“And he said to him, ”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)
This issue of our ultimate purpose for life is so important let’s consider it one more time.
“Daddy, why does God want us to brag on him?” The night before, our six-year-old Kent had been reprimanded for showing off to the guests. Apparently that got him mulling over what he’d been taught about glorifying God. Why did that kid always have to turn things into theological issues? I stumbled around and told him it wasn’t so much the glory for himself God was after, but that we get things straight. If we don’t recognize him for who he is and ourselves for who we truly are, we will self-destruct. He loves us too much to let that happen.
Well, it’s not a worthless response, is it? To be out of alignment with reality is always destructive. Maybe the Westminster divines were onto something–”Man’s chief end is to glorify God…” That focus would certainly be a corrective for our natural tendencies.
Through the decades I contemplated Kent’s question and finally decided to investigate. To my astonishment, as I reviewed the hundreds of biblical references to God’s glory, I could find only a scant handful in which it was God who was asking for it. The answer to Kent’s question about why God asks us to brag on him seemed to be, he doesn’t! At least, not that much. His prophets demanded it often as essential to rightly relating to God, his people enjoined one another to get on with it, to be sure, but what was it God himself was most after?
How do I get the temerity to question the received wisdom? On pretty high authority, actually. When the question about human destiny was put by a theologian to an itinerant preacher, he did not respond that the glory of God, even expressed in glorious worship, is the chief thing God is after. He said in Matthew 22:37 (author’s translation): The way to true life, the greatest of all God’s demands, the ultimate purpose of your life, that on which all the other commands hang suspended is to love the Lord your God. Then he appended, from another Old Testament passage, a corollary love command, one that makes visible the ultimate command, “and love on your neighbor the same way you love on yourself.”
The problem with making “glorifying God” the ultimate is that we can glorify someone we despise. Ask any press agent, any serving a dictator. One can worship a god he fears or loathes, as millions do. But if you love a person deeply, it’s impossible to stop honoring them, bragging on them at every opportunity. If I love a person, and that person is God, I’ll want to worship him, put his glories on display in all I say or sing. Or do. The flow must be that direction. Glory and worship, holiness and service may flow from other sources, but love is the only fountainhead from which all the others will surely flow.