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The “Alien Work” Of God Part IV

Okay, this is getting ridiculous. Not this blog series. At least, I hope none of you think that. But I’ve noticed a pattern. Whenever I sit down to write one of these columns, NASA announces that they’ve found more extra-solar planets.
| Dec 21, 2011 | No comments | Series:

Okay, this is getting ridiculous.

Not this blog series. At least, I hope none of you think that. But I’ve noticed a pattern. Whenever I sit down to write one of these columns, NASA announces that they’ve found more extra-solar planets. Case in point: yesterday NASA announced they found two planets that are the same size as Earth but are outside their stars Goldilocks zone. It’s like NASA wants to help me prove a point: there are a lot of planets out there. Could some have life? Maybe, maybe not.

So far in this series, we’ve covered whether the Bible precludes alien life (it doesn’t, in my not-so-humble opinion) and whether or not aliens could have souls (better to assume they do). But a master of Christian fiction once asked a more provocative question: if we ever do encounter aliens, would they need to hear the Gospel or not? To put it more bluntly, he asked this question: should we assume that all aliens have fallen as humans have?

Who is this great theologian with aliens on the brain? Why, none other than the master himself, C. S. Lewis. In the book The World’s Last Night, Lewis included an essay entitled “Religion and Rocketry,” in which he discusses the whole alien question pretty thoroughly. As a matter of fact, while reviewing the essay Tuesday afternoon, I realized that pretty much anything I have to say on the subject, he does it better and in less space than I could. I was almost tempted to tell all of you to just go read the essay and be done with it, but then, I’d have nothing for these columns. I’d have to come up with something else and, truth be told, I’m a little lazy, so there.

Anyway, Lewis goes over the whole possibility of alien life business (pointing out that the existence of alien life is no real threat to Christianity), and then he asks a series of questions that he calls “formidable.”

Today I wanted to bring up his third question (we’ve covered the first two already):

If there are species, and rational species, other than man, are any or all of them, like us, fallen? This is the point non-Christians always seem to forget. They seem to think that the Incarnation implies some particular merit or excellence in humanity. But of course it implies just the reverse: a particular demerit and depravity. No creature that deserved Redemption would need to be redeemed. They that are whole need not the physician. Christ died for men precisely because men are not worth dying for; to make them worth it. [p. 86]

Lewis brings up a good point: how would we even know if intelligent alien life is sinful and fallen or not? And if they are sinful, how did they get that way? Did they fall with us? Or did they fall on their own?

While Lewis doesn’t go into great detail on those questions in his essay, he did play around with them in his Space Trilogy. Specifically, he explores those ideas in the first two books, namely Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. In those stories, Lewis dances on the edge of a theological tree branch over the whole question of how sin would relate to alien life. And while he never states this explicitly, if you read carefully between the lines you can suss out his theological underpinnings, which are basically as follows:

1) Every sentient race is given an “Eden” period, a time of childhood, so to speak.

2) In this Edenic period, they are given a moral rule of some kind. On Earth, it was don’t eat the fruit. On Venus (in Perelandra), the rule is to not spend the night on solid ground.

3) If the race overcomes the temptation, they “grow up” as a race and become adults. If they don’t, they fall into sin an need redemption.

4) The sins of one race doesn’t cause others to fall (although they can poison another planet from a distance).

This last one is pure supposition:

5) If a race has fallen, God will send His Son to sacrifice Himself for that race’s sins in a way that is significant for them.

Lewis touches on this point in his essay:

[I]f we knew that Redemption by an Incarnation and Passion had been denied to creatures in need of it—is it certain that this is the only mode of Redemption that is possible? . . . There might be different sorts and different degrees of fallenness. We must surely believe that the divine charity is as fertile in resource as it is measureless in condescension. To different diseases, or even to different patients sick with the same disease, the great Physician may have applied different remedies; remedies which we should probably not recognize as such even if we ever heard of them. [p.87]

This could be fertile ground for speculative fiction, but I suspect that, as Christians, we’d have a hard time of dreaming of different “medicines.” At least, whenever I read Christian spec fic and there’s a redemptive sacrifice, death and resurrection are almost always involved.

Nevertheless, this presents one possible cosmology: each alien race, isolated on their own planets, at least one fallen, some possibly not. Perhaps different salvation stories cherished and treasured by those who encountered Christ in their own way. The conflict would come when a fallen race meets and unfallen one, which was the basis for Lewis’s trilogy.

As much as I appreciate Lewis’s theological ruminations, I once had fun playing with the opposite idea. But that’s a story for two weeks from now. In the meantime, have a blessed Christmas and remember, Christ became incarnate, not because we deserved it, but precisely because we didn’t. Is it any wonder we keep coming back to C. S. Lewis?

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Bob
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Bob

Christ died for men precisely because men are not worth dying for; to make them worth it.


Mikeschair should have read Lewis, or the Bible.

