In a recent post, we’ve looked at the problem of glory-seeking and love – why, if God is so infinitely loving and other-centred, does he seek his own glory? We’ve seen that part of the answer is the love within the Trinity – but that this doesn’t explan how God’s love fits in.
In this post, I want to look at a theory put forward by the theologian Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). Edwards wrote the book The End for Which God Created the World in order to argue that God created the universe for his own glory, and that this is his ultimate aim in everything he does. However, he also insists that this isn’t the same thing as saying that love is only a dependent, subordinate goal to a more fundamental motivation. By contrast, he writes:
The work of redemption wrought out by Jesus Christ is spoken of in such a manner as, being from the grace and love of God to men, does not well consist with his seeking a communication of good to them, only subordinately. Such expressions as that in John 3:16 carry another idea. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, shoulod not perish, bt have everlasting life.” [He then gives a couple more examples of similar things the scriptures say.] But if indeed this was only from a regard to a further end, entirely diverse from our good, then all the love is truly terminated in that, its ultimate object, and therein is his love manifested, strictly and properly speaking, and not in that he loved us or exercised such high regard towards us.
God can’t be said to love us in order to do something else; that would be like a man marrying a woman for her money – not true love. (Anyone who interprets Edwards as teaching that God’s love for us is merely a subordinate goal, a side effect of something done in order to accomplish something else, is quite simply wrong.)
However, Edwards does want to insist that God’s glory is his ultimate goal in everything he accomplishes – so glory and love are both his ultimate goal in his works. How does that work? Well, Edwards says that loving us and seeking his glory aren’t just two goals that happen to be achieved in the same way, nor are they two goals – one subservient on the other. Instead, they’re actually the same goal.
Edwards argues this on the basis of what glory means. It means God’s internal attributes – his knowledge of himself, and his love and joy in that knowledge. (Edwards interprets this in terms of the Trinity, using a form of the psychological analogy. The persons love each other, and have joy in their relationship.)
In creation, God emanates this glory out to us – his external glory. We sharein God’s knowlege of himself, his love for himself, and his joy in himself. That’s the greatest possible thing that there could be for us – knowing, loving, and having joy in God is the most valuable thing in existence. And it is loving to make us all that we can be. But it is also God valuing his own glory supremely – if he thought something other than his glory was supremely valuable, he would give us something other than this to manifest.
However, this doesn’t completely satisfy Edwards. He wants to insist that everything God does for us is ultimately God-centred in an ultimate way. However, his theory seems to indicate that God also has respect to human beings as well as God.
Well, Edwards responds to this in a fairly complicated way, involving a particular view of infinity. He argues that we will, over time, continually grow in attributes of knowledge/love/joy of God. In other words, our knowledge/love/joy will over time become infinitely greater. As I posess each of them, I become gradually closer to God. After an infinite amount of time, I will therefore be one with God. Of course, this will never actually happen at a specific moment (infinity will never be reached, but we will aways be heading in that direction), but because God can see into the infinite future, he treats us on the basis of what we will be after infinity.
I have various questions about this, and find quite a few bits of this reconciliation unconvincing, but I’m curious as to what my readers think. Do you find it satisfying?