due, namely, to God. What the Bible means, therefore, when it commands us to give glory to God is that we should give him honor in all things, for it is due him in all things—whether in healing or eating or drinking or sleeping or working or playing, ad infinitum.

It is tempting to say, then, that giving glory to God is simply a matter of integrity and honesty, that it is a matter of giving credit where credit is due. But the Bible is calling for more than this: the Bible is calling for us to behold the glory of God, which is manifested in a variety of ways, to prize and love and rejoice and stand in awe of the glory of God, and then, with glad and sincere hearts, to declare the beauty of what we have seen, first to God and then to others. In other words, the Bible is calling for deep, heart-felt, authentic, grateful, humble responses to the surpassing greatness of the glory of God beheld. It’s calling for the kind of honor that is completely enamored of the person being honored.

I know this post is getting long, but I can’t resist raising and then oh so briefly addressing one more question: Why did God design creation to elicit this kind of response? Or put another way, why did God make himself the ultimate end of creation if he was already full in himself? To state the answer briefly, God did not create the world to add to his fullness, he created the world to display his fullness and to share his delight in himself. To say that the glory of God is the end or the ultimate purpose of all things, including our joy in him, is to say that he created us to delight with him in the infinitely delightful, i.e., in God himself. The God-centeredness of God, far from being the death of joy, is its very fountain and life and fullness and longevity. And hence John Piper’s now famous dictum, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.

Thanks for being patient with such a long post.

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