Miroslav Volf on Glory

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John Piper reduces all of God's emotions to God's desire for promoting his own glory. (See the posts linked to in this comment for earlier posts on Piper's view.) Miroslav Volf discusses this view in a new book, as discussed in Henry Imler's post. Henry raises the worry that Volf is trying to have it both ways. I'm not entirely sure that's true. Here are the two (perhaps consecutive, but I'm not sure) quotes from Volf that seem to conflict:

Some theologians claim that all God's desires culminate in a single desire: to assert and maintain God's own glory. On its own, the idea of a glory-seeking God seems to say that God, far from being only a giver, is the ultimate receiver. As the great twentieth-century theologian Karl Barth disapprovingly put it, such a God would "in holy self-seeking... preoccupied with Himself." In creating and redeeming, such a God would give, but only in order to get glory; the whole creation would be a means to an end. In Luther's terms, here we would have a God demonstrating human rather than divine love.
But we don't have to give up on the idea that God seeks God's own glory. We just need to say that God's glory, which is God's very being, is God's love, the creative love that wants to confer good upon the beloved. Now the problem of a self-seeking God has disappeared, and the divinity of God's love is vindicated. In seeking God's own glory, God merely insists on being toward human beings the God who gives. This is exactly how Luther thought about God. So should we.

As I was thinking through this in writing a comment, I realized it was probably worth putting up a post here about this too, since I've written about the issue so many times before. These two paragraphs aren't at odds with each other, if I understand Volf correctly. In the first paragraph, Volf argues against Piper's position by saying that God's motivations do not all reduce to God's glory. In the second paragraph, he argues that God still acts to seek his own glory, as long as we can't make the reduction of other motives to God's glory. In fact, I think the best way to understand his positive proposal in the second paragraph is that he thinks the reduction goes the other way. If you reduce God's pursuit of his glory to God's love instead of the other way around, then you've got some content to why God's glory is so worth promoting for God to care so much about it, and you've also got an other-centered motivation for God to promote his glory, thus easily sidestepping the objection that God's pursuit of his glory is too self-focused.

My thought is that one need not go as far as Volf does. You don't need to reduce God's glory to the aspect of God's goodness that involves bestowing undeserved favor and love, and you don't need to reduce it even to the broader motivation of love in general (including intra-Trinitarian love). All that's required to make the move he wants to make is that God's goodness is the ground for why his glory is so worth pursuing. Why does that goodness have to be restricted to just love, though? It does seem problematic to me to seek one's honor merely for the sake of pursuing one's honor. There must be some reason why that honor is worth seeking. Piper either doesn't see this, or he doesn't recognize that having a basis for honor to be worth seeking means God's motivation to seek his own honor isn't the most basic one after all. But you don't need to reduce God's glory to God's love to avoid the problem Piper's view generates.

15 Comments

Which books and pages?

Henry doesn't give the page numbers. You could ask him in his post. That's one of the reasons I linked to it, in case anyone wanted to discuss it with him. The book is Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace.

Jeremy,

I see this as very much a dispute bedded in the English-speaking modernist world. It seems to me that in other languages (I know this is true in my ancestral language, Armenian), including Hebrew and Greek, the world "glory" didn't/doesn't carry as much of the pride/selfishness connotation as it does in English. N.T. Wright reads most instances of "glory" in the OT to mean "presence." In Armenian, the word implies "noticeable presence" or "obvious presence." I haven't done anything resembing an overarching linguistic study of the word, but it seems to me that if we hear more "presence" than we do "honor" when we use the word "glory," a lot of this discussion might melt away. That is, God does X or Y to "increase His presence." I don't know. I guess I'd have to read Volf's book to see if he tackles this aspect.

