“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” GENESIS 1:26
“I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory…” ISAIAH 43:6-7
WHY DID GOD CREATE ANYTHING outside of himself? God does not need anything. God was not bored. God does not even need to create other persons in order to experience love. He already had a perfect community of love within the Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So why did God decide to create the world and all the people in it? The biblical answer is: He did it for his own glory. How do we know that this is the biblical answer? Well, let’s start at the very beginning. The Bible begins with these words: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” [Gen. 1:1].
So the first thing we can say is that absolutely everything that exists was created by God. Nothing has been there forever, except for God. Everything else is something that He has made:
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him [Col. 1:16].
The Apostle Paul lets us know in Colossians that this includes everything—anything that we can possibly imagine that is a thing. And if God is the cause of everything else that exists, then every single one of those things that exists was designed for a certain purpose. God does not make mistakes, and He cannot do anything by accident either. Think about it. If anything was ever an accident or a mistake, then God would have been either unaware of something that He did or wrong about something that He did. If God was unaware of something He needed to know when He was making a thing, then something about that thing would have to be there before it was there. That is impossible. Therefore there simply wasn’t anything there for Him to be unaware of. Likewise, if God was wrong about the way He made a thing, then God would lack knowledge of how something ought to have been made. However, this is impossible for the same reason that it is impossible that God is unaware; for if there was a “way” that something ought to have been made, then there must have been at least one thing existing besides him that this way would be right about. You see that God is really the only standard for a way that things ought to be. If nothing else existed besides him, then who He is and what He desires is the only real “way” that other things ought to be like.
In case you didn’t notice, we have just discovered a second thing that must be true simply by thinking about God creating all things. That is that there is a complete difference between the Creator and the creature (the created). One of the most obvious differences is that to be the Creator is to have full authority over everything that is made. And to be a creature is to be completely dependent on and responsible to your Creator. And one of the implications of this is that whatever God is like and whatever God intended is simply the only possible explanation for anything. Everything is what it is because of what it says about God. In other words, even if God never told us what He had in mind when He made everything, it would still be true that whatever He had in mind is the way things are. We may not be comfortable with that truth, and we will talk about why that is in just a moment. For now, we need to ask whether or not God has told us what this “way” is to all things. He has indeed told us in his word!
What is the Meaning of the Glory of God?
We have already hinted at an answer to the question: Why did God create all things? The answer is: for his own glory. Now what exactly does that mean? A simple definition of glory would be “the excellence and radiance of a thing.” The way that the word (δόξα) is used in the Bible has two ideas to it. On the one hand, the glory of God is all that is great about God—his excellence—or, how much more worthy God is of adoration than all other things. An excellent thing is a thing that excels other things in the same class. To say that God is excellent is to say that He is more valuable than all other things because He is greater than all other things. On the other hand, the glory of God also refers to how his greatness and value is made known—his radiance—or, the attention that is drawn to his excellence. When we think of radiance we think of light. Light radiates from a light source.
Now God would be just as great and valuable as He is in himself if He never made the world or other persons. However, the Bible teaches us that when He did make other things, He made them as light-reflectors (think of the moon in relation to the sun) for his glory. So the excellence of God radiates through the things He has made:
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork [Ps. 19:1].
In other words, God made everything that He made to speak about himself: to tell everyone how wonderful He is! Now if any of us did things for that reason, you would rightly think that we were arrogant! Not so about God! For God really is that great and more, and there would be nothing humble about him failing to tell us so. If a creature depends upon its Creator, then we depend upon God. If He should withdraw himself from us, then we would be without the light which makes us “live and move and have our being” [Acts 17:28]. So God has made his glory known in all of creation. This is good news!
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens [Ps. 8:1].
Did you read that? It is not merely that God has made everything we see for his glory; but in these things we can see that God has always put himself first. He has made his glory the very first priority. In other words, the glory of God is not just some cheap expression here and there in the Bible. It is not just the thing we’re supposed to mumble back to get the question right. It is the thing that God is most passionate about, and He does not leave this passion behind when He does anything else. That is great news! That means that God’s creatures will never be without the brightest possible ray of light that they need to live!
How Do Different Creatures Glorify God?
Let us take one more tour of the first chapter of Genesis. During the six days of creation, you will notice that, six times, the Lord looked at what He had made and said each time, “It is good” [1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25]. Then God made something very special during Day Six:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” [Gen. 1:26, 27].
