The Crystal-Clear Reason for LivingThe Bible is crystal clear: God created us for his Glory. Thus says the Lord, “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory” (Isa. 43:6–7). Life is wasted when we do not live for the glory of God. And I mean all of life. It is all for his glory. That is why the Bible gets down into the details of eating and drinking. “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). We waste our lives when we do not weave God into our eating and drinking and every other part by enjoying and displaying him.
What does it mean to glorify God? It may get a dangerous twist if we are not careful. Glorify is like the word beautify. But beautify usually means “make something more beautiful than it is,” improve its beauty. That is emphatically not what we mean by glorify in relation to God. God cannot be made more glorious or more beautiful than he is. He cannot be improved, “nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything” (Acts 17:25). Glorify does not mean add more glory to God.
It is more like the word magnify. But here too we can go wrong. Magnify has two distinct meanings. In relation to God, one is worship and one is wickedness. You can magnify like a telescope or like a microscope. When you magnify like a microscope, you make something tiny look bigger than it is. A dust mite can look like a monster. Pretending to magnify God like that is wickedness. But when you magnify like a telescope, you make something unimaginably great look like what it really is. With the Hubble Space Telescope, pinprick galaxies in the sky are revealed for the billion-star giants that they are. Magnifying God like that is worship.
We waste our lives when we do not pray and think and dream and plan and work toward magnifying God in all spheres of life. God created us for this: to live our lives in a way that makes him look more like the greatness and the beauty and the infinite worth that he really is. In the night sky of this world God appears to most people, if at all, like a pinprick of light in a heaven of darkness. But he created us and called us to make him look like what he really is. This is what it means to be created in the image of God. We are meant to image forth in the world what he is really like.
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Does Being Loved Mean Being Made Much Of?For many people, this is not obviously an act of love. They do not feel loved when they are told that God created them for his glory. They feel used. This is understandable given the way love has been almost completely distorted in our world. For most people, to be loved is to be made much of. Almost everything in our Western culture serves this distortion of love. We are taught in a thousand ways that love means increasing someone’s self-esteem. Love is helping someone feel good about themselves. Love is giving someone a mirror and helping him like what he sees.
This is not what the Bible means by the love of God. Love is doing what is best for someone. But making self the object of our highest affections is not best for us. It is, in fact, a lethal distraction. We were made to see and savor God—and savoring him, to be supremely satisfied, and thus spread in all the world the worth of his presence. Not to show people the all-satisfying God is not to love them. To make them feel good about themselves when they were made to feel good about seeing God is like taking someone to the Alps and locking him in a room full of mirrors.
Pathological at the Grand CanyonThe really wonderful moments of joy in this world are not the moments of self-satisfaction, but self-forgetfulness. Standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and contemplating your own greatness is pathological. At such moments we are made for a magnificent joy that comes from outside ourselves. And each of these rare and precious moments in life—beside the Canyon, before the Alps, under the stars—is an echo of a far greater excellence, namely, the glory of God. That is why the Bible says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps.19:1).
Sometimes people say that they cannot believe that, if there is a God, he would take interest in such a tiny speck of reality called humanity on planet earth. The universe, they say, is so vast, it makes man utterly insignificant. Why would God have bothered to create such a microscopic speck called the earth and humanity and then get involved with us?
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Beneath this question is a fundamental failure to see what the universe is about. It is about the greatness of God, not the significance of man. God made man small and the universe big to say something about himself. And he says it for us to learn and enjoy—namely, that he is infinitely great and powerful and wise and beautiful. The more the Hubble Telescope sends back to us about the unfathomable depths of space, the more we should stand in awe of God. The disproportion between us and the universe is a parable about the disproportion between us and God. And it is an understatement. But the point is not to nullify us but to glorify him.
Loving People Means Pointing Them to the All-Satisfying GodNow back to what it means to be loved. The idea has been almost totally distorted. Love has to do with showing a dying soul the lifegiving beauty of the glory of God, especially his grace. Yes, as we will see, we show God’s glory in a hundred practical ways that include care about food and clothes and shelter and health. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
Every good work should be a revelation of the glory of God. What makes the good deed an act of love is not the raw act, but the passion and the sacrifice to make God himself known as glorious. Not to aim to show God is not to love, because God is what we need most deeply. And to have all else without him is to perish in the end. The Bible says that you can give away all that you have and deliver your body to be burned and have not love (1 Cor. 13:3). If you don’t point people to God for everlasting joy, you don’t love. You waste your life.
Is Eternal Life a Heaven Full of Mirrors?Now think what this means for God’s love. How shall God love us? Mere logic could give us the answer: God loves us best by giving us the best to enjoy forever, namely, himself, for he is best. But we are not dependent on logic alone. The Bible makes this clear. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God loves us by giving us eternal life at the cost of his Son, Jesus Christ. But what is eternal life? Is it eternal self-esteem? Is it a heaven full of mirrors? Or snowboards, or golf links, or black-eyed virgins?
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No. Jesus tells us exactly what he meant: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). What is eternal life? It is to know God and his Son, Jesus Christ. No thing can satisfy the soul. The soul was made to stand in awe of a Person—the only person worthy of awe. All heroes are shadows of Christ. We love to admire their excellence. How much more will we be satisfied by the one Person who conceived all excellence and embodies all skill, all talent, all strength and brilliance and savvy and goodness. This is what I have been trying to say. God loves us by liberating us from the bondage of self so that we can enjoy knowing and admiring him forever.
Or consider the way the apostle Peter says it. “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). Why did God send Jesus Christ to die for us? “That he might bring us to God”—to himself. God sent Christ to die so that we could come home to the all-satisfying Father. This is love. God’s love for us is God’s doing what he must do, at great cost to himself, so that we might have the pleasure of seeing and savoring him forever. If it is true, as the psalmist says to God, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11), then what must love do? It must rescue us from our addiction to self and bring us, changed, into the presence of God.
John Piper (DTheol, University of Munich) is the founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He served for thirty-three years as the senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is the author of more than fifty books.