You are more than flesh and boneCan’t you see you’re something beautifulYeah you gotta believe, you gotta believeHe wants you to see, He wants you to seeThat you’re not just some wandering soulThat can’t be seen and can’t be knownYeah you gotta believe, you gotta believe that you Are someone worth dying for



E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Mikeschair should have read Lewis, or the Bible.

Bob: I’m not sure who Mikeschair is, but I was thinking of more songs than just one, along with a few books and general evangelical memes, that say the same thing.

Two questions I’d ask:

1. Which is more Biblical: Jesus died because you were worth it, or He died to make you worth it — that is, to reunite you with perfect joy Himself, our Creator?

2. Secondary: which one of the above is the better and more amazing Story?

These are tangential, of course. Thanks again, John, for a provocative, timely, and truth-reflective piece!

Galadriel
Guest

I always thought that those lyrics were about our worth in Christ. 

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

… Which, in my view, would still make the lyrics squishy. Still, I’m a firm propoopponent of “worm theology” that weakens belief in the Spirit’s transformative power — as if Christians now are exactly the same people they were before regeneration.

Bob, who would you say the song’s main audience is?

Based on that excerpt alone, it sounds like it’s directed to nonbelievers.

But even for struggling Christians, whose main problem is low self-esteem — well, some artists and other folks act as if that’s the only problem any person is suffering. As if arrogance isn’t an equal, or more likely more prevalent, problem.

The answer to a struggling soul is not to say, you’re great. It’s to say, Christ is great.

Bethany A. Jennings
Guest

I remember listening to a popular Christian band called “Zoegirl” when I was younger…one of the songs’ lyrics went something like this:

Your life was worth the price
Paid for you, paid for me

Even as a young kid (probably 10-11) I remember noticing the theological issue!

Kaci Hill
Member

Stephen – I think you meant “opponent of worm theology,” not “proponent.”

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Yep! Correction appended.

Bob Menees
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Bob Menees

The entire lyrics seems to be pointed to the struggling, both Christian and non, which includes almost everyone. The melody is quite catchy (listen on Youtube) and is a favorite on the charts. I’ve actually heard that the band admitted to the theological error, but . . . (when its bringing in all that dough- my thought) they would not remove it.

Lelia Rose Foreman (@LeliaForeman)
Guest

I enjoyed this post. Would that my laziness could come up with something this enjoyable.

Galadriel
Guest

I really enjoy how Lewis addreses the issue in his Space Trilogy. Malacandra’s evil is a line, Earth’s a square, and Perelandra’s (potential) a cube.

Kessie Carroll
Member

Aw, Lewis, such a thinker. I like to think sometimes about what might have happened had Adam and Eve not fallen, but one of their descendents did. So then the human race would be split between fallen and sinless peoples, and they’d be perpetually at war (can you imagine knowing someone who is perfect and not hating them? I can’t).
 
I read about those planets. Ever since Nasa stuck that new telescope up there, they’ve found truckloads of new planets. Those ones gallop around with some gas giants, too. How weird! Before the Fall, maybe we’d have been able to teleport to all these planets and live on them.

Galadriel
Guest

One author I read online has a story along similar lines, where the Adam and Eve fall but their adult children do not. While the author is sporardic with updates, the story is definately worth reading.  The Erenyel

Bethany A. Jennings
Guest

This is a fascinating series, Stephen!  I’m really enjoying it, especially as it helps me think more deeply about the world in my book, and how it relates to God, Christ, salvation, etc.

The thing is, there are people from modern-day Earth in my story, too, but the only way to travel between the worlds is through teleporting.  I assume that the two planets are in the same universe (although incredibly far away from each other), and I’ve always run on the idea that when humanity fell, the effects of that fall were felt to the ends of this universe, including the other world.  I reasoned, then, that the people of that world could be saved in Christ just as humans can.  (“…the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many…” – Romans 5:15)

But lately I’ve been questioning that and whether it “works” theologically.  After all, Christ was the only One able to be our savior because He was, as they say, the God-Man – fully infinite God, yet fully human.  In order to die for mankind, He needed to share our humanity.  Which makes me think, in order to save a fallen alien race, wouldn’t He need to share their…alien-ness?

However, the Bible is clear that Christ is now God Incarnate for all eternity, and that He died only once (Romans 6:9-10).  So the idea of Christ coming to another world and atoning for its sins in a similar way to what He did on Earth (*cough*–Aslan–*cough*) isn’t Biblically defensible, I don’t think…

Thoughts?  This topic is endlessly fascinating to me!  And it affects my book, too, so I’m curious what other people have to add to the discussion…

Kaci Hill
Member

On the lyrics: Evidently God thought we were worth the life of his Son. Indeed, even in the prophets he tells Israel he’d “trade men for you.”

Edit: The exact wording is:
““For I am the LORD your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I have given Egypt as your ransom,
Cush and Seba in your place.