Grace and Peace,
Raffi

Does Wright think this is true of the Greek word in the NT and LXX as well? This is actually the first time I've heard such a sweeping statement, although I have at least once seen it translated that way. Where does Wright discuss this? I wonder if it's in something I have.

it is great to read another discussion of the glory of God theme - it is a topic that has been occupying much of my thinking for some time. a few observations and questions:

in the second quotation from volf, it appears that the difficulties arise between the idea of God's attributes being His glory, which is certainly present in the hebrew term kwd, and glory as it is something which is attributed to God by both the members of the trinity and creation. i'm not sure that this second pararaph adequately deals with the relationship between these two uses of the word, particularly the nature of attributed glory.

i might have missed something or misunderstood john piper, but i thought that jeremy's comment would have been in agreement as far as it applies to God's pursuit of His own glory as well as man's glorifying God:

'All that's required to make the move he wants to make is that God's goodness is the ground for why his glory is so worth pursuing.'

at least for me, the idea of God needing anything external to Himself to validate His own pursuit of His glory is difficult. Before creation, God's kwd is sufficient grounds for Him to seek His own glory. i wonder if the key is that the nature of His glory and the glorifying that it necessitates, is such that it demanded creation and redemption, but not because there was any insufficiency in the expression of His love. this is fully satisfied within the Trinity before creation, which is why Jesus talks about desiring to bestow on the objects of God's love the glory He had before the incarnation. this is the glory and the joy that He wished to bestow upon man. perhaps even oswalt's wonderful comment, that salvation is the ultimate vindication of God's holiness, only really addresses the slur that is cast upon it by sin. perhaps there is need of a distinction of the pursuit of glory in the situation of fallen creation, God's pursuit of glory after creation but before any sin was present and God's pursuit of glory before creation.

to what extent is the glory attributed to God greater in the creation of the inanimate creation, the heavenly hosts, and redeemed man, greater than the self-attributed glory of the Trinity before creation? my inclination is that the glory is greater, but also that God's love is also extended by redemption but is not greater than the love of the Trinity before creation - the use of plerow and its cognates in the NT has been helpful for me to see the extension of what is already perfect.

what then is the relationship between glory as the being of God and glory as it is attributed to him? by loving one another, the Trinity glorifies themselves because love glorifies. i would carefully posit that the reason John says that God is love is because it is the key way in which we see that glory glorifies.

keep the comment rolling Jeremy - it is an important subject

bruce

Bruce, Piper is very explicit that God's love is motivated only to give God more glory. He doesn't deny that God is love, but he sees God's love as being grounded purely in God's desire to make his glory known. That view is incompatible with seeing God's goodness as the basis of God's glory. That would lead to a circular account of why God's glory is good and why God's love is good. It falls prey to the problem similar to the one raised by Plato's dialogue Euthyphro. Either God is loving because of his pursuit of spreading his glory, or his glory is worth spreading because God is love, or neither is more fundamental than the other. I would like to avoid the reductionism of either view, but it seems to me that Piper and Volf each adopts one of the two reductions.

You wrote, "Bruce, Piper is very explicit that God's love is motivated only to give God more glory. He doesn't deny that God is love, but he sees God's love as being grounded purely in God's desire to make his glory known. That view is incompatible with seeing God's goodness as the basis of God's glory. That would lead to a circular account of why God's glory is good and why God's love is good."

Can you expand this a bit more precisely (esp. the circularity)?

I think I have an idea of what you are getting at, but I am not sure on some particulars.

When you say God's love do you mean every expression of God's love or more specifically God's love for the world? Also, what do you mean by "God's goodness as the basis of God's glory"?

From what I recall of Piper (it has been awhole since I have read his writings), it is only God's love for us that is grounded in God's desire to make his glory known. The love within the Trinity is not grounded in this way. The Father delights in the Son because he is the image of the invisible God. The Father delights in the divine nature in the Son. And so the Father wants to make the glory of the Son known. So it seems to me that Piper does ground God's desire to make his glory known in a delight in the divine nature. In what way would this be circular? (It may have other issues but I am not sure I see circularity.)

Keith, the circularity is this. If God's love is defined in terms of seeing his glory, as Piper explicitly says, then you can't in turn define God's seeing his glory in terms of love. You then haven't explained either. Similarly, if the foundation of God's love for us is God's seeing to bring us to grasp his glory, then you can't also say that the reason God shares his glory is so that he can love us. That would be a circular explanation. It's surely true that God does both, and it may be that each enables the other to some extent, but you can't have one serves as the complete foundation, explanation, and definition of the other and then do the same in reverse.

