In the latest blog-o-battle, the contemporary Reformed idea of God's glory has been raised and questioned (see here), defended (see here, here, and here), moderated and redefended (see here), again refuted (see here), and defended yet again (see here). Today I will not attempt to weigh in on this ongoing debate. Rather, I will simply offer my alternate take (from the Cramer theo-archives) on how God's glory might be rightly understood. Enjoy. -DC
If there is anything we know, it’s that everything that happens is for the purpose of bringing God glory, right? Well, biblically, yes and no. It comes down to definitions. It seems that the popular Calvinist definition of God’s glory means something along the lines of “God’s display of His power and majesty over His creation.” If this is how we are to define God’s glory, then the best way God could display His glory might be to deterministically cause every event to take place. For everything that He caused would then be yet another display of His power. While there is something true to God’s glory being displayed through His power, I think biblically this definition of His glory is limiting at best. Rather, it seems that God’s glory is displayed in various ways, power and majesty, yes, but more fundamentally, through His loving, interpersonal interaction within the Godhead and His creatures and through the advancement of His Kingdom.
Consider John 17:
Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was (17:1-5).
Here, Jesus offers two expressions of God’s glory: (1) the eternal glory of the Godhead, and (2) the glory of the accomplishment of God’s work (i.e., preparation for the advancement of the Kingdom). Similarly, we see in Jesus’s healing ministry, which was of course a foretaste of the Kingdom on earth, the glorification of the Father. Cf. Matt. 9:8; 15:31; Mark 2:12; Luke 5:25, 26; 7:26; 13:13; 17:15; 18:43; John 11:4. Even Jesus’s obedience unto death was to glorify God (Jn. 13:31-32; 21:19).
So it seems clear that God’s glory is not just a matter of His brute power (e.g., in the number of elect He can save and the number of reprobate He can damn), but rather is a matter of His power used in conjunction with His nature. God’s glory is not dependent on humans—it is an out-flowing of the inner-workings of the Trinity itself. When we follow in Christ’s example and work for the advancement of God’s kingdom, we participate in the glorification of God, but ultimately God’s glory would be just fine without us, damned or saved (as it was long before creation).
But perhaps we’re beating around the bush a bit. Let’s get back to that main question: Isn’t God glorified in everything that happens? As I said earlier, yes and no. Here’s why: Just as God is glorified through the expression of His Trinitarian nature and the advancement of His kingdom, so He is not brought glory through the distortion of His image in humans and the advancement of the kingdom of this world or the kingdom of darkness or whatever you want to call it. Every sinful action that takes place is both a distortion of the imago Dei (image of God) and an advancement for the kingdom of darkness in the life of the sinner. Not only do these things not bring God glory, but also we see in Ezekiel 18, they actually grieve God and go against His desires for His creatures. So, that’s the no part of the answer to our question above. Here’s the yes part of our answer: ultimately we know that God’s Kingdom will not only prevail over the kingdom of darkness; it will actually destroy it (along with death itself) in the lake of fire. So while God is not glorified in the individual sinful actions of man or the sad consequence of those actions that include eternal separation from Him, He will be glorified when all sinfulness and death is done away with once and for all. He does receive glory through His ultimate victory, but in the meantime, He is glorified through individual victories over sin, not through sinful actions themselves.