“Since you are precious in My sight,
Since you are honored and I love you,
I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life.

“Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
And gather you from the west.”
~Isaiah 43:3-5

Bob Menees
Guest
Bob Menees

God’s love for Israel seems to be the motivation for the sacrifice of others and eventually himself in these verses, not Israel’s worthiness. To bring it to earth: Hitler’s mother may have loved her son enough to die for him.

Kaci Hill
Member

On the band’s admission: Maybe it’s just because I used to read a site (not affiliated with the Dekker site at all) on which people were rather vitriolic in their attitudes, but I’m a little hesitant to say it’s because they were making money. One, the song is already out. Two, most musicians don’t make that much. But that’s another rant. And no, I don’t think you were vitriolic (assuming I didn’t make that word up).
 
On the rest: For organization purposes I’ll reply to the Israel comment below.

Kaci Hill
Member

I’ll be the first to say that we bring nothing to the table of our own merit when we come before God, but in my case I’m really just balking at the idea of calling people worthless (because, for no apparent reason, I balk at derogatory language – even if I can certainly use it if appropriate).   The first thing that popped in my head was the passage in Acts where God tells Peter not to call anything unclean that he’s called clean.   I guess it’s not that cut-and-dried to me, because you have plenty of places where the Scriptures refer to “worthless men,” but you also have little gems like Hebrews 11:38 that calls the saints “men of whom the world was not worthy.” (Granted, that reference is comparing men, not men and God. Psalm 8 and I Timothy – I think – are more  beneficial.)
 
And I know I’m engaging in some drive-by, shaky theology, so bear with me.  In my head I just have to distinguish between the inherent value of being made in the image of God with our total, irrevocable unworthiness in the presence of God. 
 
Anyway. This drive-by theology is brought to you by Church Brats Anonymous. 0=)
 
 

Bethany A. Jennings
Guest

A thought – it occurs to me that perhaps our worthiness as human beings comes from the fact that we are created in the image of God (and in Him we “live and move and have our being”).  As fallen sinners, that image is tarnished.  It’s still there, but soiled.  Like a damaged piece of art – say, a broken piece of pottery – we are worthless…except for the potential of being repaired.  And repair is possible through Christ.  In Him, God’s people are being restored to truly being in the image of God.  Unbelievers, still broken, do not have that same worthiness, but because we don’t know who God will save or not, from our perspective we should see any sinner as having the potential of being repaired, because they still carry the shattered and soiled fragments of God’s image.

I think perhaps that is where the both-and comes in, as John said?

Kaci Hill
Member

John & Bethany – All valid points. I probably just balked based off the ‘worm theology’ Stephen mentioned he disagreed with.

Jeremy McNabb
Guest
Jeremy McNabb

As fallen sinners, that image is tarnished.  It’s still there, but soiled.  Like a damaged piece of art – say, a broken piece of pottery – we are worthless…except for the potential of being repaired. 

What you’re describing isn’t worthlessness. When God created the planet, the skies, the animals in it, he called them “good.” When he created man, he called us “very good.” To say that a bit of tarnish or a bit of sin can undo that which God has decreed is to say that our sin is greater than God, God’s word, or God’s grace. We can admit that we are damaged and fallen without needing to add that we are worthless. We often forget that there is more than a single definition of “good.” There is one sense of “good” that implies value, and another sense that implies behavior. Our value as human beings lies in the “breath of God” that was given to man, not our behavior. 

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Seems like everyone’s closing in on it, here.

And I think that’s how it usually works. A bit of rhetoric will get around, in song or book, about how much Jesus’ death proves we’re worth it, blah blah blah. Most people will subconsciously hear that as simply an echo of our worth only as bearers of the imago Dei, God’s image, as John explained.

However, as has also been said, the slogans could still use some Biblically based clarity, to prevent the opposite problem. This one seems far more prevalent in self-esteem-infected evangelical teaching and pop-culture …

… It’s the fact that others may take the we’re-worth-something thought much too far, away from “worm theology”/”my salvation means little to my nature” land (which is a danger!), and into sickening, man-exalting, God-in-my-image, “I love God more than anything, and so naturally He returns the favor” territory.

Doesn’t take a deep dive into theology proper to fix this, I suggest. Question:

Who does God love more — a) His people/you personally, or b) Himself?

(Because if anything other than B, God is an idolater. “You shall have no other gods before me,” I seem to recall Him saying, somewhere, someplace …)

I do see some believers, even Reformed folks, act as if the “total inability” and deadness in sin hasn’t much changed since the Spirit’s regeneration. Sure, there is a place for the apostle Paul’s “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” But it must conclude with something like this: ”    Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Romans 7: 24-25). Yes, we have a sin nature, which responds all too easily to the temptations of the flesh, the world, and the Devil. But the Spirit is in us too. Now the imago Dei can begin to be restored, as God rebuilds our friendship with Him.

