What Brings God Glory?

When believers say that the “chief end of man” is to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” I have to wonder if “glorify God” in that context means the default position—i.e., do nothing because your existence, as God created you, glorifies Him.
on Apr 28, 2014 · 19 comments

Girls_BasketballI’ve thought about the topic of what brings God glory from time to time, and I’m specifically mindful of it in relation to speculative fiction because the topic comes up with some frequency here at Spec Faith, specifically regarding reviews of books and movies and TV programs.

Actually, something I wrote a couple years ago at my personal site prompted my thinking today, though I was writing about people. Here’s the applicable part:

Some time not long ago Western society started lying to kids. You can do ANYTHING, parents and teachers and coaches and TV stars and sports figures all say in unison. ANYTHING. Except that isn’t true.

Case in point. When I was coaching, I had a seventh grade girl who made the basketball team as an “understudy”—a player who would practice with the team, sit on the bench during games, but who would not play. This particular girl hadn’t played in elementary school, so had no bad habits to break. What’s more, she was sharp, attentive, and willing to work. But she was also slow and weak and not particularly quick.

Nevertheless, all her hard work earned her a spot on the team the following year. In fact when she went into high school, she made the freshman team of her fairly large public school, all because she had great fundamentals. But she still wasn’t fast or quick or strong. No matter how much that girl may have wanted to play pro basketball or make the Olympics (I have no reason to believe she wanted either) that was never going to happen. Never.

Her story repeats itself time and time again, and yet all these parents and teachers and coaches and TV stars and sports figures continue to lie to kids.

What bothers me so much is that at the same time, those influential people are missing what kids really need to hear: the truth. They need to hear what they need to improve and they need to hear what they do well.

. . . I’m a big believer that we need to be balanced in what we say about books—and that would apply to movies, too, or songs, or people.

Yes, people.

We are all a mixed bag. We were created in God’s image, with a sin nature. How much more mixed can we get? We have talents and character strengths and physical prowess and mental capacity. A lot of that is wired in our DNA. We did nothing to make ourselves as tall as we are or as creative or adventurous. We have those things because God gave them to us.

At the same time, we are prideful, lazy, greedy, selfish, vengeful, dishonest, and a host of other things—not stuff we had to learn, but stuff that is innately ours as sin baggage we’re born with.

And all this ties into glorifying God, how?

It seems to me we too often say that glorifying God is the default position, since, after all, He created us with the capacity to imagine and write and weave stories together. We are looking only at one part of the equation—God created, and it was good.

However, when believers say that the “chief end of man” is to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” I have to wonder if “glorify God” in that context means the default position—i.e., do nothing because your existence, as God created you, glorifies Him.

My point here is this: What God made is a testament to His glory, but if a writer is to glorify God, I think it is a purposeful action, not an accidental happenstance resulting from our membership in the created order.

Wolfgang-amadeus-mozart_1Sunday I was listening to a bit of a Mozart symphony on my way home from church, and thoughts about glorifying God resurfaced. Mozart was a talented, though likely Godless, composer. Certainly God gave him the ability to write music in such a startlingly beautiful way. But God likewise made beautiful women like Shakira or ____ (insert the person of your choice) who gives no credit to God or draws attention to Him through her beauty.

The question, then, is this: Does beauty in and of itself glorify God?

I’d argue, no it does not, unless the default position of “glorifying God” is existence.

Best known for her aspirations as an epic fantasy author, Becky is the sole remaining founding member of Speculative Faith. Besides contributing weekly articles here, she blogs Monday through Friday at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. She works as a freelance writer and editor and posts writing tips as well as information about her editing services at Rewrite, Reword, Rework.
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  1. notleia says:

    That’s a question, isn’t it? The opinion I have to throw in today is “I’m not sure what ‘glorifying God’ is supposed to mean outside of a vague sense of warm-fuzzy feels, let alone how we go about doing it.”

    • Not sure the warm fuzzies play a part, Notleia. I’ve done a little bit of study, and I think God’s creation, when it reflects His nature, glorifies Him. But for humans, there’s a bit more. God has given us the capacity to relate to Him. In so doing, we need to recognize Who He is. When we do, we glorify Him. When we act like Him, we glorify Him. When other people see Him because of something we do or say, we glorify Him.

      So my contention is, for writers, we need to be intentional in our work so that God will receive acclaim, in some way.


      • Totally with you on the intentionality. Christian writers are wielders of the power of words. More than most, we should understand the responsibility we bear and seek to use it wisely.

  2. I’ve found it helpful to think of it this way: God will get glory regardless. But this can be because of our intentions (e.g. J.S. Bach), or in spite of our intentions (as I would argue is the case with atheist and agnostic authors).

