Why God Created the World
During John Piper’s recent ministry trip to Europe, he spoke at the Congresson Missione in Montesilvano in Italy. His subject was: Why God Created the World. I strongly urge you to read and re-read this remarkable article. It was first published at www.desiringgod.org on Saturday, September 3, 2016. Continue reading . . .
During John Piper’s recent ministry trip to Europe, he spoke at the Congresson Missione in Montesilvano in Italy. His subject was: Why God Created the World. I strongly urge you to read and re-read this remarkable article. It was first published at www.desiringgod.org on Saturday, September 3, 2016.
Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; 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, whom I formed and made” (Isa. 43:5-7).
One of the most important questions any human being can ask is: Does God exist?
In answer to this question, God gives himself a personal name in the Scriptures. The name was so sacred that the Jews did not pronounce it. The generally substituted the word Adonai or Master. Today we usually pronounce the name Yahweh. Sometimes Jehovah. It is used for God over six thousand times in the Old Testament. It is usually translated LORD in our English Bible with all capital letters.
God gave himself this name in order to make sure that his absolute existence would be affirmed every time we used his name.
The Only Absolute Reality
You can see this in Exodus 3:13-14 where Moses explains how the name came into being.
Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
The name Yahweh is built on the Hebrew word for I am. So every time God’s personal name was used — over six thousand times — the point was, and is, I exist absolutely. My existence does not depend on anyone else’s existence. I am — who I am.
I am not defined by any other reality. Nothing determines who I am or what I am like. I did not come into being. Nothing was before me. And so nothing created me, or gave rise to me. I am not in the process of becoming. I am complete.
All other reality is dependent on me. Everything that exists outside of me, exists because I made it. Therefore, I give meaning to everything. I decide whether anything exists, and why everything exists. I am the only absolute reality. “I am who I am.” “Moses, tell Israel, ‘I AM’ has sent you. That is my name.”
But for me, the next question is just as significant as the question, Does God exist? It has shaped my life and ministry even just as profoundly as the existence of God. Namely, the question: Why did this absolute God — who was complete and lacking in nothing — create the world? If you answer that question the way God does, it will affect everything you think, everything you feel, everything you do.
The short answer that resounds through the whole Bible like rolling thunder is: God created the world for his glory.
We’ll talk in a moment about what that means, but let’s establish the fact first.
Created for His Glory
Let’s start with Isaiah 43:6b-7. God says,
“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, whom I formed and made.”
Even if the narrowest meaning here is: I brought Israel into being for my glory, the fact that he used the words “created,” “formed,” and “made” point us back to the original act of creation. Israel was made for the glory of God because all things were made for the glory of God.
In His Own Image
When the first chapter of the Bible says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27), what is the point? What’s the point of setting up an image of someone in your town? The point of an image is to image. Images are erected to display the original — the person they are images of. They point to some famous person so that we will think of that person and honor that person. Images glorify the original.
God made humans in his image so that we would be images of God. God has put seven billion statues of God in the world. He has filled the world with images of himself in every country, every tribe, every ethnicity, every language. So that nobody would miss the point of creation. Nobody — unless they were stone blind — could miss the point of humanity, namely, God. God is the point of the world. Seeing God, knowing God, admiring God — that is the point of the world.
The Heavens Declare
But human beings are not God’s only pointer to his glory. So is nature! Why did God make such a breathtaking world for us to live in? Why such a vast universe? I read the other day that there are more stars in the universe than there are words and sounds that all humans of all time have ever spoken. Why?
I have heard people say that the vastness of empty, uninhabited space, with human beings inhabiting only a tiny speck called earth — that this makes believing in God harder. But the reason this seems out of proportion is because people are treating the universe as though it were about human life. It’s not mainly about human life. It’s about God.
The Bible is crystal clear about this: “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). Someone may ask, “If earth is the only inhabited planet and man the only rational inhabitant among the stars, why such a large and empty universe?” The answer is: “It’s not about us. It’s about God. It’s about his greatness and his glory. And it’s understatement.”
The universe is declaring the glory of God, and the reason we exist is to see it and be stunned by it and glorify God because of it.
The Tragedy of Glory Exchanged
So Paul says in Romans 1:20-21,
His invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God.
The great tragedy of the universe is that while human beings were made to glorify God, we have all fallen short of this purpose and “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man” (Rom. 1:23) — especially the one in the mirror. This is the essence of what we call sin. Sin is preferring anything — any pleasure, any treasure, any glory — above the glory of God. This is why Italy and every other country is in desperate need of God’s mercy in Christ. More on that later.
Recognized as Glorious, Not Made Glorious
So, why did God create the universe? Resounding through the whole Bible — from eternity to eternity — like rolling thunder is: God created the world for his glory.
Isaiah states it plainly in Isaiah 43:7, and presses home the reality over and over to help us feel it and make it part of our fabric of our thinking:
Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; . . . And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken (Isa. 40:4-5).
I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols (Isa. 42:8).