And that, everyone, is what the true meaning of Christmas is all about …

Paul Lee
Member

Who does God love more — a) His people/you personally, or b) Himself?
(Because if anything other than B, God is an idolater. “You shall have no other gods before me,” I seem to recall Him saying, somewhere, someplace …)

I don’t see how the question is directly relavent.
 
But marriage is a metaphor of the relationship between God and man, right?  So, should a husband love himself more than his wife?
 
 I can understand God loving Himself to some degree, because He is a plurality, and in the Trinity He can have perfect fellowship and love; He didn’t need to create us.  But I think His creation of humans was an act of selfless love.
 
Maybe it’s dangerous to dwell too much on God’s love, since we don’t understand exactly what His love means, but I don’t like the suggestion that God loves Himself more than His creations.  He could have damned us all and perfectly preserved His own honor if that is what He was concerned about.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

I don’t like the suggestion that God loves Himself more than His creations.

Hmm, is it Biblical, though?

What does Scripture say about His concern and actions for His own glory?

He could have damned us all and perfectly preserved His own honor if that is what He was concerned about.

But that would have violated His nature, and His plans to do all for the sake of His own Name — including loving and preserving us, though we don’t deserve it.

But I think His creation of humans was an act of selfless love.

Here’s one text of Scripture, picking up in the middle of Philippians 2, so that perhaps you see where I’m coming from. (My hope is not simply to claim, Well, I think it would make God “look” better if we thought such-and-such about Him.)

And being found in human form, [Christ] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2: 8-11

There’s the goal. Christ’s humility and love, a means to an end: His exaltation, and the Father’s glory — His reputation, magnificence, presence, truth, beauty, holiness. (I’m sure I could dig up a more theological-sounding definition, though.) But seeing all as a means to God’s glory doesn’t at all cheapen His love. It enhances it: for God, being a God of truth and love, knows to give the best gift of all to people: Himself.

But marriage is a metaphor of the relationship between God and man, right?  So, should a husband love himself more than his wife?

Doesn’t mean that all human-marriage aspects have a direct correlation. One cannot reason backwards. Christ and His Church are the template; they came first (as Paul makes clear in Ephesians — marriage was always meant to symbolize that).

Otherwise … yeesh.

But perhaps the pastor on Spec-Faith’s “staff” may wish to comment. I do believe this issue is more relevant than some might think, because it is foundational to the why-does-God-love-us-anyway issue. That, in turn, informs the aliens topic …

But! Too late, out seeing Tintin — and a certain Hobbit teaser in 3D! — then lights.

Over and out, and to bed with me!

Paul Lee
Member

Mr. Burnett, I think there’s some point where you and I could agree on the nature of God’s love if only we could speak the same “language”.  I think we all develop different models and terminology in our minds to illustrate to ourselves what we can’t fully understand.
 
I think God’s glory is the only true glory, the source of glory.
 

But that would have violated His nature, and His plans to do all for the sake of His own Name — including loving and preserving us, though we don’t deserve it.

 
That would mean that God needs us, that His plan is not complete without us.  I’ve always been taught that God has never needed us for anything, that Jesus didn’t need to suffer and die to preserve God’s glory, but only because He loved the unlovable world.
 
God’s glory is not truly diminished when humans deny and dishonor Him, or He would have a weakness.  The hard-hearted deceive themselves into thinking they can spite God.  A crazy person can’t dim the sun by scrawling “darkness” on the walls of his cell (A C.S. Lewis paraphrase, I believe; I don’t remember where it came from).
 

Doesn’t mean that all human-marriage aspects have a direct correlation. One cannot reason backwards.

 
You’re right.  I feel that your suggestion that God must love Himself more than man because He commanded the Israelites to have no other god before Him is also reasoning backwards.
 

But seeing all as a means to God’s glory doesn’t at all cheapen His love. It enhances it: for God, being a God of truth and love, knows to give the best gift of all to people: Himself.

 
I was a little upset before, but this makes me feel better.  (And I know my feelings have nothing to do with truth; allow me the little vanity of expressing my fellings ;)).  If God is not the only complete truth and the only pure love, then there is no truth and no love.  I think His glory comes from His love; love is glorious.
 
One last thought — without love, everthing else is meaningless vanity (I Corinthians 13).  I think this even includes glory.

Kaci Hill
Member

And I think that’s how it usually works. A bit of rhetoric will get around, in song or book, about how much Jesus’ death proves we’re worth it, blah blah blah. Most people will subconsciously hear that as simply an echo of our worth only as bearers of the imago Dei, God’s image, as John explained.

 
What’s ‘blah blah blah’ about it? We are made Imago Dei. The blood of Christ is precious.  At the very least, our combined existence was worth every drop of his blood and every scar on his body.
 
 

… It’s the fact that others may take the we’re-worth-something thought much too far, away from “worm theology”/”my salvation means little to my nature” land (which is a danger!), and into sickening, man-exalting, God-in-my-image, “I love God more than anything, and so naturally He returns the favor” territory.

