Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Is God Arrogant for "Wanting Glory"?

Maybe you've heard this one before:  God wanting honor and Glory makes him arrogant and I'd never worship a being that desired honor and glory for himself. 

What is the proper response to this?  This is a common objection and I think it’s built on the skeptic's inability to imagine a truly perfect being. The atheist builds this objection on a limited platform of what it means to be human – any person we know of, no matter how great, would be considered an egotistical megalomaniac if he demanded others to tell him how great he is. But God is not a human, not fallen, not in any way imperfect. God is the greatest conceivable Being. Therefore the atheist is here guilty of a failure of the imagination to consider the motivations and actions of a being of truly infinite power, wisdom and love.
So if we do start with such a Being, what should we make of a repeated desire that he be worshiped and that glory be ascribed to him? Well, if we reach in our minds for a PERFECT being, we reject out of hand a motivation as base as arrogance or insecurity. An all-sufficient being has no need to prop up a sagging ego. The atheist has in mind the flighty, petty deities that inhabited Mount Olympus when he sees the God of the Bible being worshiped. He thinks of a schoolyard bully who demands homage and we know why: he fears his own weakness.
But the God of the Bible never comes across like this. Instead, his glory (literally, his “weight”) is simply said to be a fact of his all loving, all holy, all powerful nature (Ex 24:16). His glory is not first a thing he seeks from us, it is first an unalterable fact of his very being. God IS glorious, whether you or I acknowledge it or not. So in that sense, his seeking to be worshiped by us, is not arrogance but a desire to teach a primary lesson in the nature of reality. If God is aback all things, this God is glorious, and when we align ourselves with this fact, we come into truth, and then it goes better for us. Far from being selfish then, God’s desire for glory is a gift to us.
Example: A person can live their life without ever knowing fully electricity really is. They see it, but maybe ascribe it to unknowable forces. But the more they find out what electricity is, the more they develop a healthy fear of its power, while at the same time developing more awe of the benefits of that power if channeled correctly. You can live OK without a really accurate view of electricity, but when you bring your life in line with reality, life takes off. If electricity had a “will” to bless us, it might instruct us to “glorify” the lightning bolt – for our own sake!
Just like that, it is God’s gift to us to show us (in Creation and Redemption) that behind the Universe is a First Cause, who necessarily must be all powerful, self-existent, eternal and spiritual. In a word, Glorious. When we get in line with this reality, we find the Source of our being, the Source of meaning, the Fountainhead from which we sprang, the Source of eternal comfort.
Moses, after being faced with the awesome power of God in the Egyptian plagues, had only one request, to see more of the glory of God (Ex 33). This request was not born out of a man being an obsequious runt, playing to Yahweh’s pathetic need to be feel “great”! Far from it.  Read the text, the OPPOSITE is true. His desire to see the glory of God was born out of God bringing him along in relationship and intimacy – in short, his desire to see more of God’s weighty splendor came as a result of God deciding to share that splendor with him.
How is this arrogant? This is the opposite of petty arrogance or insecurity. This is generosity! God wants to share who he is (his glory) with his creation. And only people who hunger for that glory, will get in on it – again a natural consequence of living in line with reality. Paul says that the people who will not so hunger (IE who did not glorify God) received in themselves all manner of troubles (Romans 1:21-25). Their chief error is that they believed a lie – and certainly if there is a God responsible for this grand universe, to ignore his existence and nature is a terrible oversight and will naturally lead to life not working right – and that's just how Paul's describes those who diminish or deny God’s “glory” (Romans 1:29-31).
As for people being somehow bullied by God into giving God this glory, two misunderstandings are probably happening.
Number one, the skeptic is probably incorrectly interpreting a specific Calvinistic branch of Christianity. They perhaps have a vague idea that Calvinists talk about God’s glory being the sole purpose of all his activity. And when one hears (as some Calvinists believe) that this God has pre-selected people for an eternity in hell, all for the “sake of his glory”, it’s not hard to imagine they have a problem with such a God. I won’t chime in here in on the debate within the church about predestination to hell, but suffice to say that most Calvinists struggle with “double predestination” (election to hell) and so the whole objection to God seeking Glory by sending people to hell, is probably a gross misunderstanding of A) how election works and B) God’s motives within election. We should rightly look at predestination as a separate problem to work out aside from the problem of God’s glory.
Number two, they probably are imagining this God saying time after time, “give me glory!” Perhaps some psalm or proverb in the Bible puts this sentiment in God’s mouth just like that… but I can’t think of even one time myself.  I’m ready to stand corrected on that point.  But the larger point is the repeated examples in Scripture of those human agents who have experienced the glory of God, who willingly and energetically “give God glory” and encourage others to do the same (Ps 29:1,2). Again, most of the time God’s glory is simply described as a simple fact of his perfect, splendorous and weighty nature – and how is that arrogant?
When the call is made to glorify the Lord, it’s usually not (if ever) God’s demand, but the fellow traveler’s plea to us: "I've seen the glory of the King, bring him worship, he’s worthy of it." This is therefore the furthest thing from an arbitrary, self centered demand from a petulant Deity. In Scripture we never find this formula from God’s mouth: “I'm great, say it, say it!"  Rather, the formula is something closer to, “I have greatness within my very Being, and if you will align with it, you will share in it.” (Romans 8:17)
So God's glory turns out to be awesome good news and speaks to God’s awesome liberality, not conceit.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Some Superbowl Perspective

WARNING:  stretched application of bible verse ahead.  Now, I’m normally a stickler for not taking a verse out of context to make it say something it isn’t saying.   And, in this case, I still think my conclusion fits the principle set forward by Jesus, but I might be the only one who would make the connection I made yesterday.

