Obsessed With Glory
Richard Dawkins is probably one of the most well known atheists in the world at the moment. This is probably due to the fact that he is very aggressive with his atheistic beliefs and quite critical of Christians and their God. He has written a book which is entitled ‘The God Delusion,’ In in which he says,
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction. Jealous and proud of it, a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak, a vindictive, blood thirsty ethnic cleanser, a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. – Richard Dawkins
This man portrays an extremely negative image of God. Among other things he accuses him of being ‘jealous and proud of it’. At first glance there seems to be some truth in this statement for if we go to the Bible we see that God does say,
. . . . I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; (Exod 20:5)
Dawkins goes on to say that God is petty, which means that He makes an unnecessary fuss about small, insignificant things. Again, when we look at the Old Testament, we could be justified in thinking that there is some truth in this. God says that a man picking up sticks on the Sabbath has to die, Moses makes a mistake and says to God, “I am sorry, please let me go over to the Promised Land”, but God says, “You made a mistake, you disobeyed me, so you have to die.” So, there are places where we can find reasons to seemingly justify Dawkins’ views. These are stories contained in the records of the Old Testament, and we cannot deny that they are in the Bible.
Most of us reading this article may not have a challenge understanding or explaining these incidents which Dawkins apparently understands so poorly. Nevertheless for some people these are very troubling issues. Why was God like this? Why did He do these things? One of the things we have to do is take each statement and show why these things were necessary, while not being the true reflection of what God is really like.
Today I want to focus particularly on Dawkins’ description of God as being, ‘megalomaniacal’. A megalomaniac is somebody who is obsessed with himself and has a compelling desire for power and control. It is important to deal with this question because there are still many, even among Christians, who believe that God’s true nature is that He is obsessed with Himself, with His own power and that he is consumed by a desire to control others. So, the question is, is this true?
God speaks a lot about his glory, and that is what I want to center my thoughts around. There is a verse in Habakkuk 2:14 that says:
For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
This is not the only place where God says this, and when you look at the times in the Bible where he talks about His glory, there is no doubt it is a major theme. You can see that it is something that He is really concerned about and focused on.
If we think of this word, ‘glory’, in terms of how this word is commonly understood, the people who come most readily to mind are those of prominence who represent great power, authority and influence. People such as movie stars, sporting heroes, dominant political heads of state – these are the ones who are glorified and lifted up. When I was a teacher, every morning there would be a general assembly and there would always be a little motivational talk by the Principal or a member of staff. This was a tradition in schools from the time I was a child until I became a teacher myself. One of the things that I heard highlighted over and over again by these teachers in their efforts to motivate the students to diligence in their studies was, “who knows, if you do well, one day one of you could become Prime Minister of this country!” The greatest achievement one could accomplish in their eyes, was that one could become the Prime Minister! Of course, sometimes they would talk about becoming a doctor or a lawyer, or they would hold up one of these professions that people look up to and say, “you can become one of them.” But the pinnacle was, to one day become Prime Minister. This was always interesting to me because I was one of those who had absolutely no desire to ever be Prime Minister. Maybe it was something God put in me, or I was born that way because I never had the intention or the desire to rule other people or to sit upon the high seat.
So the point is, this is what glory means in the eyes of the world. When they talk about the great men of history, they will mention people like the Roman Caesars, the great Chinese conquerors or Napoleon etc. These men were warriors who conquered vast portions of the world and made a mark in history. If you’re a Christian you think of people like Moses, who led Israel out of captivity, parted the Red Sea and did many mighty deeds. These concepts are locked into our minds when we talk about glory.
One interesting thing that I read many years ago, was that an Adventist minister, Roy Allen Anderson, went to Roman Catholic assembly in Rome, referred to as “Vatican two”. This was a meeting of the Catholic Church where there were supposedly many great changes in their teachings. When this minister returned from Rome, one of the things he said was, ‘nobody will ever believe that I sat so close to his holiness.’ He was gloating and raving about how amazing it was to sit so close to the Pope, and added that he had come to see how wonderful the Roman Catholic Christians were. He said, ‘oh what we have been doing, brothers and sisters, stomping these beautiful brethren with the mark of the beast. What a crime we have been committing!’ He was, at the time, the editor of the Ministry Magazine and clearly, he had been smitten by the “glory” and pomp of the Church of Rome and its head, the Pope.
