Not all sentences are created equal. Most sit quietly, not doing much to get your attention. Others reach out and slap you upside the head. This was one of those.
I’m on one knee. The ring, a family heirloom, gripped in my right hand. Face upturned, I’ve just asked the Question. All I need now is the Answer.
And then it comes. One of those sentences.
Without a hint of a smile, she looks down at me and says, “Are you kidding?”
Fortunately, I’d placed my left hand on the ground for stability, otherwise I may well have tipped over and fallen into the river. We’d been dating for five years! So, it’s not like this was a surprise. Here I am on one knee, at a romantic location, with a diamond ring in my hand, and she wants to know if I’m kidding? I’m usually pretty good with words, but at that moment…speechless.
Some sentences just have that effect on you.
At the very beginning of the Bible, we run into this kind of sentence. Unfortunately, many of us have heard it so many times that it no longer surprises us. It has lost its shock value. But still, it’s one of the most amazing statements in the entire Bible.
“In the beginning, God created.”
Wait, he did what?
Stop and think about that for a second. God created. First, there was just God. And then he decided to make stuff.
And, why was this so amazing? Because God didn’t need to create. God doesn’t need anything. He is the one who gives everything—life, breath, land, and even time itself (Acts 17:22-34). He’s so far beyond us that he holds the entire universe in one hand, like I might cup a puddle of water in my palm, its existence dependent on me keeping it from dribbling through my fingers into nothingness (Isaiah 40:12). What could he possibly need from creation?
But, if God doesn’t need anything, why create? God was perfect before creation and would have been perfect without creation. So, why bother?
I have a few rules that I use when I teach about God. One of them is that if someone asks me a question beginning with “Why did God…?” I am very likely to answer with “I don’t know.” That only seems fair. Unless God explicitly tells us why he’s done something, we should be very careful about guessing. We’re more likely to describe why we think God should have done something, than say anything about why he actually did it.
Nonetheless, even if we can’t say for sure why God created, we know one of the main things that he does through creation: he glorifies himself. Everything that God made “declares the glory of God” (Ps. 19:1). As the twenty-four elders in the Book of Revelation proclaim, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev. 4:11). Creation brings glory to God.
At its most basic “glory” refers to how amazingly awesome someone or something is. Think, for example, of an Olympic runner taking a victory lap just after winning her event. Everyone has just witnessed how amazingly awesome she is—her speed, strength, and skill. She displayed her glory in her race, and she continues to display her glory as she runs around the track. Or, consider the glory of a flower. Although not as immediately awe-inspiring as a perfect Olympic performance, the flower has its own glory. Consider the delicacy of its petals, the contour of its stem, the subtle shading of its colors. Amazing. Glory.
Something has glory, then, in the very fact that it is amazing in some way. But, we can also talk about giving glory. That’s what the crowd does as it cheers for the athlete running her victory lap. The crowd does not make her glorious—she’s already displayed her glory in the race. But it recognizes and celebrates her glory by cheering as she takes her victory lap. And, my daughters do the same thing when they rush into the house and drag me into the backyard to witness the glory of the flower, rejoicing in its beauty and unique splendor.
That’s how God’s glory works. Consider God in all his incredible wonder—his love, strength, power, creativity, holiness, wisdom, justice, and so much more. Everything God does displays his glory.
In the end, I can’t explain why, though I intend to ask someday. For now it’s enough to know that by creating God displayed his own awesome glory so that all of creation could respond in worship.
[You can read the rest of the posts in this series on the Gospel book page.]