I’m part of a Bible study with a collection of friends and acquaintances that meets every Friday night, and we’re currently studying Ecclesiastes (and it’s a good thing our leader is in seminary because otherwise we’d be totally lost!). Anyways, there’s some theological variation among us, as is to be expected in Protestant groups, and one of the greatest differences stood out to me sharply in one of our conversations this week.
Commenting on Ecc. 5:18-20, where the author says that the ability to enjoy God’s blessings is itself a gift from God, one of the other women noted how amazing it is that God built into us this capacity for enjoyment and pleasure, instead of making us just machines or automatons, because He would have been glorified either way but He did that for us. And I couldn’t help thinking that of course this generous other-centered action of God will seem unbelievable if you believe that God’s primary concern is His own glory. But is it?
The things God does bring Him glory, yes, and He deserves to be glorified and worshipped because of who He is and what He does. I don’t think, however, that He decides what to do based on what will bring Him the most glory, or that He’s worried for His sake about whether or not we worship Him and give Him glory.
I submit that God’s primary and defining characteristic is love. He was love in the three persons of the trinity before He created anything, and He created that love might be multiplied. He bore utter humiliation and agonizing suffering to communicate and extend that love to those who had rejected and mocked Him. And out of that love He gave us the capacity for joy – the ability to find happiness in Him and in all the good gifts of His hand.
It is something to be deeply grateful for, this joy – but not, I think, something to be surprised at, when we see how God truly is a God of unfathomable love. He is not like a self-aggrandizing parent, from whom we are taken aback to receive good gifts, thankful that our happiness managed to be a side-effect of His glory. No, rather, He is like a Father willing to set aside His own success and reputation that He might love His children well and raise them to the fullness of goodness and joy.
And that is my primary argument with Calvinism as I have so often encountered it: it turns God into a selfish celestial tyrant, damning or saving on a whim, and demanding that He receive all the glory, for all the world like an entitled brat. It removes His incomprehensible, unconditional love – the love that Paul says “passes knowledge” in Eph. 3, that he prays we might know in all its fullness.