The point I am making is that, in the world, people tend to be impressed by fanfare and noise and display. These are the things that are admired in this world. I will never forget in the 1960’s when I first heard Cassius Clay, who later became Mohammad Ali. My father used to listen to boxing on the radio, and sometimes I would listen as well. I remember the night when Ali beat Sonny Liston, nobody expected him to do so, but he completely surprised the world. But on the radio you could hear him shouting, “I am the greatest, I am the best, nobody was ever as great as me.” Even as a boy, it rubbed me the wrong way to hear somebody so obsessed with himself and everybody in the world hated Cassius Clay at that time for his arrogance, his self-centred behaviour and his vanity. Of course, as time passed, and he began to back up his words by winning fight after fight, they got to realize that it wasn’t so much that he was so obsessed with himself, but rather that it was a gimmick. So, they began to accept and admire him. But I’ll never forget when he first jumped up and began to say these words, how it irked people.
We never like people who are too focused on themselves. This is one of the reasons why a lot of people despised Donald Trump when he ran for, and became President of the USA. I will beat the devil and give him his due, and I think that there were some things that Trump stood for that were good. But of course the thing that we found most repulsive about Trump, was his obsession with himself. Everything that he did, he claimed nobody had ever done this as well before. He was obsessed with himself, with glorifying himself and putting himself above everybody else. One of the amazing things about him was how he could speak so smoothly and casually about how much greater he was than everybody else. The greatest Presidency, the greatest success. He was always glorifying himself.
The popular idea of glory is that it emphasizes superiority over others. You are stronger, you are smarter, you have more money, you are more influential. In this world the glory of a person is in these things. This is why when we go to God and see certain kinds of statements… like Numbers 14:21, certain questions arise. This is God talking to Moses, and He says:
But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord. (Num 14:21)
God seems obsessed with His glory, I am not going to deny this. In Isaiah 42:8 God says:
I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images. (Isa 42:8)
So, God is not only obsessed with his glory, but he doesn’t want anybody else to share it. He declares, I am unique, I am special, my glory is not to be shared. I suppose somebody might say, well God has the right to be self-centred, because He is Yahweh; he is the self-existent one and He is the only one in the universe who is Almighty. Everybody else depends on somebody else so, what have we to glory in? There is nothing we possess which we did not receive. I am acutely aware of this, and I think everyone who understands righteousness by faith understands the same thing. Every day that we wake up we are thankful that God has preserved us, because we know that it is the grace of God that we are alive, we know it is his grace that has kept us and turned us around so that we did not become the worst kinds of reprobates. We have nothing in ourselves in which we can glory.
God is above receiving anything because He gave everything! He is Yahweh, The Self-Existent one. So, even from that perspective you could say, God has a right to be self-centered, as He is the only one who exists in and of Himself. At the same time, it still leaves a little sour taste in the mouth to think of God as an egotist. Even though He has the right to be self-centered, He still seems obsessed with himself. He still likes to receive praise, and He likes nice things to be said about Him. When we look at it from the point of view of the motives of human beings, it still leaves a slightly unpleasant taste in the mouth. So, I want to focus a little more closely on this question of glory. Because I think that is where the real answer to this problem lies. I am presenting it as a problem because whatever defaces the image of God, whatever gives Him a bad name is a problem.
AN INCORRECT CONCEPT OF GLORY
Nowadays, one of the popular fads is for people to place tattoos on prominent places on their bodies. It seems to be a desire to take on some distinctive feature that makes them feel they are not in the same category as others. This is the idea that human beings have when they think of their glory; “I am richer. I have more possessions than you. I have greater abilities”. In the sporting world, they worship Usain Bolt, the fastest man alive they worship Lionel Messi, the most skillful soccer player. In American basketball they worship Lebron James and others. These are the people that they elevate in the world because they are better at what they do than other people.
These concepts of what it means to be great, are so pervasive in human thinking that they are embedded in our psyche. Automatically, when we hear the word ‘glory’ or the word ‘great’, this is what comes to our minds. The Bible says in Genesis 1:26 that God made man in his image. But I have heard it said that man tends to make God in his image and there is some truth to this. People tend to think of God in terms of the way they themselves think and value things. So, when somebody says that God is rich, they think of this in terms of money, and possessions. “The world is mine,” says the Lord, “and the cattle upon a thousand hills, all the gold is mine and all the silver is mine.” They think of material things. When they think of His greatness, they think of his power to incinerate you into ashes with a bolt of lightning, they think of his ability to part the sea with his word. When they say God is great, they think that he can stand taller, walk bigger, exist on a higher plane than anybody else. And it is true that, to some extent, this picture is portrayed in the Bible.
Some of the words that we use to refer to God strongly bring out this idea. For example, God is the only person who we can truthfully refer to as ‘The Lord of the Omnis… He is omnipresent, (He is everywhere) omniscient, (He knows everything) and He is omnipotent (He is all powerful). These ideas are so powerfully associated with God that many times, when we think about Him, this is all we conceptualize.