No offense, but I feel like you’re saying the very thing you’re trying not to say. 
I’ve had some time to think now.
 

(Because if anything other than B, God is an idolater. “You shall have no other gods before me,” I seem to recall Him saying, somewhere, someplace …)

 
You know, I read that Piper book, and at the time it made sense to me, this idea that God loves himself above all else. But here’s the thing: if I said that about anyone, it’d sound, at best, narcissistic.  God does not need to save humanity to get glory. He does not – he is not obligated, required, or duty-bound – to save my sorry hide or anyone else’s. If he condemns us all to Hell, he proves himself just. If he saves every last miserable soul on earth, he is compassionate and gracious.  He can send me to Hell and maintain his glory. That he doesn’t is also glorious, because he shows himself merciful to whomever will accept mercy.  He is slow to anger and quick forgiveness; his wrath is swift and brief; his lovingkindess is eternal.
God doesn’t love me to get glory. He didn’t save me for a personal notch in his divine belt. It’s who he is.
 
But like I said, I finally had time to put some articulate thought into this.  We have inherent value because we are made imago dei; but we are not worthy to stand in his presence without him as our mediator.  (Sorry, been in Job, which has presented some intriguing thoughts.)
Paul said: “He could have damned us all and perfectly preserved His own honor if that is what He was concerned about.”
Precisely, my dear Watson.

What does Scripture say about His concern and actions for His own glory?

At one point (and I have to look it up), he also says “for your sake,” meaning Israel, and in another he says “for David’s sake.” So it’s not that cut-and-dried.


But that would have violated His nature, and His plans to do all for the sake of His own Name — including loving and preserving us, though we don’t deserve it.

 
Not really. Justice and mercy have a symbiotic relationship; one doesn’t exist without the other.  Consider Adam’s sin. God was perfectly within his rights to just kill Adam and Eve.  It was the punishment he promised, and that was the Law: Eat the fruit, you will die. That was the entire Law for Adam and Eve.  The penalty for not doing so was death. God would be neither unjust nor merciless to exact the penalty he warned them of.  It is not outside his nature to punish the sinner; and it is not outside his nature to redeem them. In either case, he is within all that is right and good.  But he loves justice and prefers mercy – to paraphrase Micah 6.

(My hope is not simply to claim, Well, I think it would make God “look” better if we thought such-and-such about Him.)

No offense, but that’s exactly how it reads: God thought he’d look better if he didn’t kill the nasty humans, so he didn’t.  It’s why I reject that teaching.  God is infinitely glorious.  It cannot be diminished or increased because it is potent and immeasurably great.
Okay, I’m going to stop before I start rambling.
 
 

Bob
Guest
Bob

Transcendence does bring with it the paradox of our perception and God’s.
 
Maybe the issue in this discussion is with the words, worth and worthiness. A soul has worth. It bears the image of God and it’s loss is greater than all the world’s treasure. But that doesn’t infer its worthiness for salvation.  Otherwise grace won’t be grace.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Earlier this morning I was thinking, Eh, keep another comment brief. It’s Christmas, after all, and what has all this to do with Jesus’ birth?

I lied. Answer: it has everything to do with it!

Perhaps, also, we are all saying the same thing, in different ways, and/or from different angles. In that case, I’m happy to agree, even if my agreement comes across differently!

Or perhaps Paul or Kaci are wary of attempts to “glorify God” according to man-made definitions that sound spiritual and can perhaps lead to wrongful “worm theology,” the notion that saved people are no better (even in Christ?) than unsaved ones. Or perhaps I am wary of anyone (other readers, I mean), taking “Christ died because I was worth it” too far and winding up in cliched-but-problematic self-esteem Joel-Osteen land.

Either way, shall we continue? I will, however, mainly be asking questions …

From Paul (responding to my contention that God saved people to uphold and show His own merciful nature):

That would mean that God needs us, that His plan is not complete without us.  I’ve always been taught that God has never needed us for anything, that Jesus didn’t need to suffer and die to preserve God’s glory, but only because He loved the unlovable world.

Helpful here might be a Christian perspective on “best of all possible worlds.” That means this: Scripturally, we can conclude that because of God’s desire to reveal as much of His glory as possible, He would create a world that would give the best results. This world, even with sin, exists. One can conclude, then, that this is the “best of all possible worlds,” so far as God is concerned — which is the only ultimate perspective.

So far as “need” — I agree with you that we need to be careful with the word! Yet can we really say it’s wrong to say God “needs” to fulfill His plan? anymore than we can say it’s disrespectful to God to say that He “needs” to go on being Himself? In a sense, He does “need” to do this, only because of His nature — not because He lacks anything.

God’s glory is not truly diminished when humans deny and dishonor Him, or He would have a weakness.  The hard-hearted deceive themselves into thinking they can spite God.  A crazy person can’t dim the sun by scrawling “darkness” on the walls of his cell (A C.S. Lewis paraphrase, I believe; I don’t remember where it came from).