As for intra-Trinitarian love, I don't know if he ever comments on that. In the statement I just linked to, he's clearly restricting himself to God's love for us. I don't believe I've ever seen him apply it to intra-Trinitarian love.

What I mean by "God's goodness as the basis of his glory" is that metaphysical goodness is just some basic property of God that he doesn't have in virtue of having some other property. The reason it's good for God to promote his glory is because that's promoting recognition of what's good, and it's good to promote what's good. He is glorious precisely because he's metaphysically good. I'm sure Piper does agree with this. What he doesn't seem to agree with, though, is my claim that this is means God's seeking of his glory isn't the most basic fundamental truth about God's motivations. It's God's promoting of goodness that's more fundamental. It's just that one of the most fundamental ways to do that is for people to recognize his good nature, since it's the wellspring of all goodness in creation.

"As for intra-Trinitarian love, I don't know if he ever comments on that. In the statement I just linked to, he's clearly restricting himself to God's love for us. I don't believe I've ever seen him apply it to intra-Trinitarian love."

Yes, he does comment on it quite heavily. You can find his commentary in his series on 1 John.

For Piper, who takes an Edwardsian look at the Trinity, which in turn speaks about the Trinity in Lockean terminology, the Trinity consists in Love, and that Love is the Person of the Holy Spirit. So Love is personified, and loving, in the regenerate believer, is the activity of the Holy Spirit.

"The reason it's good for God to promote his glory is because that's promoting recognition of what's good, and it's good to promote what's good. He is glorious precisely because he's metaphysically good. I'm sure Piper does agree with this. What he doesn't seem to agree with, though, is my claim that this is means God's seeking of his glory isn't the most basic fundamental truth about God's motivations."

I would agree that Piper would say that is right.

For Piper, the display of the love of God is a component of His glory, from what I've gathered. So you can say His love is His glory, but its not the totality of it. That might create some confusion, but it seems that the love of God is also a motive for the revelation of His whole glory.

So His love is His glory, and He loves for His glory, but His love means He'll show the rest of His glory, or something to that effect.

John 11:5-6
4 But when Jesus heard it he said, "This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Jesus loved them - SO He allowed Lazarus to die. Why? Because the illness is for His glory.

I think that's the relation. His love is a component of His glory because His glory is His perfections. And it would be unloving for God not to show His glory. His love means that He will display His glory.

"Love" isn't a real good overall motivator for God. It doesn't seem to reckon with Romans 9. Perhaps particular love for the elect.

Jeremy,
Can you please define glory for me? From the research I have done, there seems to be quite a few distinct hebrew/greek words that we translate as 'Glory', and the word seems to be used in quite a few different senses.

As raffi mentioned, I'm not sure the term is always used with negative connotations.

Been thinking about what 'glory' really means a lot, so would like to know what you think.

""Love" isn't a real good overall motivator for God. It doesn't seem to reckon with Romans 9. Perhaps particular love for the elect."

i'm not sure if its adequate even for God's particular love for the elect, "thus says the LORD God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came." Eze 36:22,cf. v.32

Alan, I hadn't thought about it very deeply. I was just assuming we were talking about whatever biblical texts Piper and Schreiner have in mind when they put forward this sort of view. There are an awful lot of them.

Jeremy - thanks for filtering.

Bruce:

"i'm not sure if its adequate even for God's particular love for the elect, "thus says the LORD God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came." Eze 36:22,cf. v.32"

That's where I was going, actually :-)

For Piper, "glory" is the perfections of God.

So His goodness is His glory. His goodness may be a motivator for the rest of His actions. But I'm sure Piper would say that goodness is the glory of God because goodness is one of many manifold perfections of God. Once again, remember the Edwardsian backdrop to Piper. And this was Edwards understanding of glory, based on his analysis of Scripture. Basically, glory has three senses: An intrinsic possession (e.g. my beauty is my glory, my money is my glory, my power is my glory), the communication of that perfection, and the perception of that communicated perfection. e.g You glorify the glory of God when you perceive the love of God for you.

