Something strange has happened to me enough times that I feel I can no longer rightly deem it strange. It occurs when in the midst of reading some rather severe or jarring presentation of the truth that God’s own glorification stands as the ultimate end of all that He does. By this I intend no harsh connotations. I am speaking of the very best kind of severity. Ensnared by such words, I suddenly realize I have become so full of joy that I am almost at the point of laughter. Sadly the frequency of this phenomenon is dramatically hindered by the rarity of finding a presentation of this kind on the subject. Despite its scarcity, however, the correlation has now become unmistakable to my soul.
My point at present is not to attempt to demonstrate how Scripture relentlessly sets forth the exaltation of His own magnificence as God’s supreme mission in creation and redemption. Nor will I seek to show how my subjective experience of this correlation is confirmed biblically. All I wish to point out is the momentous question that should be raised when one observes joy attending exposure to this truth. Even a moment of musing causes me to realize that it utterly defies virtually everything I have ever been told about the origins of gladness. To affirm that there is no purpose God is more passionate about and no outcome He is more pleased with than the magnification of His own worth is to flatly deny that my existence and my salvation hold that place. I am not the point. Everything about my life is intended to be a means to another end. How could such a sober, self-negating realization result in my happiness?
I have the somewhat unique experience of having spent time in a number of expressions of Christianity that differ greatly from one another. I have been exposed to a spectrum of theology from ultra-liberal to staunch fundamentalist, worshiped with reserved evangelicals and wild charismatics, and attended services rangin from high liturgy in old buildings to no liturgy in a school cafeteria. Yet as I reflect back, there is a sense in which they all seem like merchants in a bazaar trying to entice the bustling masses by peddling a product called “God”. They were tremendously diverse in their emphasis of what God would do for me, but uniformly silent on what I was created to do for God. Whether it was promising mercy, money, miracles, or mirth, in each setting I was set forth as the end and God was the means to procure my satisfaction. In the Bible, on the other hand, I stand alongside the rest of creation as the means and God’s glory is the all-consuming end.
Though at times it can feel a bit like a tsunami in the way it levels all our presuppositions about reality, when this God-centered vision crashes over our lives it leaves joy in its wake because we have finally beheld the purpose for which we were both born and born again. Conformity to our design brings with it a pleasure of unmatched sweetness. This is not because we finally discover our worth and our meaning in life, but because we have finally caught a glimpse of Someone so precious, breathtaking, and majestically free that He is worthy of our entire existence being devoted to reveling in His grandeur and making His greatness known. The paradox is this: if we use God to seek our joy for our sake it will always elude us, but if we seek to extol the glory of God for His sake we will find deep and lasting joy. It would be difficult to improve upon the way this excerpt summarizes the crux of the matter:
Our fatal error is believing that wanting to be happy means wanting to be made much of…This path to happiness is an illusion. And there are clues. There are clues in every human heart even before conversion to Christ. One of those clues is that no one goes to the Grand Canyon or to the Alps to increase his self-esteem. That is not what happens in front of massive deeps and majestic heights. But we do go there, and we go for joy. How can that be, if being made much of is the center of our health and happiness?…In wonderful moments of illumination there is a witness in our hearts: soul-health and great happiness come not from beholding a great self but a great splendor. (John Piper, God is the Gospel, p 11-12)
Many important truths are tied, some inseparably, to the theme at hand. Yet this must not muddle the simplicity and severity of God’s ultimate purpose in all things. At stake is not at all whether we are loved, cherished, and deeply blessed as His people. Such confusion only arises in this context because of how we have been conditioned to view love through a lens of narcissism. Do we exist for God, or does God exist for us? That is the question, and it is one which Scripture answers with unfailing consistency. God, indeed, satisfies like no other, but does He really exist in order to satisfy the longing of our souls, or does the joy of our satisfaction exist to point to the supremacy of His worth? Getting that question right makes all the difference. All things were made by Him, all things exist through Him, and all things exist for Him. All things are His possession, all things are for His pleasure, and all is for His glory.