One consequence of this is that some people are terrified of Him. They know He sees everything, He knows everything and can do everything, and that is the only thing they know of Him, and hence they fear Him. I heard a friend tell a story, as a warning to someone, of a man who was a member of the church, and was having an affair with another woman apart from his wife. One Sabbath morning, she said, he was standing at the table at the front (in the Adventist church they often have a smaller table in front of the pulpit where the Sabbath school officials lead out) and out of the clear sky, there came a bolt of lightning which moved through the church door and went right up the church aisle and struck the man dead where he was standing. Apparently, it is a true story. I cannot read behind the scenes and say what happened, and I know a lot of people die from lightning strikes. This one happened to die standing in front of the church on a Sabbath morning, and according to her it was from a clear sky.
When you hear stories like this, you are uncomfortable being near a God who is almighty, who sees everything and can do all things. These are the concepts that are engrained in our minds from childhood concerning God. He seems to be obsessed with it because He says, “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of my glory.” If this is your understanding of glory, I am not sure you have reason to be comfortable.
But what is God really talking about when he speaks of his glory? In the last message to be given to this world, we find three angels flying in the midst of heaven with a message for all nations, and the first one says with a loud voice,
Fear God, and give glory to Him; for the hour of His judgment is come: and worship Him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters. (Rev 14:7)
Fear God and give glory to Him… so we know, that our ministry in this end of time is to help everybody on this planet to glorify God. What are we going to be doing? What is our message? Well most of us can adjust that word fear – it means to respect him, to honor him, for the hour of His judgment has arrived. If we want to know what God wants of us, we can find the answer in this statement. But the important aspect of the verse on which we want to focus, it the emphasis that our duty is to “give glory to him!”
THE TRUE GLORY OF GOD
There are two sides to this issue. First of all, there is a concept which we find emphasized in the Old Testament. In Exodus 16:10 it says,
And it came to pass, as Aaron spake unto the whole congregation of the children of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and, behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. (Ex 16:10)
This is the concept we find over and over in the Old Testament. What is the glory that appeared in the cloud? What did they see? They saw a cloud, and that cloud was full of blazing light. This is the concept of the glory of the Lord that was predominant in the Old Testament. We see this illustrated again in Exodus 24:16-17.
And the glory of the Lord abode upon mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days: and the seventh day he called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud. 17 And the sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel. Ex 24:16-17)
‘The glory of the Lord was like devouring fire.’ We are talking about physical light, a manifestation of power that scared the wits out of the children of Israel. Moses describes this glory as being like devouring fire! So, this is the concept of God’s glory that is stuck in the minds of people. It is perpetuated by the fact that we human beings, when we think of glory and greatness, envision these kinds of things. From comic books to movies, who do they glorify? They glorify superman, batman, the incredible hulk; they glorify people who have superior powers, people who can shoot lightning bolts out of their hands. These are the things which are set up in this world as heroic.
But when we go to the New Testament, we find something different; in 2 Corinthians 4:6 we find one of the most profound verses in the Bible. I am grateful that the Lord has helped us to turn our eyes to a greater understanding than what we find by looking at the events of the Old Testament. It says,
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor 4:6)
This is God’s final statement as to what his glory really is. Where do we find the true glory of God? Not on Mount Sinai, not in the parting of the Red Sea, not in the sun standing still in the sky. Where do we find the glory that shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea? Where is this glory that God says He will not give to graven images? It is the true glory of God, which we have discovered, “Shining in the face of Jesus Christ.”
In John 1:14, it says,
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
When we saw the Son, we saw the real glory of the Father. He is the express image of the Father. He says, “if you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” God spoke by prophets in time past, such as Moses, who told you about glory upon the mountain, but in these last days he has spoken by his Son. He has spoken finally, conclusively, permanently and indisputably through his Son.
Do we want to know what really matters about God? Look at the face of Jesus Christ. Look at what we see when we look at the character and the life of Jesus; we see the love, the tender pity, the fellowship, brotherhood and fatherhood of the Almighty, omnipotent God of the universe. And this is the quality that God says, “is my greatest attribute. This is the quality that I want everybody to know and understand. When you think of my glory, I don’t want you to think of Muhammad Ali, or Caesar, or Donald Trump. When you think of my glory, I want you to think of what you see in my son Jesus Christ.
WHY SO OBSESSED?
Why is God so focused on us lifting up his glory? Even though His glory is his goodness, why is he so focused on it? It is because in the glory of God we finally discover the truth about the kind of person that God really is. The most important truth in the universe is the truth about this character of God, this is his glory and this is what we see shining in the face of Jesus Christ. In Luke 19:41,42 we see one of these striking revelations of God’s character which were continually streaming from the face (the life) of Jesus.
