Giving God Glory 

The passage in John 13 that I wrote about last Saturday emphasizes giving glory to God. I've heard some people take offense at the way God calls for people to give him glory: "What kind of God is this who gets off on people telling him how good he is? Suppose someone said, 'The only way you can connect with me is if you tell me I'm great.' We would consider that person an arrogant jerk. Why is God any different?" 

It's an understandable question, especially in the modern Western world, with the high value we place on equality.

The answer comes on several levels. For the sake of this discussion, in which we're considering whether the Bible's teaching makes sense, we're going to have to take it on its own terms; we can't alter its meaning and then conclude it does or doesn't make sense.

The Bible's first answer to what makes God any different is that God is quite emphatically different. We're not used to thinking in terms of kings and sovereigns. There was a time when the supremacy and authority of God had a more familiar human analogy. Even that analogy was weak, though, because no human authority could compare to that of the Creator of the universe and the Ruler of all that is.
“Remember this, and show yourselves men;  
Recall to mind, O you transgressors.  
Remember the former things of old,  
For I am God, and there is no other; 
I am God, and there is none like Me, 
Declaring the end from the beginning,  
And from ancient times things that are not yet done,  
Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,  
And I will do all My pleasure,’  
Calling a bird of prey from the east,  
The man who executes My counsel, from a far country. 
Indeed I have spoken it; 
I will also bring it to pass.  
I have purposed it; 
 I will also do it." 
(Isaiah 46:8-11; one of many passages with similar themes) 
But is there still something about God's desiring praise that is unseemly? What does he need of our worship? 
In fact, he needs nothing of it for his own good; he desires it for our good. 
I think I can provide a modern analogy to explain this. I studied trombone in college with Curtis Olson. This was in the mid-70s, when he first came out of the Eastman School of Music and began to teach at Michigan State. (In 2002 he was honored as "Trombone Teacher of the Year" by the International Trombone Association.) 
There were rumors that came with him to MSU, that his teacher at Eastman had called him the best bass trombonist to come out of that school, and that he was good enough to play in any orchestra in the world. (You may not understand the competition for wind instrument positions in major orchestras, but consider that only a few bass trombone slots open up every year in the entire world, and there are hundreds of players who want those spots. It's worse than professional athletics.)  
Olson never called attention to these rumors, though he did mention once that he preferred not to play in an orchestra because it would mean he'd have to live in a big city. He was genuinely, I think, too interested in us as students to worry about what claims people were making about him.  
He had a lot of fun teaching. He wanted his students to be able to play with the big sound that trombonists must produce in some pieces; and to play well loudly, you must practice loudly. So one time in his studio during a lesson, he picked up his horn and said to me, "Let's play this together and see if we can gross out all the people out in the hall!" He set up a competition among the students, using a decibel meter to see who could play the loudest. It was not pretty, I assure you. But Olson had as much fun with it as the rest of us. 
Of course he also wanted us to be able to handle the other extreme. How well I remember those agonizing trombone choir rehearsals when he would take us repeatedly through the same first four bars of a Bach chorale. "Softer! Softer! It's too loud!" he would say, over and over again. Playing first trombone, I was on the high part that was especially tiring. As brass players say, my lips were falling off when we finished--then we did it again the next week. I can still play those four bars from memory. 
As I said, he never called attention to his skills, but when he played, there was no doubt--especially when he played his first recital. It was pretty much perfect. I think the rumors we had heard were probably true--he was a tremendous trombonist, and every one of his students knew it. Our praise of his skills was perfectly fitting and right. 
Suppose now that a trombone student there had been indifferent to Olson's skills, or had thought him to be a mediocre player. What would that have meant to him as teacher? It might have been personally painful. The main thing it would have shown, though, is that the student knew nothing about the trombone. With so little discernment, that person would have no future whatever as a musician. To a teacher, that would be a serious disappointment, because of the student's loss. 
Taking the analogy back around toward God, first of all, God's glory is manifest simply when he does what God does, just as Curtis Olson's great musicianship was shown just by his playing his horn.  
Now, what does it mean when a person is indifferent toward God, or fails to observe his greatness? God is not injured by it, except insofar as he cares for that person's connection with reality and truth--which he certainly does care about, as an expression of his supreme love. 
The person with that view is without understanding, like the insensitive or ignorant trombone student in my analogy. He or she knows little or nothing about the basis of the whole universe, of all that is good and loving, of what is truly deserving of praise. God calls us to praise him because it is fitting and right. Not to praise him indicates how little we understand of the true nature of life. Giving God glory is connecting to reality, and it indicates our knowledge and growth. Failing to give him glory is failing to see things as they really are. It is our loss. 
The analogy is not perfect; none ever is. But I hope it illustrates how God's desire for praise is based in the truth of how great he truly is, and how it is motivated by his love for the people he created, who are only in touch with reality to the extent we are in touch with God's greatness. 

Posted: Tue - October 4, 2005 at 09:32 PM           |

© 2004-2007 by Tom Gilson. Permission is granted to quote up to two paragraphs of any blog entry, provided that a link back to the original is included or (in print) the website address is provided. Please email me regarding longer quotes. All other rights reserved.

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