I was reading a comment about a debate this morning. The debate was between biblical scholars Douglas Moo and Douglas Campbell. It was about the definition of Pauline justification.
I have not watched the debate yet. The commenter, though, was highlighting what she believed was an area of difference between the two debaters: one was presenting God’s glory as God’s main goal, whereas the other was saying that God’s goal is a relationship with human beings.
These are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Moo and Campbell themselves may not believe that they are mutually exclusive. What I often heard in an evangelical Bible study group that I was in years ago was that God glorifies himself for our benefit. We get the privilege of worshiping God. It satisfies us to admire God’s beauty. In short, God glorifies Godself in pursuit of a relationship with human beings. The group was drawing this insight from some of C.S. Lewis’ reflections, particularly Lewis’ Reflections on the Psalms.
This needs to be developed further. In the Bible, God does act in the world as a way to make Godself known, in God’s justice, power, and mercy. In many cases, part of God’s goal is to exalt Godself against God’s earthly enemies. The question would then be, “Why?” Is God pursuing a relationship with those enemies? Is God exalting Godself over God’s enemies in order to encourage Israel to worship and find strength in God? Is God trying to attract a third party to the worship of God?
Some prophets in the Hebrew Bible are more inclusive of Gentiles than other prophets. But there are inclusive prophets who forecast Gentiles coming to Jerusalem or Israel to worship God. Again, the question I would ask is “Why?” Is that out of love for these Gentiles? Is that God’s way of feeling superior to the Gentiles and manifesting final dominance over them? Is it God’s way of encouraging Israel that her god is the best, and now everyone sees (and acknowledges, perhaps grudgingly) that her god is the best?
There is also the question of whether the Bible has a concept of a “relationship with God,” at least in terms of how many evangelical Christians may understand it. Granted, the biblical writings do present a relationship with God. In the Hebrew Bible, a person offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God. A person gives God what is God’s due. But do the biblical writings manifest a concept of people adoring God, and God filling them and meeting their deepest psychological needs? I do not rule that out. Perhaps the case can be made that such a concept is there, at least implicitly. I just wonder, though: When we read the biblical prophets and see Gentiles coming to worship God, are they necessarily enjoying God, in a John Piper sense? Maybe they are simply giving God God’s due.
There is what the Bible says. And there are the things that people read into the Bible. What people believe are God’s motivations, in my opinion, often fall into the latter category. I am reading John Frame’s A History of Western Philosophy and Theology. Frame essentially believes that autonomous human reasoning ultimately leads nowhere, and that philosophical and theological problems can be solved if people believe in the Bible. I do not rule that out entirely, but I also doubt that believing the Bible resolves everything. Texts can be ambiguous. Not only is there the struggle to understand what specific words mean, but there is also the struggle to understand what God’s motivations were.
Many Christians may say that we should look to Jesus as the revelation of God, and interpret the rest of the Bible in light of that, or at least prioritize Jesus’ revelation. Perhaps that can work. We can look at Jesus’ act of love in sacrificing himself on the cross, and allow that to inform our understanding of God’s motivations. I am not necessarily against that. I am against looking down on people who have a different understanding, however.