Break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! For the LORD has redeemed Jacob, and will be glorified in Israel (Isa. 44:23).
For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you . . . I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another (Isa. 48:9-11).
And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified (Isa. 49:3).
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; . . . that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified (Isa. 61:1-3).
This is why God created the world — “that he may be glorified.” Which does not mean: “that he may be made glorious.” We don’t make God glorious. God is perfectly and completely glorious no matter what we do. We don’t add to his glory when we glorify him. That is not what glorifying God means.
When God created the world, he did not create out of any need or any weakness or any deficiency. He created out of fullness and strength and complete sufficiency. As Jonathan Edwards said, “Tis no argument for the emptiness or deficiency of a fountain that it is inclined to overflow.”
So we don’t glorify God by improving his glory. We don’t glorify him by making up for some deficiency in God. He has no deficiencies. We glorify God by seeing his glory for what it really is, and delighting in it above all things, and then showing it or displaying it to others for what it really is.
Telescopes for the Glory of God
Compare the word “magnify.” Magnifying God and glorifying God are essentially the same. But only if we magnify his glory like a telescope not a microscope. Microscopes make small things look bigger than they are. Telescopes make unimaginably big things look more like what they really are.
Our lives are to be telescopes for the glory of God. We were created to see his glory, be thrilled by his glory, and live so as to help others see him and enjoy him for how great and glorious he really is.
That is why the universe exists. If this takes hold of you the way it should, it will affect the way you think and feel about everything. Now you know why everything exists. You are never at a loss to know something important about everything. Because you know that everything exists for the glory of God.
And this is one of the most important things you can know about anything. And so to know this one thing — that all things exist for the glory of God — is to know something supremely important about everything. Namely, for what purpose it ultimately exists. That is amazing.
But we can’t leave it here. That’s too general. It’s too disconnected from the specific persons of the Trinity and from the flow of history the way God is guiding it. The question is not just, Why did God create the world? But why this world — why these thousands of years of human history with a glorious beginning, and a horrible fall of humanity into sin? And why a history of Israel, and the coming of the Son of God into the world, and a substitutionary death by crucifixion on a cross? And why a triumphant resurrection, the founding of the church and the history of global missions to where we are today with evangelical faith in every country of the world? Why this particular world — this particular history?
And the short answer to that question is: This world, with this sin, and this suffering, and this redemption exists for the glory of God’s grace displayed supremely in the death of Jesus. Or to say it more fully: This world — this history as it is unfolding in Italy and everywhere else — was created and is guided and sustained so that the grace of God, supremely displayed in the death and resurrection of Jesus for sinners, would be glorified throughout all eternity in the Christ-exalting joys of the redeemed.
Or let’s just keep it short: This world exists for the glory of God’s grace revealed in the saving work of Jesus. This means that Christians are not only to be a God-centered people, but a Christ-exalting, gospel-driven, grace-enjoying people. For us, there is an unbreakable connection between the glory of God, the glory of grace, the glory of Christ, the glory of the cross.
Now let me show you this from God’s word. We can do it in five steps.
Sovereign Grace Starts, Sustains, and Finishes
But first just a word about the meaning of grace.
The word grace is used in different senses in different parts of the Bible. So we must be careful not to limit the meaning of grace everywhere just because it may have a limited meaning in one passage. The important thing is to take all the passages seriously and let grace mean all that it means.
One of the meanings of God’s grace is emphasized when we call it “sovereign grace.” Or “omnipotent grace.” Grace that has “almighty power” to overcome all human resistance. What this means is that grace is not just God’s willingness to forgive our sins, but also God’s power to save people from start to finish. In other words, grace starts our salvation, sustains it, and finishes it in eternity with God.
This gets to the heart of what real biblical Christianity is. Let me illustrate with a few texts.
1. By sovereign grace, God chose a people for himself before we even exist.
So at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace [literally “according to the election of grace]. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace (Rom. 11:5-6).
We are elect — chosen by grace — not because God foresaw our good works, but because of his sovereign grace.
2. By sovereign grace, God raises us from spiritual death and gives us life.
Even when we were dead in our trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved (Eph. 2:5).
We were spiritually dead and had no ability to do anything to merit God’s life-giving power. But he gave us new spiritual life, by sovereign grace.
3. By sovereign grace, God gave us the gift of faith.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8).
You did not have the power to believe on your own. You were dead, with no delight in Christ at all. And God raised you from the dead and gave you faith. That’s why we call this grace sovereign grace.
4. Through that God-given faith, we were justified by sovereign grace.
We are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24).
And two chapters later, Paul explains what this means:
As by the one man’s disobedience [Adam’s] the many were appointed sinners, so by the one man’s obedience [Jesus’s] many will be appointed righteous (Rom. 5:19).
In other words, we are justified — declared just and righteous before God on the basis of Christ’s obedience, not ours. This is pure sovereign grace. In Romans 5:17 Paul calls it “an abundance of grace.” We did nothing to deserve it. And even the grace that receives it is a gift of grace.