Amen!

Though to be sure, our perspective of His motives is limited (and I believe it always will be!), one thing we might edu-guess about His will is that allowing rebellion against Him, when He did not have to, and did not even need to create anything else to love, proves even more how incredible He is — to take all this and glorify Himself anyway!

I feel that your suggestion that God must love Himself more than man because He commanded the Israelites to have no other god before Him is also reasoning backwards.

Could be. Yet I meant that as a supporting point, secondary to the other Scriptures.

Each commandment has a different justification besides this is always wrong for everybody, even Myself, does it not? Examples:

  1. You shall have no other gods before Me. The justification is not “it’s wrong to worship anything outside yourself.” Instead, it’s “it’s wrong to worship anything that isn’t Myself.”
  2. You must not bear false testimony. It’s wrong to twist the truth. This does apply to God and man, but not because God, like us, is subject to a standard of truth, but because God is truth. He is the truth-axiom. To deny truth is to deny Him. (And it seems that if God were to “act” as if anything besides Himself is higher in value, that would be a Self-contradiction — He would be lying, in His actions.)
  3. Do not avenge yourselves (from Romans 13). The reason is not “it’s wrong to punish others for their evil.” Instead it’s Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord. Avenging is not our job (or even Thor’s and Iron Man’s and Captain America’s job). It’s God’s job.

Back to Paul, for a bit:

I think His glory comes from His love; love is glorious.

Not sure how they interrelate, of course. I would suggest reversing that, though: God’s love comes from His desire to be glorified, to give not something from Himself, but Himself personally — the greatest “thing” in existence. Any lesser gift isn’t love. To fulfill this goal, to make people the happiest, He must “know” and claim that He is worth it.

Another example: God’s commandments of us to praise Him, in the Psalms and all throughout the Bible — which also initially tripped up C.S. Lewis, who thought God sounded like “a vain woman wanting compliments.” But it isn’t vain if it’s true.

A brief break, to quote from this helpful article, then on to some responses to Kaci:

The love of God is not God’s making much of us, but God’s saving us from self-centeredness so that we can enjoy making much of him forever. And our love to others is not our making much of them, but helping them to find satisfaction in making much of God. True love aims at satisfying people in the glory of God. Any love that terminates on man is eventually destructive. It does not lead people to the only lasting joy, namely, God. Love must be God-centered, or it is not true love; it leaves people without their final hope of joy.

from The Goal of God’s Love May Not Be What You Think It Is, by John Piper, at the Desiring God website

From Kaci:

What’s ‘blah blah blah’ about it? We are made Imago Dei. The blood of Christ is precious.  At the very least, our combined existence was worth every drop of his blood and every scar on his body.

Here I was thinking of the previously mentioned, cliched-but-problematic Joel Osteen self-esteem stuff, a blight not only on evangelicalism, etc., but on our own still-being-made-holy hearts! Thus the “blah blah blah.” This “blah blah blah” was not meant to disparage legitimate, Scriptural reminders that man is made in God’s image.

I feel like you’re saying the very thing you’re trying not to say. 
I’ve had some time to think now.

No offense taken! 😀 But how so? Man without Christ is only worth anything because of the remaining image of God in him. Like a dirt-encrusted mirror that’s already been shattered into pieces. Glimpses of the glory can be seen, and that’s worth something, but only the One Who made the mirror to reflect His image can reassemble the instrument and wipe it clean of the filth. Only then, as John said, are we worth anything. But our “boasting” (Paul does use the word!) can only be in Him.

I do hope, though, to disclaim the kind of thinking that holds to, or at least results in the actions of, thinking that “total depravity” still applies to Christians. It doesn’t.

You know, I read that Piper book, and at the time it made sense to me, this idea that God loves himself above all else. But here’s the thing: if I said that about anyone, it’d sound, at best, narcissistic.

Desiring God, the book, is only the beginning, I think. However, do you recall the answers to the “it makes God seem narcissistic” concept? Also, what’s the alternative?

… Just tried to write an example, but I’m not sure I can do that fairly! So, open question.

God does not need to save humanity to get glory. He does not – he is not obligated, required, or duty-bound – to save my sorry hide or anyone else’s.

As mentioned above, the word “need” does indeed seem dangerous.

But it could also sound “more spiritual than God” (a phrase I heard somewhere!) to say some things about Him. After all, in some sense, He will/“needs” to go on being God, and to glorify Himself, reveal more of His nature, not because He lacks, but because He is.

If he condemns us all to Hell, he proves himself just. If he saves every last miserable soul on earth, he is compassionate and gracious.  He can send me to Hell and maintain his glory.