And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! (Luke 19:41,42)
What is Jesus crying about? He is crying because Jerusalem does not know the things that pertain to her peace. There is something that will give Jerusalem peace and she does not know it, and because of this, He is weeping. This is the heart of God. Why is he crying? What is Jesus obsessed with? What does he want? He wants them to know the things that belong unto their peace. And what are these things? Isaiah 32:17 says,
And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance forever. (Isa 32:17)
What was it that belonged to their peace? It was the work of righteousness. And who does the work of righteousness? The only place a person can find righteousness is in God through Christ. They killed the son of God, and they rejected God’s manifestation of Himself in his Son; they rejected the things that belonged to their peace. What they actually rejected was the glory of God. Matthew 23:37-38, expresses the same thing. It says,
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. (Matt 23:37-38)
He is weeping over Jerusalem because he wants to gather her, like a hen gathers her chickens, and they would not. Why would they not? Why is it that people do not turn to God? Why is it that people continually reject God and turn to all kinds of other things instead? Probably because ninety percent of the time, they do not know the kind of person God is. They have a concept of this person, they hear of His power and might, they hear that He is focused on his glory, and they think of Donald Trump and Mohammad Ali. They think of this egotist and that egotist and they think that God is like that! And so He is not really very attractive to them. Even when they think of prayer, they think, “oh I’ve got to meet all these conditions before he will hear me! I’m going to put it off because serving this person is hard!” They don’t know God. They have never seen the glory of God so they cannot find peace, because they will not find Him.
Maybe I meet a person who is starving and in need of help and all I want to do is bless him. But the person is afraid of me because he misunderstands me; he rejects or ignores me when I offer to help him. What is the most important thing that person needs? He is starving and hungry, and I’m full of good things to give him, but he fears me. What is the greatest lesson which that person needs? He needs to know the truth about me. He needs to know that I love him. He needs to know that I only mean him well.
The point I want to make is that God loves all of us, but because most of the human race is scared of Him and despise Him due to bad misinformation about Him, they think of him as a hard taskmaster, a cold unfeeling ruler who sets up barriers which are difficult to overcome. These people desperately need to be informed and corrected. They have heard of the Old Testament God, and they have perhaps never read the New Testament, or perhaps the read, but don’t understand it. And so God says to us His children, “you are my witnesses! You are the ones who know the truth about me!” You and I, brothers and sisters, we are His witnesses. He has created us for His glory, and our message is, “fear God, and give glory to Him!” What are we to say to the world? Let the world know the unspeakable love, and goodness of our Father. Let the world know the truth about Him!
This is the great need of the world, and so God gives it to us! He gives us the responsibility and the privilege of being able to share this message, and there is no truth as great as this. We can talk about all the doctrines that we love to argue about, the millennium, immortality of the soul, The Sanctuary doctrine etc. but nothing is as important as that men should come to know the truth about the God of love. This is the everlasting good news. It is the message of our time and of all times, the message for our world and for all worlds. It’s the message above all messages.
God help us to not only understand this so that we can have it seared into our hearts and minds, but that we can understand it so well, that we can share it with others in an effective, powerful way. There are many spokes in a wheel but all of them are locked in at one central place. Similarly, every doctrine that we study must be centered in this hub, which is, the truth of God seen in the face of Jesus Christ. When we find that there are Christians who are beginning to understand this, you know that the work of God is finally beginning to be finished and understood.
I know that we are concerned about the lack of power among God’s people. We want to be able to heal the sick, raise the dead … but I am realizing more and more that the gifts of God flow out of the relationship with Him, and this relationship is based upon a proper understanding of how He really, truly feels about me.
When I come to the place where there is no shadow between Him and me, when I come to the place where I accept my place in Him and know that I am 100% accepted, and that there was never anything negative in his heart towards me, when I can build on this and have a true relationship with Him, I believe that every gift that He ever intended to give us, will appear in our lives. But we need to look in the right place, not focusing so much on faith, or doctrine or semantics, but focusing on our God.
There is a saying I have heard which goes like this:
I looked at Jesus, and the dove of peace flew into my heart.
I looked at the dove, and it flew away!
I could say, “I looked at God in Jesus and the power of God came into my life. I looked at the wisdom, I looked at the power, I looked at the authority, I looked at the dove and they all flew away.” Because we obtain nothing from looking at the gifts. We obtain everything through God in Christ, and nothing outside of Him. So, our purpose and our place in life is to be locked into Him, to love Him so well that we never leave that place and it is our only focus in life. Right there, everything falls into place.
(Source: Restoration Ministry)