5. All the fruit of love and obedience and the changed life that flows from this new life and this justification is a work of God’s sovereign grace.
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me (1 Cor. 15:10).
In other words, sovereign grace does not make us passive. It gives us power. We really work. And we work hard. But when we have worked hard for the glory of Christ, we smile and say with Paul, “It was not I but the grace of God that was with me.” The Christian life is a miracle of sovereign grace, but we act the miracle. God causes the miracle. We perform the miracle.
So that’s what I meant when I said sovereign grace saves people from start to finish. Sovereign grace starts our salvation in God’s election, it continues by raising us from spiritual death, it gives us saving faith, it justifies, and it empowers for obedience to Christ’s commandments. And in that way it brings all the way home to God. None of God’s elect will be lost. From start to finish God saves his people by sovereign grace (see Rom. 8:30).
To the Praise of His Glorious Grace
Now let’s get back to the main question of this message. Why did God created this particular work with its sin and its great history of redemption? I am suggesting that the answer is: this world exists for the glory of God’s grace revealed in the saving work of Jesus. This means that Christians are not only to be a God-centered people, but a Christ-exalting, gospel-driven, grace-sustained people.
For us there is an unbreakable connection between the glory of God, the glory of grace, the glory of Christ, the glory of the cross.
Now let me show you this from God’s word. We can do it in five steps.
1. The apex of God’s display of his own glory is the display of his grace.
God predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace (Eph. 1:5-6).
In other words, the praise of God’s grace is the final goal in the revelation of God’s glory. The aim of predestination is that we live to the praise of the glory of this grace forever.
Everything else, even God’s wrath, serves the glory of God’s grace. So Paul says in Romans 9:22-23,
Desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, God has endured with much patience vessels of wrath . . . in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy.”
Wrath is not ultimate. The glory of grace on the vessels of mercy is ultimate. So that is step 1: The ultimate goal of the revelation of God’s glory is the praise of the glory of God’s grace.
2. God planned this — the praise of the glory of his grace — before creation.
God chose us in him before the foundation of the world . . . to the praise of the glory of his grace (Eph. 1:4,6).
Grace was not an afterthought in response to the fall of man. It was the plan because grace is the summit of the mountain of his glory. And he created the world for his glory.
3. God’s plan was that the praise of the glory of his grace would come about through the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ . . . to the praise of the glory of his grace (Eph. 1:5-6).
In the eternal fellowship of the Trinity, the Father and the Son planned that God’s grace would be supremely revealed through the saving work of the Son. Again, Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:9,
God called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.
So, before the ages of time began, the plan was for the revelation of the glory of the grace of God specifically through Christ Jesus.
4. From eternity, God’s plan was that the glory of God’s grace would reach its high point in the saving work of Jesus on the cross.
We see this in the name that was already on the book of the redeemed before the creation of the world. Before there was any human sin to die for, God planned that his Son be slain for sinners. We know this because of the name given to the book of life before creation.
Everyone [will worship the beast] whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain (Rev. 13:8).
The name of the book before creation was “the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” The plan was glory. The plan was grace. The plan was Christ. And the plan was death. And that death for sinners like us is the heart of the gospel.
5. Therefore, the ultimate purpose of creating and guiding and sustaining this world is the praise of the glory of the grace of God in the crucifixion of his Son for sinners.
This is why Revelation 5:9 shows that for all eternity we will sing “the song of the Lamb” (Rev. 15:3). We will say with white hot admiration and praise,
Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).
We will praise ten thousand things about our Savior. But we will not say anything more glorious than: You were slain — and ransomed millions.
The Joy of the Redeemed
So we ask in conclusion: Why did God create the world? And we answer with the Scriptures: God created the world for his glory. God did not create out of need. He did not create the world out of a deficiency that needed to be supplied from outside himself. He was not lonely. He was supremely happy in the fellowship of the Trinity. He created the world to put his glory on display — to communicate his glory — for the fullest satisfaction of his creatures.
And why did he create a world that would become like this world? A world that fell into sin? A world that exchanged the glory of God for the glory of images? Why would he permit and guide and sustain such a world? And we answer: For the praise of the glory of the grace of God displayed supremely in the death of Jesus.
This means that the ultimate reason for all things is the communication of the glory of God’s grace for the happy praise of a redeemed multitude from every people and tongue and tribe and nation.
All things are created and guided and sustained for the glory of God. And that glory reaches its final goal in the praise of the glory of God’s grace, which shines most brightly in the glory of Christ, and comes to focus most clearly in the glory of the cross.
So I ask:
Is the glory of God the brightest treasure on the horizon of your future? Do you join the apostle Paul in saying, “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:2)?
Is the glory of grace the sweetest news to your guilty soul?
Is the glory of Christ your own personal experience of the grace of God?
Is the glory of the cross the saddest and happiest beauty for your redeemed soul?