  3. The question, then, is this: Does beauty in and of itself glorify God?

    And I would answer: No, it doesn’t. As Augustine said, beauty is a good gift of God, but in order that the good may not think it too great a good, He gives it even to the wicked. Let’s not glorify beauty or art.

    “The heavens declare the glory of God,” as the Scriptures say, but they do so unconsciously. God gained glory through Pharaoh, but he was a very unwilling vessel. When we, as Christians, glorify God, we don’t do so unconsciously, like the stars, or unwillingly, like Pharaoh. We should be desiring and seeking God’s glory.

    It’s hard to bring that from a concept into real time. I think it’s true, as the saying goes, that you can peel a potato to God’s glory if you peel it to perfection. Maybe that’s the way to glorify God – to do all things, even the little things, well, to be walking with God and offering everything up for His use.

    But whatever I still wonder about, this much I’m sure of: A Christian janitor scrubbing a floor and doing a good job of it, because that’s the way God wants it to be done, is doing more to glorify God than an artist creating magnificent art for art’s sake.

    • Shannon, I think a floor moper can mop the floor for God because he’s operating according to Eph. 6:7—“With good will render service as to the Lord and not to men.” I think that covers any job we have. If we are serving God and doing so with good will, we can do anything and He will be pleased. Will He also be glorified?

      That’s a little harder to determine, I think. In my mind (I thought about this some more last night), I think glorifying God is, in anthropomorphic terms, shining a spotlight on Him, giving Him mega-star treatment. He’s the one who is important, and I don’t want anything to detract from Him. Glorifying Him is also pointing Him out to the crowd, being one who is watching for Him to come around the corner (remember, anthropomorphic 😉 ) and shouting, “There He is!”

      I think of Isaiah 40:9.

      Get yourself up on a high mountain,
      O Zion, bearer of good news.
      Lift up your voice mightily,
      O Jerusalem, bearer of good news;
      Lift it up, do not fear.
      Say to the cities of Judah,
      “Here is your God.”

      In short, I think when we show God to others and show Him as He reveals Himself, He’s glorified.

      Beauty? I agree with you that which is unconscious or unintentional reveals God’s beauty in that what He made reflects Him, but I don’t think that’s the same thing as one of His giving Him glory.


    • Kirsty says:

      A Christian janitor scrubbing a floor and doing a good job of it, because that’s the way God wants it to be done, is doing more to glorify God than an artist creating magnificent art for art’s sake.

      I happen to be both an illustrator and a cleaner!

      I know my motivation for both can often be wrong (I want people to be impressed at my good drawing/cleaning) or inadequate (art for art’s sake, or cleaning for cleaning’s sake).

      At the end of the day, our motivations will never be perfect this side of heaven. But realising our inadequacies and trusting in Jesus as the only way we’ll ever meet God’s standards brings God glory.

  4. Gee, I wonder where we could read more about God’s glory and about how (not whether) He will get glory from Things and people that don’t mean to give Him glory, but even more and better glory from people using things intentionally for His glory … 😀

    Great topic. It indeed puts so much perspective on the question of storytelling by and for Christians and how “conscious” we are to be about the themes of those stories.

  5. To try to understand a term like “glory” without doing a thorough (or even cursory) search through how the term is used in the Bible seems a fruitless approach.

    If the Word says that the heavens declare the glory of God, then they do. Creation, even in its fallen form, glorifies God. Isaiah 35:2 also mentions that the beauty of nature glorifies God. The implication seem to be that somehow, when people see that beauty, they know in their heart that God did it.

    To me, that fits with another scripture that implies that any and every good thing in life ultimately can be attributed and credited to God. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father…” James 1:17

    Many of the scriptures I saw when I did a search on verses containing the words “glory” and “God” were about giving Him glory by declaring with our mouths that God had done something amazing. When we point out something He has done, it glorifies Him.

    That tells me there are two sides to this glory thing. There is the thing that is good (a beautiful sunset, a well-told story, a moving piece of music, a random act of kindness) and there is the person who recognizes that its source is the Lord and who “gives glory to God” by praising or thanking Him for that good thing.

    The object of (or creator of) beauty doesn’t have to know the Lord in a conscious way to be a part of His praise-worthy handiwork. God gave gifts and talents to every human being. He is undeniably the source of any beauty that any of us have or create. Those talents may operate to some extent apart from a conscious allegiance or intimate knowledge of Him personally.

    And if someone experiences pleasure and delight in viewing art or listening to music by an artist who doesn’t know the Lord, that person may “give glory to God” by saying, “God has gifted you with a wonderful talent! Thank you for sharing it with us.”

    I don’t believe not knowing the Lord negates the beauty that an atheist or pagan creates. I think it only limits it.

  6. To your point, Becky, about whether or not simply existing is enough to bring God glory, I would say this: There is so much more! While there may be beauty in every human being because He made them in His image, there is no doubt in my mind that a life lived by faith gives Him more glory than otherwise.

