I am uncomfortable when I hear God’s glory upheld as an ultimate telos, purpose, or good. Whose God? What sort of glory? At what cost to whom? Giving “God” the “glory” is a risky business. In fact, traditional notions of “God” and “glory” may render the whole exercise futile. Zeal without knowledge in this area can do more harm than good.
Consider the ancient dispute between Job and his three friends. Job suffers a great calamity — the loss of his family, wealth, health, and reputation. Traditional wisdom, shared by Job and his friends, dictates standards for what God ought to do. God ought to bless the righteous and curse the wicked. Job is cursed. Therefore, according to traditional wisdom, either (a) Job is wicked or (b) God has done Job wrong.
Eager to glorify God, Job’s friends condemn Job. They condemn a righteous man to glorify God within their traditional framework. Their refrain is consistent — the Lord would never strike down the innocent; the Almighty is always right by virtue of unsurpassed power. Job’s cries for justice are therefore doubly misguided.
By comparison, Job knows that he is innocent. He cannot suppress his moral experience. Unlike his friends, Job cannot blame the victim. Even so, Job shares the traditional wisdom of his friends — either Job or God is guilty. Therefore, innocent Job accuses the Lord of wrongdoing and demands an audience with the Almighty. Such boldness is blasphemy in the eyes of Job’s friends yet a moral necessity for Job.
Speaking from the whirlwind, the Lord challenges the traditional wisdom shared by Job and his friends. First, Job must not submit on account of the Lord’s power (Job tries to do so after the Lord’s first speech). The Lord’s power must not obscure the Lord’s wisdom. Second, Job’s traditional standards for divine justice are inadequate to the Leviathan task facing the Lord — the task of overcoming all prideful opposition to the Lord. It would not be best for all concerned if Job, sufficiently empowered, were to govern the universe according to his traditional wisdom.
In response, Job worships the Lord in dust and ashes. Job was slow to glorify God and quick to contend. Yet, in the end, Job has spoken rightly about God. The Lord can easily address Job’s accusations by testing Job’s traditional wisdom. One who seeks the Lord is easily guided.
By comparison, Job’s friends tread righteous Job underfoot in their hurry to glorify God. They cannot recognize righteousness in the flesh because they are in the grips of a theological idol. This theology requires human, rather than divine, sacrifice. As such, they do not know the Lord. Even so, the Lord cares for them. The Lord requires Job, one who hallows his name from the depths, to mediate on the Lord’s behalf.
If we (Christians) worship a self-emptying God through Jesus, then we should expect God’s glory to take on a surprising inglorious form. God is glorified through the obedient death of his son, even death on a cross. Very strange. As such, we should be slow to glorify God.
First, the glory of God must be a moral glory — the glory of God’s holy character and sublime wisdom, not the glory of sheer power. A morally glorious God invites us to contend with the Almighty.
Second, the God we glorify must be the living God rather than a theological idol. This God is found amongst the downtrodden and often unknown to the mighty. This God is no respecter of traditional wisdom, in any era. Expect a profound challenge if you seek the Lord — even a challenge to theology as usual.
Finally, as we hear cries of “Glory to God”, we must ask “At what cost to whom?” If “glorifying God” demands the sacrifice of those for whom the living God cares then we miss the mark. Let us tread carefully here lest we harden our hearts to the purposes and character of the living God.
Image: Flickr (credit: Alexandre Dulaunoy)