Last evening a student asked if I have any insight on whether God is primarily a God of glory or love. Apparently this was being discussed among the pastoral staff at his church, and he intimated it was being bandied about more broadly. In case someone else has an interest in this topic, here is where I come down.
The doctrine of the Trinity indicates that God is equally a God of glory and love, but the order is important. The first thing we learn about God is that he is one (Deut. 6:4). God’s oneness means he has no competitors. No one is equal to him. He deserves all the glory that the entire universe could ever hope to offer. And more.
But if we stop here we could leave the impression that God is selfish. One evangelical theologian comes out and says it. God is right to be selfish because he is the most important being in the universe. It would be wrong for him not to be consumed solely with his own glory.
But this theologian misses that God is also three. As Neal Plantinga memorably puts it, God is a “community of self-giving lovers.” God is three persons who have always loved each other. And so God’s love is equally eternal with his glory. This eternal God of love was not required to create a world outside of himself, but it is just like this God, who always loves the other, to allow his love to overflow his borders and create new others to love.
And so the act of creation is a supremely Godlike thing to do. As is redemption. Our eternal God of love was not required to save us from our sin, but it is just like this God, who always loves the other, to do whatever it takes to win us back. Even if it costs his life. Given who God is, the cross should not be a complete surprise.
I say the order is important, because Scripture reveals God’s oneness before it proceeds to his threeness. We must begin with God’s glory, for if we start with his love we run the risk of pulling a Joel Osteen and turning God into our very own spiritual trainer. We must start with the glory of God’s oneness, and say with the opening line of The Purpose-Driven Life, “It’s not about you.”
God is one, and so he is supremely glorious. God is three, and so he is supremely loving. He cares first for his own glory, but also for our flourishing. Rick Warren is right that “It’s not about you.” But given who God is, it’s not exactly not about you either.