OK, so enough hedging, get to the point!

Yesterday (AKA, Black Monday) I was, as were most of you, lost in a post Superbowl coma, suffering from a sort of PTSD of the sports fan variety.  We lost the game.  I mean, we HAD the game won, handed to us on a silver platter and then, as if it were too simple to just take the game so offered up, (on the one yard line with the best running back in the NFL in our backfield), we handed the trophy back and said, “first, we’d like to up the level of difficulty, if you don’t mind.”

What could go wrong?

Oh, right, that.  Oops.

For the next 12 hours of consciousness, which stretched well into Monday, I couldn't help returning to the game, and saying under my breath, “just run the ball”.  Over and over.  Each time with an emphasis on a different word.  JUST run the ball!  Just RUN the ball!  Just run the BALL!!  Remember the Dolphin placekicker, Ray Finkle, from Ace Ventura?  He/she (long story, rent the movie) went crazy after losing the Superbowl on a botched field goal, and wrote obsessively, “laces out, Dan!” – over and over and over.

Ya, it was a bit like that.

(Side note:  if you had several reasons to think it was destiny for the Seahawks to win based on the miraculous plays leading up to the end, I have one more.  During the last quarter – this is no lie, I swear on the legacy of Steve Largent – I opened up the Bible app on my phone and started to read. Why you ask?  No, not trying to be holy, not trying to invoke the Almighty into an athletic contest of overpaid superstars.  No, I was just trying to be less caught up (read: angry) in the fact that we were blowing a 10 point lead in the 4th quarter.  This actually was working, so I kept reading between plays, even as we started mounting a drive with time expiring.  This is what I read [again, I swear on the grave of Chuck Knox this happened]: “with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible”.  Huh.  Just then, I look up and see Wilson cock his arm and unload.  Deep.  Kearse jumps, he bobbles, he falls, but before the ball can land, he somehow cradles the magic bean between his legs, tips it up to himself, rolls, and finally, miraculously, secures it – 1st and goal at the 5!  What!?!?

Things that are not humanly possible are happening – again!  I mention this simply to underline how the interception 2 plays later hit me like a Kenworth.)


On Monday morning, I’m back to my routine, but on the way in to work, no sports radio in the car - the normal therapy won’t help this patient - plus our recent media fast made it easier for me to turn off the chatter.  I had a meeting, did some reading, email, and off to the Y to burn off steam and play some ball.  Afterwards I sit down to rest and a guy I’ve been getting to know sits next to me.  He knows I’m a pastor.  And we’d had a couple of conversations but nothing significant. 

Suddenly, he starts to pepper me with questions.  “What do you think happens to you right after you die?”  “Who goes to heaven?”  “Do people who go to hell, somehow choose that?”  “Are we living near the end of time?”  At about 5 minutes in, I’m realizing God has put me serendipitously into a high stakes, high importance conversation that I did not plan for or see coming.  But I loved every minute of it.  Every word of mine, bathed in a silent prayer.  Every question I returned with a question, seeking to know this friend, and to give a reasonable answer for my hope.  When it was done, I felt I had been an instrument in that man’s spiritual journey, just one of many I’m sure, but one link in his Journey to Christ.

I arose from that conversation renewed, invigorated, revived, alive!!  Superbowl loss?  (Mostly) Forgotten.

OK, so now comes the stretch application of a Bible verse (oh, you thought it was the “with God all things are possible” thing?  No, not going there…).  As I drove home, mood renewed, John 4:34 jumped into my mind.  “My food,” Jesus said, “is to do the will of the One who sent me.”  You see, just before that, the disciples had left Jesus to look for food.  The thing everyone wants and needs.  The thing we crave.  But while they were gone, Jesus was busy in a high stakes conversation that lead to the eternal destiny of one woman and her whole village being changed.  And so when the disciples returned with food, Jesus didn't seem interested in it.  He says to them, “I have a food you know nothing about” (vs 32).  So now they think maybe he got food somewhere else.

No, says Jesus, my nourishment, my prime sense of feeling at peace and satisfied, complete and full and joyful is when the Father is using me!  I just see him beaming as he said it, relishing being a part of what REALLY matters.

A Superbowl victory feels like it matters; Feels like bread to a starving man.  Just look at how we reacted last year.  We went bonkers, like we had been starving; a 40 year drought in Seahawk nation – when suddenly, miraculously food fell from the sky.  Sustenance.  What the nutty sports fan had been craving for so long was finally here.

But then there’s a food we “know nothing about”, a better food than sports fan ego-enhancement.  (Let’s face it, what else is on the line as a fan?)  It’s the food of knowing we are doing God’s work and God’s will.  The thrill of being a part of the victorious march forward of Christ’s kingdom, the seeking and saving of lost things.  That’s food that satisfies in a whole different way.  I tasted that food again on Monday and it was better, I say, than the food of football victory.

Just a little something to help keep perspective, Seahawks fans.

But next time, Carroll, for the love of all that is holy, RUN. THE. BALL!