I think a lot of it might come down to semantics - important ones, mind you.

So why does God need to make His glory (perfections) known to men? He surely does not need attention, least of all the attention and adulation of His own creation.

Okay, so He doesn't need to, He just desires to for the benefit of man, you might say. Perhaps you prescribe to the Calvinist notion that men were created simply so that God could manifest His wrath (the reprobate, or unelect or "damned"). Are they better off knowing first hand the fiery pounding of God's "infinite justice"? I would think not: they would probably have been better off never having been born. Does God benefit from them being tortured forever? Hardly. Again, it implies something lacking within God's essence. So who gains by the reprobate? Perhaps the elect?

Are we suggesting that the elect would be able to give God proper worship and thanks were it not for the knowledge of the eternal suffering of others? Perhaps you're right. It's like a 16-year-old riding their brand new BMW 325Ci convertible into a high-school parking lot where everyone else is stuck either riding the bus or driving a broken down Ford Focus. It's just so much more satisfying when you can not only enjoy great things but grind into the dust the faces of others who can't share in it, isn't it?

;-)

James, I'm certainly a Calvinist, but I've never met a Calvinist who holds that humans were created merely for the purpose of God being able to show his justice. I'm not sure most hyper-Calvinists even think that. For one thing, there are all the elect who won't serve that purpose. For another, there are lots of goods that are achieved even by those who won't ultimately be saved.

Calvinists and Arminians and alike accept that the purpose of reprobation is at least partly to demonstrate God's justice. Only a universalist would deny that (but at least most versions of universalism run afoul of Romans 9 in this regard). But then so does your argument:

It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God's mercy. For Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. But who are you, a mere human being, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' " Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for disposal of refuse? [Rom 9:16-21, TNIV]

In other words, it's extremely presumptuous to think we have any rights with respect to God. So why does it matter if it benefits us? God is exceptionally merciful, but I'm not in any position, cognitively or in terms of moral standing, to judge whether God is better for being merciful to all or better for being merciful only to some. I can't think that I have any reason to think I know all the intrinsic goods there are and what their relative value is. But I certainly don't think it has to be for the good of the person being damned that the person is damned or that it has to make God better off somehow.

Here are several things Calvinists (among others) do accept as probable components of the correct theodicy, though. One thing is Thomas Aquinas' point that the world is better if God acts through intermediate causes, which would include human choices involving considering options and then choosing the one we see as best. This is so whether our freedom is libertarian (as the Arminian thinks) or compatibilist (as the Calvinist thinks). The only difference is why God, if he can choose to cause everyone to choose only good things, would work things out otherwise. But if demonstrating the importance of freedom, even compatibilist freedom, requires that some choose well and others less well, as I think is probably the case, then the best option will lead to exactly the things you're asking for an explanation for.

Add to that Augustine's point that (once you've got choices that are evil) hell isn't just a matter of retributive justice to pay people back for evil. People actually choose to be bad, and they choose that in this life. It's much worse for you to be bad than it is to suffer, so the focus on the suffering of hell is kind of lame. The real question is why God would allow people to continue to be evil forever, but we're talking about allowing people to persist in having a character that they developed long-term and consistently reaffirmed while resisting change. (Note the language of God's patience in Exodus 34, Romans 9, II Peter 3, and so on.)

I could go on, but I think it should be pretty clear now that Calvinists need not appeal only to God's justice and certainly wouldn't be best off to say that the only purposes God might have for the reprobate would be for the reasons you give.

As for your last paragraph, only a hyper-Calvinist could seriously say anything like that. All Calvinists insist that everyone has an opportunity and that no one is forced to be ground to dust, as you put it (not that that's what hell is). That's the crucial difference between Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism. Hyper-Calvinists don't allow for potentiality and possibility language, and Calvinists insist on it. Also, it's pretty clear in scripture that God doesn't delight in the punishment of the wicked, so whatever good motivates God to work things out the way it does it has to involve balancing out goods with this evil. That doesn't amount to taking delight in the suffering of the wicked.

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