God Created the World for Himself

[This is a guest post by Ron Kimmel. Ron is a new Th.M. student at Western Seminary and a pastor at Bethany Church in Canby, OR. Ron is participating in this summer’sTh.M. seminar on Jonathan Edwards.]

Why did God create? That’s the question Jonathan Edwards wrestles with in The End for which God Created the World. In the process, he makes an important distinction between the proximate means of creation and the Ultimate End of creation. It’s a distinction that drives him toward an interesting conclusion.

Edwards deals quite extensively with the end for God is presumed (based upon human reasoning) to have created, and surprisingly JE does not cast these ends (consequences of creation) in a negative light. Instead, he looks on them as ‘means’ that God would use to communicate his Ultimate End. And, although he appreciates the value of the means, he warns strongly against equating them with the End itself.

It may be reasonable to argue that God created in order that He might show His love to creation, display His power, establish fellowship, or that it was a natural outflow of is character and nature. JE argues that it is quite a bewildered notion that God should have ever created for the purpose of receiving anything from His creation. He also argues that God did not create because it is merely in His nature and character to do so, even though that nature and character does exist within God.

JE argues that God is His own Ultimate End in creation. He delights in His own perfections and His delight can only be found in Himself. God makes His own perfections His end. In other words, God created out of the love for His own perfection, and creation is a witness to His own greatness. He created so that He might see His own virtues on display in what He had made. It begins and ends with Him. All other ‘means’ are merely consequences of creating.

Though God has created for Himself and He is His own Ultimate End, the concept of God being benevolent toward His creation cannot be a completely separate matter. JE argues that God’s goodness toward His creation is a way of gratifying His own desire and ‘general inclination.’ Set in this mode, God’s acts toward His creation (means) are directly related to God bringing Himself glory. Therefore, these are not seen as separate acts, but rather as coinciding and implied one within the other.

JE argues that this is at least partly because God does not see in past, present and future tenses, but rather He views all at once. Thus, JE links John 17:21 & 23 with the idea that’ redeemed’ are being brought home to God and are being swallowed up in Him so that there is no differentiation between the redeemed and God. This is not to suggest that the redeemed become God but that they are so united with Him that they become one. Thus, God’s benevolent acts toward creation are always linked to his acting on behalf of his own glory.

This has significant implications for life and ministry, particularly in JE’s view of communion. The concept of the redeemed being one with God would lead to all sorts of personal internal struggle toward those who participated in communion but could not give a testimony as to the nature of the conversion. If the redeemed really are expressions of God’s most holy perfections then pretending to reflect those perfections without having actualized the light would certainly lead to one’s condemnation and cast a dark shadow over the church.

Nonetheless, I think JE struggled mightily to find an appropriate balance between these two elements in this dissertation. He wrestled between God’s gracious treatment of creation and His eternal purpose of creation. The tension seems to have become a ‘both and’ type of agreement, but he places the horse before the cart in that God created for His own delight and all else is consequence.

One disturbing thing almost from the outset of reading JE’s work was that of the wrath of God. Where is it? Who’s under it? He talks little about this here and he limits the “consequences” largely to good things that God does toward man. Wrath is spoken of sparingly. While leaving the reader somewhat in want, he points to God being glorified in judging the wicked: glorified, in that He judges the wicked for the sake of the redeemed, creating in the redeemed a greater dependence upon Him and trust in His mercies that would lead to strengthening the union between God and His chosen. His point being that your neighbor is damned so you will glorify God. Though one may feel misery over the damned, it is not for misery itself that one is to delight because misery is a consequence of creation that should find its final realization in giving glory to God. Why? Because man is not to be concerned with his own feelings or emotions and recognize that God is just.

While the premise is excellent in that God’s wrath leads to His glorification, the struggle comes in accepting that God’s wrath is a consequence of creation. Wrath has its beginning and ending with God. Meaning, wrath has always existed in God. It was not just done for the sake of the redeemed but has always existed in God’s virtues and characteristic perfections.

As seems to be the case with JE’s works, this is a humbling and challenging study by a great mind and philosopher of his day. To witness his personal struggles and journey toward putting into words what he believed to the most accurate descriptions of why God would bother with man leaves one questioning the pettiness of his own daily considerations. To have such a great challenge in this day and age of materialism and selfishness is to be found worth its weight in gold if one will pause long enough from his blog post to be mentored by those who have gone before. Thank you JE for pushing your readers on toward glorifying Him.

[Scientia et Sapientia is sponsored by the Master of Theology (Th.M.) program at Western Seminary. It’s an open forum, so please feel free to join the discussion.]

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on July 1, 2011, in Creation, Th.M. Program, The Enlightenment and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Marc,

    You might want to check your opening blurb about the guest author of this post 😉 .

  2. Oops. Cut and paste strikes again. Thanks for the heads up. I think I’ve got it fixed now.

  3. I agree that Edward’s points us toward the main thing: The glory of God! Currently I am reading the End for which God Created the World and have found his logic demanding. I am thankful that while reading this work John Piper is helping out with his footnoted edition in God’s Passion for His Glory. It is always helpful to have a guide who can clarify what archaic words meant.
    Ron I’m thankful that you highlight a few of the differentiations Edwards makes such as:

    1. That God “although God appreciates the value of the means, he warns strongly against equating them with the End itself.”

    2. That “God does not receive anything from His creation” rather that “God makes His own perfections His end. In other words, God created out of the love for His own perfection, and creation is a witness to His own greatness. He created so that He might see His own virtues on display in what He had made. It begins and ends with Him. All other ‘means’ are merely consequences of creating.”

    3. And that because “God does not see in past, present and future tenses, but rather He views all at once …. God’s benevolent acts toward creation are always linked to his acting on behalf of his own glory.”

    However one statement you made that I am not clear on is what you meant when you said that Jonathan Edwards “places the horse before the cart in that God created for His own delight and all else is consequence.” Who or what is the cart? And who or what is the horse?

  4. Ron, the most helpful statement was the distinction between “ultimate” and “chief” ends. The result of conflating these two ends has led to much of the man-centeredness (is that a word?) in theology today. I really appreciated Edwards pointing to a God-centered theology of creation. Furthermore, his second section where he uses Scripture to tease this out was very thorough. My only concern, is what you pointed out in your post, the scant dealing with the wrath of God. In your post you says that, “Wrath has its beginning and ending with God. Meaning, wrath has always existed in God.” I’ll have to think on this one.

  5. Hi Ron,

    My apologies for SUCH a late response…. some rather unexpected things occurred this summer term. Nevertheless, I write now out of appreciation for your post. 🙂 I really enjoyed your discussion on the wrath of God. The topic has always been of particular interest to me, especially when viewed in light of the idea that justice and mercy are two sides of the same coin.

    The ONE sentence that I stumbled on, however, was, ” His point being that your neighbor is damned so you will glorify God.” My question is, “Is my neighbor REALLY damned SO THAT I will glorify God??” Perhaps I am just missing Edwards point, but it seems that God judges others for other ultimate results, though a necessary consequent will inevitably be that we praise God out of gratitude that He has shown mercy to us…. especially in light of the fact that His judgment on others is a display of mercy on us.

    Am I tracking with you???

    Felicia

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