God’s highest desire and his maximally glorifying world

Yesterday, I wrote an post suggesting that God was more glorified by the fact that a Joel Osteen sermon was preached than were it not. I am writing this one immediately after having written that one, so this is not in response to anything online. Yesterday’s post isn’t live at the time of writing this, so I’ve no idea what has been said or how it was received. But I thought it might be sensible – because I can guess the kind of kickback yesterday’s probably got – to explain a little more about what I mean.

Let’s be honest, I don’t think God is glorified by the specific content of a Joel Osteen sermon. I think I said that yesterday, but in case it got lost or it wasn’t picked up, let me say it here again. The Lord is not glorified by the content of heretical or gospel-denying sermons.

That is equally true of anything we might reckon to be sinful. God is not specifically glorified by sin itself. Indeed, God is dishonoured when we do what he has specifically told us not to do and we don’t do what he has told we should do. When we think and do things that are sinful, God isn’t glorified directly by those things.

Nevertheless, God is sovereign over all things. There is not an atom in the universe that moves one iota without his express desire for it to do so. Nobody does anything that is not permitted first by the sovereign God of the universe. Which begs the question, why would God allow sin to happen?

Most, at this point, follow a Leibnizian principle of sufficient reason. It is an answer to some form of the Epicurean trilemma:

  1. If God is unable to prevent evil, then he is not all-powerful.
  2. If God is not willing to prevent evil, then he is not all-good.
  3. If God is both willing and able to prevent evil, then why does evil exist?

The trilemma tries to claim that there is a logical contradiction between the existence of a good, sovereign God and the existence of evil in the world.

The trilemma is avoided by positing that God, despite being both good and able, has a sufficient reason to permit evil. Logically, and philosophically, we don’t have to posit a convincing answer to what that specific reason is to avoid the trilemma. We simply need to insist that, whatever the reason, it is sufficiently good for God to allow evil to exist.

Of course, there are various potential solutions to the question. Various theologians and philosophers have given numerous possible answers. The two A-level comparators are usually Augustine and Irenaeus’ respective views. These have been built upon by Thomas Aquinas and Liebniz, among others. Among Evangelicals, two solutions are prevalent. Some would argue that evil exists as a result of free will. God could eliminate evil, but in doing so, he would have to eradicate free will and this is a sufficiently good reason to permit evil. Alternatively, some argue that God has created a world that will bring him maximal glory and the permission of evil will ultimately serve God’s glory in the end.

As a theologically reformed believer, I naturally incline toward the second of these. This also impinges on that oft-mocked discussion about infra- and supralapsarianism. Ever the contrarian, I tend toward the latter of those. As I judge it, a totally sovereign God who created a world that would ultimately bring him maximal glory is most likely to have determined, before creating it, just what circumstances would bring him most glory, including who would be among the elect. But that is another discussion for another day perhaps.

The reason this matters is when we begin talking about issues such as Joel Osteen sermons. Why would God allow such heinous preaching when he could just eradicate it? The free will argument doesn’t stack up if we are inclined to a high view of God’s sovereignty. God has, ultimately, ordained it on a reformed view. Which pushes us to the view that God is ultimately, somehow, more glorified by it happening than if it didn’t. How do we know this? Because the world is created to bring him the maximal amount of glory.

Naturally, some will want to protest at some of the worst atrocities in history and wonder how such things can in any way be said to glorify God. And, as I have already said, of themselves, they are quite right that they do not. There is nothing glorifying to God about sin; the more heinous the sin, the less glorifying it is. Nevertheless, what most fully glorifies God is not necessarily the sin itself but the things that happen as a result of that sinful action that god permitted.

Of course, how we reckon ‘most glory’ is significant. And I suspect most of us simply do not reckon what glorifies God in the way that He reckons it brings glory to himself. Whilst sin never glorifies God, if something sinful leads specifically to the salvation of many people who would not have been saved otherwise, was God glorified more that the sin occurred than had it not? Had the cross – a gross act of sin – never happened, nobody would ever be saved and there would be no elect. That may well be a just outcome, but scripture is clear that would reckon less glory to God despite the act of sin that brought it about.

We cannot know the specific outcome of any given act. We do not know the endless ramifications of anything that happens in the world. Only a sovereign, all-knowing, omniscient God who ordains all things could possibly orchestrate it. And though God has many stated desires, his ultimate concern according to scripture is his own glory, which should also be the ultimate concern of his people because in his glory is our good. Therefore, if his ultimate concern is his own glory – and he created a world in which he would be maximally glorified – everything that happens must somehow, ultimately, bring him more glory than if it didn’t happen at all.

And that, dear friends – perverse as it may seem – includes even Joel Osteen sermons.