First of all, with whom is God speaking? It cannot be with the angels, “For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’?” [Heb. 1:5]. The angels are not a suitable counsel here: “Whom did he consult, and who made him understand?” [Is. 40:14] and “My glory I will not give to another” [Is. 48:11]. What these texts are saying is that God cannot share his exact same glory with anyone or anything less than himself, not even a purely spiritual being like an angel. It was the Father, Son and Holy Spirit communicating and overflowing their joy with each other to make something that could in some way share that joy.
When God created the first man and woman, He was making something a little like himself. Human beings were an “image” or “likeness” or “copy” or “reflection” or “picture” of God on earth—just like everything else. Human beings would have something very much in common with every other created thing: we are here to talk about God’s worth. Yet human beings would do this in a way that is unique among creatures: we are persons with souls—minds that can think about God’s worth, emotions that can move us on the basis of God’s worth, and a will that can exercise the result of those thoughts and feelings out into the external world. So to be an image is really a verb in a very important sense. We are not simply pictures of God on earth: we are motion pictures!
Now we are starting to get somewhere! When a rock falls or a bird chirps or a wave crashes against the seashore, the majesty of God is on display for all the world to see. And yet no rock or bird or wave ever disobeyed the law of God to fall or chirp or crash. Everything has a nature to it and so everything is obeying certain directives, or laws, that the Creator has designed into its created being. But there are two kinds of laws at work. One kind of law is only descriptive: it is the kind of “law” that a scientist studies. For instance, water boils at 212 degrees and bodies at motion tend to stay in motion, etc. Those are what used to be called the “laws of nature.” But there is another kind of law that is addressed to persons. These may be either obeyed or disobeyed. The glory of God is reflected through such beings—persons—in one way or another, based upon how we react to this law. This law is not just a description; it is a prescription. We ought to be a certain way and do certain things; but we do not. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We first have to answer our question: How do we glorify God?
What is at Stake in Human Beings?
This part can be very complicated for people, because on the one hand, the Bible tells us that God “works all things according to the counsel of his will” [Eph. 1:11], that “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” [Ps. 115:3], and “The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations” [Ps. 33:11], and “from him and through him and to him are all things” and in the next breath, Paul tells us that what God is bringing to himself in all things that occur is precisely this “glory” [Rom. 11:36]. So everything that has ever happened or will happen is brought about by God in its every detail: all of it tells something great about God. Now we can see why this is a difficult idea. If God is completely glorified in everything that comes to pass, then what difference does it make what people do? No matter what we do, God’s plans will not be frustrated.
One simple answer to those difficulties is that it makes a great deal of difference to the person who winds up in either heaven or hell! The person who glorifies God in his mercy will feel that difference and rejoice; the person who glorifies God in his justice will feel that difference and gnash his teeth! That will have to be explained in greater detail later on, but it is a big part of the answer.
Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come!” [Lk. 17:1]
What Jesus is saying here is that God has ordained all things—including temptation that leads to sin—yet the immediate cause of temptation is always the devil, the world and our own sinful desire. It is all settled from A to Z. But the Lord is warning the person who is standing on D, M, or X: Don’t stand there! Don’t miss out on the great story of God’s worth as it goes out through all the earth! Move! Tell God’s story with great joy!
How do these personal images tell God’s story? The answer: by imaging him, of course! If the soul of a person is made up of mind, emotions and will, then God must be seen as our ultimate treasure in the way we think, feel and act. Nothing whatsoever can claim to exist on its own. We cannot keep any part of our lives to ourselves. All of it is about God, and so the worth of God must be celebrated in how these parts of our soul move. That is why Jesus answered the question as to what is the Greatest Commandment in this way:
The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these [Mk. 12:29-31].
If we understand what Jesus meant here, we will have a full answer to our question. Did you notice that when Jesus was asked what the greatest action is (singular), He gave a two-part answer? The first important thing is that just as God is unified in his passion for his own glory, so his “moving-pictures” must copy him in this mission of magnification. So Jesus calls every part of the human being into the act; and He calls the depths of each part into the act—our hearts, souls, mind and strength. That is an ancient Near Eastern way of saying mind, emotions and will. God is worth thinking about him as accurately as can be (impossible unless you know everything about Him!). God is worth feeling about as passionately as any person can be moved (impossible unless your passions are never divided!). God is worth sacrificing as much as is getting in the way of as much of this universe that can be used for his purposes (impossible unless you have the power to move everything in the universe!). He says, “be holy, for I am holy” [Lev. 11:44], and, “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” [Mat. 5:48]. Do you know anyone who has pulled that off? Have you? God’s standard is perfection simply because his own perfection is the way everything ought to be like. His law is a reflection of his character; and his character is perfect.