    By faith = believing what He says in His Word = obedient to act on what we read.

    Volumes have been written about what that might look like. And it’s definitely more than “just existing”, that is, going about our business without regard for what He has said.

  7. bainespal says:

    Sunday I was listening to a bit of a Mozart symphony on my way home from church, and thoughts about glorifying God resurfaced. Mozart was a talented, though likely Godless, composer. Certainly God gave him the ability to write music in such a startlingly beautiful way. But God likewise made beautiful women like Shakira or ____ (insert the person of your choice) who gives no credit to God or draws attention to Him through her beauty.

    But well-composed music is one of the things that infallibly reminds me that God is and that He is good.

    I can have miserably empty day, experiencing the agony of being unable to pull anything together, disillusioned from the petty awkwardness of human interaction. The petty absurdity of life tells me that there is no God. It tells me that God is not good, that He doesn’t care, that life is not worth living.

    Then, perhaps late at night as I sit at my computer attempting to accomplish some of what I should have during the day, I listen to my Amazon playlist — A couple Howard Short LotR pieces, the main title themes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and the original Battlestar Galactica, and Chet Atkins’s rendition of Classical Gas. Alternately, I might search YouTube for long playlists of classical composers.

    And then I know that God is, that He is good, that He controls all. The music tells me. I’m not even really into music; I never studied it, and I couldn’t tell you any trivia about bands or genres or trends in music. Despite my ignorance, the music speaks to me, reveals God to me.

    So, if you try to tell me that Mozart’s music doesn’t glorify God, I don’t believe it!

    • Agreed, bainespal. And hey, I’m also glad you’re a fellow Niner!

      One could argue, however, that Mozart himself would have glorified God more if he had composed his music in obedience to and glorification of God. (Perhaps he did; I don’t immediately recall whether he professed personal faith in Jesus Christ.)

      The heavens declare the glory of God, indeed! Yet they will also declare His glory more once He has finally redeemed the physical heavens and purged creation of all influences of temptation and sin. It’s a both/and proposition, based on Scripture: if we get too wrapped up in lamenting the “sinfulness” of the world, we must recall that human beings caused this mess and it’s their fault, not creation’s, while the creation merrily sings God’s praises (Psalms) — mixed with groans (Rom. 8). But, if we get too wrapped up extolling the goodness and beauty of an artwork that does (despite its creator’s intentions!) reflect God’s excellencies in some way — as many Christians have done — we may also need to recall that sinful intent and sinful corruption thanks to sinful humans are still here, still real, and still in need of purging. Thus we can anticipate the Day when He begins to make all things new (Rev. 21:5).

  8. Beauty reflects God’s glory. Obedience brings glory to God.

  9. Winter says:

    I disagree: I believe that beauty in itself does glorify God. Lewis talked about an objective Beauty, which is present in waterfalls, sunsets and, yes, a Mozart symphony. All of it demonstrates God’s superiority and brilliance in creating such “beautiful” things. The human mind is just another example of God’s glory expressed through his creation. At the same time, people differ from waterfalls in that we have the freedom of choice — we can choose whether our actions will directly glorify God or defy Him. Yes, Mozart was a crass, immature kid: his life did not reflect God. On the other hand, he also wrote sublime music that continues to inspire people more than two hundred years later. His work traces back to a more glorious Creator. It isn’t mere existence — it’s that humans cannot help but reflect the image of God imprinted on us from conception. The question which remains is to what degree will a person glorify God. Will they limit themselves to using their given talents for selfish purposes or will they make a conscious choice to attribute those talents to God?

  10. R. L. Copple says:

    I like what Teddi said above, and I’ll add this note to it.

    There are three ways that God can be glorified in a creation of art or real life.

    1. God is glorified by what He has created, even through an individual whether they know it or not.

    2. God is glorified when a person’s talent is devoted to His will in what they create.

    3. God is glorified when someone receiving that expression of talent recognize God’s hand in it, whether the creator is aware of it or not.

    So can beauty glorify God? Yes, it can at the level of #1, and can further if both/or #2 and #3 are involved.

    But you are correct that adding in intention (#2) gives God greater glory not only by the creation, but in highlighting to others the source of that glory so more hit the #3 level than might have originally.

    Likewise, #2 can fall short when the art only points back to us as the artist, and not in some way acknowledging God’s work.

    So I guess I’m both agreeing and disagreeing, depending on what level(s) you are focusing on.

  11. This is a great discussion. I appreciate all the input. As I mentioned to Shannon in my comment above, I thought about this more last night. (I love when commenters prompt me to dig deeper!) As I see the act of glorifying God, I don’t believe beauty does this. Rather, I think beauty reflects God.