This is where I think we all get into tricky stuff! Doesn’t it seem, from our perspective, more glorious if He somehow saved everyone? But obviously it “can’t,” because sadly He does not. Clearly, because of His infinitude and because this is the world we live in, that exists, He has pre-determined that this is the best-case, most-glorifying scenario.

At one point (and I have to look it up), he also says “for your sake,” meaning Israel, and in another he says “for David’s sake.” So it’s not that cut-and-dried.

Hmm, yet which came first? (Let’s look ’em up, though perhaps after the weekend, if this continues?) God’s character: unimpeachable. David’s character: a bit otherwise!

Justice and mercy have a symbiotic relationship; one doesn’t exist without the other. 

I’ve heard it said that this is one reason God created humans and allowed a sinful-world scenario to occur. Otherwise, He would have no way, even among Himself (the Persons of the Trinity), to manifest His merciful attributes. Yet that is Who He is.

No offense, but that’s exactly how it reads: God thought he’d look better if he didn’t kill the nasty humans, so he didn’t.

Again, none taken. 😀

And yet this same infinite God, throughout Scripture, confidently professes to be in the business of giving more of Himself, glorifying Himself, to the point of even permitting Moses to argue that if He did such-and-such, people would mock and slander Him.

I’m not sure how it all works. I only know our theology must try to address it!

Otherwise we do get a baseless love, and self-esteem-obsession … or could get this. As I haven’t seen that from anyone here, that continues to be encouraging. And my hope is to give Him attention and credit, regardless, through any ongoing discussion about Him.

    Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
    “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
        or who has been his counselor?”
    “Or who has given a gift to him
        that he might be repaid?”

Romans 11: 33-35

Bob
Guest
Bob

God’s love comes from His desire to be glorified


That doesn’t sound right. God is love, so it’s a natural outpouring of His nature. Wouldn’t that mean it precedes the desire to be glorified? I know ‘precedes’ is a funny word when you talk about eternity.


to give not something from Himself, but Himself personally — the greatest “thing” in existence. Any lesser gift isn’t love.


I wish I used that thought yesterday. After goading a Jehovah’s witness with a Merry Christmas, we got into a long discussion about who Christ is.

Kaci Hill
Member

Addendum: After reading Bob’s post, I believe I misread at a couple points.

Kaci Hill
Member

Perhaps, also, we are all saying the same thing, in different ways, and/or from different angles. In that case, I’m happy to agree, even if my agreement comes across differently!

 
It’s possible, and either way I’m willing to let the discussion be, especially as I’m not really up for a Calvin debate right now. 
 

Or perhaps Paul or Kaci are wary of attempts to “glorify God” according to man-made definitions that sound spiritual and can perhaps lead to wrongful “worm theology,” the notion that saved people are no better (even in Christ?) than unsaved ones. Or perhaps I am wary of anyone (other readers, I mean), taking “Christ died because I was worth it” too far and winding up in cliched-but-problematic self-esteem Joel-Osteen land.

 
I just don’t think there was anything wrong with the lyric originally in question, and I think by now you should know Osteen and I are about as 180 opposites as two people can get.  Yes, “pseudo-spirituality” concerns me, but in this present conversation I simply think it’s an attack on God’s character to make him sound narcissistic (him ‘needing more glory’)  and an affront to the inherent value of human life, saved or not, to refer to someone as ‘worthless.’ Scripture is pretty precise on what type of human falls into the ‘worthless’ category.  As far as “we’re all hypocritical scumbags” goes, I just think it’s false humility. 

Here I was thinking of the previously mentioned, cliched-but-problematic Joel Osteen self-esteem stuff, a blight not only on evangelicalism, etc., but on our own still-being-made-holy hearts! Thus the “blah blah blah.” This “blah blah blah” was not meant to disparage legitimate, Scriptural reminders that man is made in God’s image.

Stephen, I don’t think anyone in this entire discussion has even mentioned self-esteem. It sounded like a mockery of the argument that Jesus’ blood sets our value, so I  pointed it out.

Desiring God, the book, is only the beginning, I think. However, do you recall the answers to the “it makes God seem narcissistic” concept? Also, what’s the alternative?

I read it ten years ago. I’ll have to fish it out. I don’t remember being satisfied with the answer, however.  The alternative is that God is who he is, and therefore he behaves a certain way.  Of course he doesn’t share glory. There’s no one to share glory with.  But you also – and I really need to look it up – mentions of ‘the glory of man.’  In other words, the glory of man exists, but in the light of the absolute glory of God it’s nothing.  Honestly, his description, both in the book at in various sermons, describe the Trinity as basically standing in a circle saying “I glorify you” to Himself. There’s just no getting around the image of someone looking in a mirror talking to themselves like that.  It’s a pretty hefty book, and I’ve also read The Pleasures of God and When I Don’t Desire God (which is, ironically, maybe half the length); and I was a pretty consistent podcast listener for awhile. Nothing changed that image in my head.

