In high school, I noticed that Christians liked flinging around terms with “the glory of God” in them. “Everything you do should be for the glory of God.” “Don’t ask whether you like your circumstances. Ask, ‘How can I glorify God in this?'” “Are you living to God’s glory?”
“Glory” isn’t a word that we use very often, and it’s not a word that I could easily definite at the time. I usually ended up with two pictures in my mind. The first is of a sort of white shininess that blinds anyone foolish enough to look at it. The second is of a runner after a race, waving a trophy around and expecting everyone to cheer for him. While the first might be an accurate depiction of an aspect of God’s character, I couldn’t very well do everything for the white shininess of God. Clearly that wasn’t what everyone else meant. And that left me with the second picture, which, when applied to God, left the impression that he was stuck on Himself.
(As you can probably tell, I have a tendency to over-think things. It’s helpful at some times, harmful at others, and downright annoying–I’m told–when other people are trying to enjoy Chipwrecked for the second time. Apparently voicing disbelief that the weight of chipmunks is enough to cause an adult to lose her balance is a bad idea.)
In any case, I found the idea of God’s glory uncomfortable. If we were supposed to do everything to God’s glory, did that mean He wanted us to praise Him all the time? And if we were supposed to praise Him all the time, did that make God guilty of pride–the sin that got Lucifer thrown from heaven? Pride, one of the seven deadly sins?
It wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I heard someone finally define glory. Apparently, spreading God’s glory is spreading His reputation–His name. And since believing in His name is the only way for humans to be saved (Acts 4:12), His desire for things to be done “to His glory” isn’t exactly selfish. And praising Him isn’t about complimenting Him, as praise is for another human. Rather, it’s about telling the truth–not at all antithetical to humility.
Once I thought that humility was a “human” virtue. That is, just as God has a set of characteristics (unlimited knowledge, for example) that it isn’t our business to imitate, so people have virtues that it isn’t God’s business to imitate. But I forgot something. First, that God became man. And second, that anyone who spends so much energy maintaining a world is far from self-absorbed.
G. K. Chesterton described God’s humility in his Ballad of the White Horse:
For was not God a gardener
And silent like a slave;
That opened oaks on the uplands
Or thicket in graveyard gave?
And was not God my armourer,
All patient and unpaid,
That sealed my skull as a helmet,
And ribs for hauberk made?
Did not a great grey servant
Of all my sires and me,
Build this pavilion of the pines,
And herd the fowls and fill the vines,
And labour and pass and leave no signs
Save mercy and mystery?
By Chesterton’s reckoning, the Bible begins with God’s humility: “In the beginning, God made heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).” Only once in the Bible do we see God resting, and then mainly as an example to humans. According to Jesus Christ: “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath (Mark 2:27).”
A proud, self-centered God does not create pleasure.
A proud, self-centered God also does not die. Chesterton continues:
But some see God like Guthrum,
Crowned, with a great beard curled,
But I see God like a good giant,
That, labouring, lifts the world.
Wherefore was God in Golgotha,
Slain as a serf is slain;
And hate He had of prince and peer,
And love He had and made good cheer,
Of them that, like this woman here,
Go powerfully in pain.
Perhaps the Bible passage that most directly addresses the humility of God is Philippians 2:5-11. Christ, only Son to the King of Kings, gives up His inheritance. He comes to earth to live like a servant. He humbles Himself and dies the death of a common criminal. For His humility, His Father praises Him and gives Him the highest position in the kingdom. And I wondered why I was supposed to glorify Christ? Or God the Father, who gave up His only Son to be treated that way?
It’s easy to forget things, particularly the most important things. Such as how Christ gave up more than we can even imagine.
The Bible has been called God’s love letter to man. It might as easily be called the record of His humility.