    So the heavens declare the glory of God, but that’s not the same thing as glorifying Him, I don’t think. It’s kind of like, the moon doesn’t shine. We say it does, but it is actually reflecting the sun. It is not pouring down light on anything—not its own, anyway. The heavens are beautiful and Mozart’s music is beautiful and a rose is beautiful and a painting is beautiful. These things might declare God’s glory—God who made them or made the ability to make them, is beautiful.

    But that kind of declaration can be missed and it really serves the observer more anything.

    When a novelist or playwright or poet sets out to highlight God, feature Him, put Him in the spotlight, as I said above, even if it’s merely an aspect of His character, that, I think, is giving Him glory.

    In this latter, non-believers can never glorify God. They don’t believe in Him and they aren’t featuring Him, highlighting Him, or putting Him in the spotlight (at least in a positive light). They can, however, declare God’s glory because of their talent, their ability with words, their grasp of human nature. But I see this as a very distinct thing.

    I think bainespal’s comment helped me see this. I can identify with the response to music you described, b. I’m not a musician either, but there are some pieces that . . . pierce my soul. I most clearly identify with the joy C. S. Lewis described in Surprised by Joy. It’s a sense of fulfillment that leaves me wanting more. How can that be? It’s transcendent. It satisfies, but then it is gone and I can only think someday I want to live inside that music.

    But even if that makes me think of God, I think it’s not glorifying Him but declaring His glory. He is glory, beauty, transcendence, and He made a person with the ability to capture some aspect of His glory. But it’s more for us whereas glorifying God is primarily for Him. We want other people to see Him because He deserves to be seen. We want to stand up and shout, to call everyone we know and say, Here is your God. Come, worship Him.


    • Mirtika says:

      I may very well be wrong, but unbelievers certainly can glorify God simply because they exist and have free will and testify to a God who creates living, sentient beings who are given so much liberty to choose that they can choose NOT to love and worship God. Just that very freedom to exist and rebel speaks of the greatness of God. They glorify God regardless of their own desires.

  12. Mirtika says:

    Me, lying still, not saying or doing anything, that in itself glorifies God, because my very life testifies to one who creates from nothing and creates LIFE, a being able to think, imagine, dream, hope, love, etc.

    The Heavens declare His glory not because they are purposefully glorifying God. They declare His glory because they are a testament to his vastness, greatness, power, eternal nature, imagination, and will.

    If I strive to write well and true, and if I create something with beauty, it will glorify Him regardless (unless it’s outright blasphemous, and perhaps even then, ironically, because the blasphemer could not blaspheme had God not given man the ability to think and write and rebel with free will), because we who are made in the imago dei can only imagine, create, fashion, refine because He gives us the ability to do more than eat, sleep, mate and excrete. He makes us capable of creation in all manner of ways. We have will and imagination and power to make something that was not. Like Dad.

    Anyone using their gifts is glorifying God. Anyone adding a desire and fire to glorify God to their gifts merely magnifies the glory that is ascribed, because the desire and will to glorify God make the offering that much sweeter.

    But if God can be glorified even in the Fall, then really, there is nothing that cannot in some way testify to the truth and reality of the Creator–Father, Son, Spirit.

  13. David Corder says:

    I am curious how the majority of Mozart’s music could glorify God when in itself it exists as instrumental pieces. Standing by itself, with no commentary from Mozart on his belief towards God, is the music glorifying or not glorifying God? Does the music have to have a line that says, “Amen! Glory to Jesus!” in order to actually glorify the Creator? Or perhaps, in its own way, it glorifies God because music is a creation of our Father, as is the trees, the seas, and the stars.

    And let us not forget the advice that C.S. Lewis gave in a letter in regards to writing:

    “We must not of course write anything that will flatter lust, pride or ambition. But we needn’t all write patently moral or theological work. Indeed, work whose Christianity is latent may do quite as much good and may reach some whom the more obvious religious work would scare away. The first business of a story is to be a good story. When Our Lord made a wheel in the carpenter shop, depend upon it: It was first and foremost a good wheel. Don’t try to ‘bring in’ specifically Christian bits: if God wants you to serve him in that way (He may not: there are different vocations) you will find it coming in of its own accord. If not, well—a good story which will give innocent pleasure is a good thing, just like cooking a good nourishing meal. . . . Any honest workmanship (whether making stories, shoes, or rabbit hutches) can be done to the glory of God.” C. S. Lewis letter to Cynthia Donnelly (August 14, 1954). Taken from: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/15-pieces-of-writing-advice-from-c-s-lewis/

    So for music, painting, and writing, does any of this necessarily need to have a “Christian Trademark” in order to glorify God? Or can the work, produced from the heart of a Believer, with the intent and desire to please our Father, glorify God just as well as overtly giving him the credit?

What do you think?