Finally, our failure to glorify God is the height of selfishness and utterly hateful; since, if God is what makes the soul happy, and my life denies to others the very source of their life, then, no matter what shallow notions of love I have, my actions are petty and causing great harm to the human race. This explains part of what Jesus means by the second great commandment. Remember that He said that loving others was “like” loving God above all else. At first it seems like a contradiction to put our own satisfaction in God above all else (including other people) and to love other people. You can’t do both, can you? Actually, each person’s pursuit of loving God is the only thing that will be of any use to every other person. If I say “I love you,” and what I mean by that is that I commend to you me, myself, and I—or any other assortment of created things—your soul will starve. What you need is God, not me. What you need is God, not more money. What you need is God, not yourself. What you need is God, not even your next meal or your next breath. Failure to love God like this slanders true goodness and happiness to others.
How Can God Be More or Less Glorified?
One final difficulty may still be in our minds: How is it that God is more glorified in a soul like ours, such that if we do not treasure him, his story will not be told? It seems that if we say that sin covers up his glory, then either his glory is dependent on us or that He is not as glorious as He could be without us.
This is an understandable mistake, given what we have already said. But let us be fair: We have not said everything in so short a space! One very brilliant Christian of old, Jonathan Edwards, gave a lot of thought to this. And he said:
So God glorifies Himself toward the creatures in two ways: 1. By appearing to…their understanding. 2. In communicating Himself to their hearts, and in their rejoicing and delighting in, and enjoying, the manifestations which He makes of Himself…God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it. His glory is then received by the whole soul, both by the understanding and by the heart.
That may seem like a mouthful; but what Edwards was saying, essentially, is that if all a rational being did was to reflect true information about God, we would be no more than computers. The law of God to us would be simply descriptive, like his “laws” given to falling rocks and chirping birds. But what if God was so great that He could capture a being for which (in all other respects) self-determination was its distinguishing feature? The soul chooses what it will do; and the soul chooses what it will look at and love. If a person looks at God, spits back a few things that are true about him, but it doesn’t “do anything” for him, well, then God has been lied about. If God is truly all-satisfying to the soul, then any true statement about him requires the whole soul. Each true thing about God will be right, lovely and effective. If we mean something less than this, then we mean something less than accurate.
The reason that God’s glory is not added to by a soul that worships truly or subtracted from by a soul that slanders him, is because here we are talking about the radiance of God’s glory in the world (extrinsic glory), and not the greatness of God’s glory in himself (intrinsic glory). God’s extrinsic glory is at stake in him seeking those who will “worship in spirit and truth” [Jn. 4:24]. If you build an ordinary shed over your garden, the plants will die because they don’t have light. But you will have done nothing to the sun.
In summary, we praise what we enjoy. We praise what we are convinced is so valuable that it would be shameful to keep to ourselves. And do you see what follows? The thing that you are enjoying most of all is what is commended the loudest. That does not necessarily translate into audible volume, if I may anticipate an old objection! But life does looks like something. Therefore, we do not regard God as special (holy) unless or until our whole soul is pursuing him as our only passion. This is what God requires of the personal creature: to love the Lord as the most valuable Good. This is the heart and soul of the law and the whole meaning of life.
Therefore, sin is at least two things: It is treason and it is slander. They are really two sides to the same coin—but, if you are wondering, slander is heads. It is treasonous to slander glory so. The reason is that God’s program of glorifying himself is his great determination. It is the program of his kingdom and the great end of his royal edict. Failure to join in is nothing less than an act of war. It is “cosmic treason”! And it is to this world-changing bad news that we turn to next.
 cf. John 1:3, Hebrews 1:3, 11:3, Revelation 4:11
 cf. Isaiah 6:3, Psalm 138:2
 Jonathan Edwards cited in Harvey G. Townsend, The Philosophy of Jonathan Edwards (Greenwood Press Publishers, Westport, CT 1955) p. 133
 R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Tyndale Publishing, Wheaton, IL 1985); p. 116