But it could also sound “more spiritual than God” (a phrase I heard somewhere!) to say some things about Him. After all, in some sense, He will/“needs” to go on being God, and to glorify Himself, reveal more of His nature, not because He lacks, but because He is.

“He will” isn’t the same as “He needs.” We’re at a bit of an impasse, Stephen – I don’t agree with Calvin’s theology on all points. And I think it’s troublesome when we ascribe things to God “because he’s God,so the rules are different” that, if we ascribed them to a man, would make that  man wicked. 

Yeah, God does (or doesn’t) do some things because the only way we have any concept of him is by his revelation of himself, which means everything he does is deliberate, and sometimes he has to correct these insanities we develop about him.  But it’s also who he is. A kind person doesn’t have to convince me they’re kind. A just person doesn’t have to convince me. It’s who they are.
 
Anyway, it’s starting to sound like less of a disagreement here.

This is where I think we all get into tricky stuff! Doesn’t it seem, from our perspective, more glorious if He somehow saved everyone? But obviously it “can’t,” because sadly He does not. Clearly, because of His infinitude and because this is the world we live in, that exists, He has pre-determined that this is the best-case, most-glorifying scenario.

 
Stephen, I am not, nor will I ever be, a universalist, so remember that. 😛  I’m comfortable enough here to go ahead and say something risky with the assumption the long-termers won’t misunderstand.   We’re again at an impasse, because I disagree with predestination pretty strongly.  God can do whatever he wants. He’s evidently decided this is the best way: those who believe in him receive the right to become the children of God.  In a weird way, the most glorious way is not, then, blanket-pardoning or condemning, but in providing a means of pardon for those who will take it.  That doesn’t sound tricky at all.

Hmm, yet which came first? (Let’s look ‘em up, though perhaps after the weekend, if this continues?) God’s character: unimpeachable. David’s character: a bit otherwise!

Yeah, I’ll have to look it up later. No one’s disputing David’s gross flaws and sins. My point is that God said it. More than once.  Heck, he told Satan Job was blameless and didn’t deserve what happened to him.

I’ve heard it said that this is one reason God created humans and allowed a sinful-world scenario to occur. Otherwise, He would have no way, even among Himself (the Persons of the Trinity), to manifest His merciful attributes. Yet that is Who He is.

I’m not convinced God needed a reason anymore than I need a reason to create characters.  But you are right; you can’t extend mercy to someone who doesn’t need it. 
 

And yet this same infinite God, throughout Scripture, confidently professes to be in the business of giving more of Himself, glorifying Himself, to the point of even permitting Moses to argue that if He did such-and-such, people would mock and slander Him.

Yeah, and I’m surprised you haven’t thrown Jesus’ prayer and the Father’s answer at me yet (“I have glorified [your name] and will glorify it again.”).  But now we’re getting into the Trinity, which is really gonna make our brains pop.

Otherwise we do get a baseless love, and self-esteem-obsession … or could get this.

 
How so?
Moreover….Keep in mind that sometimes God just doesn’t explain things.
Okay, this was long. 
 

Paul Lee
Member

Not sure how they interrelate, of course. I would suggest reversing that, though: God’s love comes from His desire to be glorified, to give not something from Himself, but Himself personally — the greatest “thing” in existence. Any lesser gift isn’t love. To fulfill this goal, to make people the happiest, He must “know” and claim that He is worth it.

 
But to give oneself personally is the greatest love!
 
How are love and glory different?  To love is to give of yourself, and ultimate love is to give all of yourself.  What about glory?  Is to be glorified to be loved?

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

The only thing I could say for sure is that, regardless of what conclusions anyone comes to, all the definitions — of “glory,” “love,” “sacrifice,” and what we know of God’s motives — must come from Scripture. Even without the Book open in front of me (or open in another browser tab!) I’m tempted to try to start from manmade definitions, rather than from the written and axiomatic Word!

So … and perhaps after Christmas … I’ll be re-reading up on it. Perhaps I’ll at least come up with a definition of what “glory” means (which, for God, is hard to compare with a human parallel, because for us, making much of ourselves is a sin precisely because that is only God’s “job,” to make much of Himself, while for us it can only be egomania).

I do know, however, that Calvin doesn’t enter into the discussion. I don’t know exactly what Calvin had to say about God’s God-centeredness (though I’m sure he had plenty of right and wrong notions about what it meant). So … not sure how that came up? If anyone is to be convinced of anything, it should be not be by Calvin (who had his issues in some areas) or Piper (who has his issues, in, eh, other areas, including alliances with popular evangelicals with slightly objectionable teachings!), but from Scripture itself.

But now I’ve just gone and said something everyone can agree upon. 😀

Kaci Hill
Member

So … not sure how that came up?

 
Same way Osteen did. 😛 I’m not entirely sure you’re going to find a dictionary definition out of the Bible on those. The closest you’ll get is “This is how we know what love is” and the “a living sacrifice/spiritual act of worship” passages.  I think.

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