Step into virtually any church service in the world and, although you might not notice it, within five minutes you will be faced with a profound mystery which I have been struggling with for all my adult life (and am currently writing an MA dissertation on). This post will hopefully bring the beginnings of my enlightenment…
In every church service, Christians will sing a lot about the depth of God’s love for us. They will speak about how he is a God of such self-giving love that he died for us in the person of Jesus. This is a fundamental Christian belief which exists throughout Christian history and infuses every page of the Bible.
However, every church service will also express the fact that God is a God who seeks his own glory. This may or may not be explicitly mentioned, but it will be implicit in the very fact that your church service is devoted to worshipping God. Again, God seeking his own glory is a truth which is expressed throughout the Bible, and has been recognised by every generation of Christians.
However, these two things seem to be fairly contradictory. We don’t like people who seek their own glory – we call them egomaniacs, narcissists, insecure…
It seems to stand in contrast to what we do like – love – which is other-centred, a thoroughly self-giving attribute. Love seems to be the opposite of self-centred glory-seeking.
Some people go even further, and say that love is just a manifestation of God’s glory-seeking. When God loves us by doing good things for us, his ultimate motivation is to get his own glory – he loves us in order to get something else. One thing that can be said for this approach is that it resolves the tension between God’s love and his glory-seeking.
However, wanting someone for something else isn’t anything we would normally recognise as love – just as if I marry a woman for her money, we wouldn’t say I was marrying her out of love. This approach is not only unattractive, it actually denies the biblical teaching about God’s love.
On the other hand, some people suggest that God desires to bring glory to himself because he loves us – he wants to show us himself because it will bring us joy to see his beauty and be in relationship with him. This makes more sense, and is rather more attractive, but still seems to not be true – there are several passages which seem to contradict this (e.g. Ezekiel 36:22).
There is a lot to be said about this, and no doubt I’ll write more in the future. But I think a key point is that the Trinity helps answer it.
Christians do not believe in a purely monotheistic God. We believe in a God who is a community of three persons who love each other. The persons of the Trinity don’t seek their own glory for their own sakes, but only out of love of one another.
If you love someone, you like it when people think highly of them, and don’t like it when they are disrespected. I remember, for example, when my sister got into Cambridge going around and telling my friends how clever she was. It seems to be a little bit like that in the Trinity. They glorify each other, not out of egocentricity or in order to shore up some insecurity in themselves, but simply because they love each other.
When God acts for the sake of his own glory, it isn’t because He is self-centred – it is because They are centred on each other. There’s no tension between love and glory, because glory-seeking is love.