for love or glory?

Belief in creation from nothing is one reflective path towards understanding God as trinity; and belief in God as trinity, intrinsic self-love and self-gift, establishes that creation, while not ‘needed’ by God, is wholly in accord with the divine being as being-for-another. To put it provocatively: God creates ‘in God’s interest’ (there could be no other motive for divine action); but that interest is not the building-up of the divine life, which simply is what it is, but its giving away. For God to act for God’s sake is for God to act for our sake. (Rowan Williams, ‘On Being Creatures’ in On Christian Theology, p 74)

There’s a stalled debate that I reckon the line of thought captured in here might help jumpstart. It’s about God’s motivation in creating and reconciling the world.

Put simply, does God act out of love for us or out of a concern for his own glory?

The prooftexts for each side are presumably well enough known (John 3.16 and its ilk on the one side; Ezekiel’s thematic refrain — ‘for my name’s sake’ — and similar texts on the other). As I suspect are the caricatures of each position:

  • On the one hand, a ‘loving’ God who is desperately needy and so cannot bear the thought of giving up the world — or anything in it.
  • On the other hand, a God who does love but only as a function of his more basic desire to ensure that his reputation remains teflon-coated.

To be sure, neither side’s champions would express it like this. But such crude exaggerations do allow an odd similarity to emerge. Lurking behind both visions is a God for whom creating and salving is necessary — a God who is deficient apart from the world (ie. without anyone to love or any theatre for his glory).

The Triune Creator and Reconciler we meet in the crucified and risen Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, is far different. For this God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — to act for his own sake truly is to act for our sake!

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