The glory of the triune God is other-centred love. The Father pours Himself into His Son by the Spirit (John 3:35). The Son offers Himself up to the Father by the Spirit (Hebrews 9:14). The intra-trinitarian life is a cross-shaped life of self-giving.
Julian of Norwich said: "When I see the cross I see the Trinity". This is true for many reasons, chief among them is the fact that life poured out is the essence of both.
If this is so, triune glory cannot be understood via a theology of glory. Triune glory is understood as a theology of the cross. When this God acts for His glory it's not because He or His glory are self-centred. No He is other-centred and His glory is His grace. Yet just because this is so, when God acts for the sake of His glorious grace He is simply determining to be Giver.
From eternity the nature of the triune God has been deference and other-centred praise. When faced by creatures - even creatures who would ignore and spurn such love - this God determines to love with an almighty 'nevertheless'.
It's like my friend Craig who opened the door for a feminist. She scowled, saying "I hope you're not opening the door because I'm a lady!" He replied, "No, I'm opening the door because I'm a gentleman." He acts not for her sake but for the sake of being the other-centred gentleman he truly is. He acts for his own glory, but his glory is self-giving service.
Put it another way, it's like the mother who is faced by a naughty and manipulative child. She could cave in to the tantrum or she could withdraw and ignore the child altogether. But she condescends in love, not because the child is good (he's not) and not because she's weak (she's not). She acts in accordance with her gracious motherliness, to love the child in spite of himself and in this way to lift him from his misbehaviour.
Put it another way, it's like the man who is struck on the right cheek by an aggressor. By nature his instincts are fight or flight - strike back or withdraw. But instead he stands his ground and offers his left cheek also. He opens himself out in grace and continues the offer of relationship. This is God-like glory. (More on cheek turning here, here and here).
Put it another way, it's like Christ crucified. He might have remained in heaven or merely sent us to hell. Instead He acted for the sake of His glory. He absorbed our blow and rather than retaliate He offered reconciling love.
The cross was the triune love laid bare. And this is not simply because the Persons demonstrated how much they love each other. More than this, they demonstrate how the glory of grace encounters what is outside this love. In costly sacrifice the triune glory suffers what is outside in order to draw it in.
The triune glory is cruciform glory.
Among other things, this means that the mystical and the ethical elements of the New Testament are profoundly related. Think of verses about participation in the triune God - adoption, union with Christ, filling with the Spirit. Now think of verses regarding bearing our cross and following Christ's way of sacrifice. It's so common to think of these as very different teachings. On the one hand we imagine warm fuzzy mystical feelings, on the other it's about the blood, sweat and tears of discipleship. But no, essentially it's the same thing. Participation in God is participation in this life of self-emptying love. That's not the costly draw-back to life with God - that's the very way of life. Eternal life has always had a shape to it - arms-wide sacrifice. When Jesus calls us to Himself He can do nothing else but invite us into His life. Again, this is not an unfortunate counter-balance to the groovy-vibes of life in Christ. This is life in Christ - it's the glorious true life of loving service.
The glory of the cross lived out is the glory of the triune God applied. Because the triune glory is the cruciform glory.
It's a wonderful thing to participate in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). And its daily application is the privilege of taking up our cross and following Christ (Mark 8:34). That's the life. That's God's eternal life, and we're invited.
...Based on an earlier post from 2010...
11 thoughts on “Triune Glory is Cruciform Glory”
Superb. I really enjoyed seeing some similar notions played out in the Dark Knight Rises this month (the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Selina) - well worth a look if you get the chance.
The concept of the triune God is a contradiction to the end of the Scriptures, a.k.a., God's self-revelation in Christ's death on the cross without the "figures of speech" necessarily used by Jesus about the Father.
(John 16: 5-28; Phil. 2: 5-11)
I've really appreciated your posts on love and God's desire to bring glory to himself over the past few years - has been something very close to my heart, too (hence my dissertation) and have found them very useful.
Having said that, I'm having a couple of... concerns or at least questions... about what you've said in this post. The way you word it could make you sound like some of the things which I, and I think you, have concerns about with John Piper are true - ie. if God does things not for us, but because it meets his standard of glory, doesn't that mean that God's love for us is a subordinate end - and thus no more love than if God?
I think God must love us, for *our* sake, ie because he sees us as having some kind of value (quite a different thing from just desert or moral worth - he cares about us, despite the standards of justice being against us.) It sounds as though what you're saying could become "God doesn't care about us particularly, but in order to follow a rule he has about the kind of God he wants to be". I suspect you don't mean that, but I'm wondering how you respond to it.
(This is, I think, the fourth time over I've tried to write this comment over the past few days, but had my computer crash before I could send it. I'm glad it finally worked!)
Hi John, Glad you managed to comment! It's not at all that the Father follows some rule, as though He calculates what affections or actions would express the greatest glory. He simply *is* Father, *is* love, *is* overflowing. And this *is* His weightiness - His substance - His glory. But for that reason I'd want to put the spotlight on what's in Him, not on what's in us. His love, as Luther says, does not respond to value but creates value. I think that's very important to hold onto.
That's not at all to say He doesn't care for *us*, or that He holds His nose while He loves us, or that His love is a means to Him *getting* something else (some other glory). The very essence of love is to give oneself for the other, not treating them as a means to some further end. So, absolutely, God desires *us*. But not for anything we bring to the table. He doesn't give Himself to us in order to get from us. He gives Himself to us so that *we* might belong to Him. And the explanation for that self-giving movement comes from what's in Him, not what's in us.
So to summarize - He loves us for us (i.e. to have *us*). But He doesn't love us for what's in us. If we talk about what's *in* - then the explanation for divine love lies wholly in what's in *God*.
What do you reckon?
I'm very sympathetic to what you're saying in this comment, and I'm searching for the right language to express what I mean by "value". I agree there's no sense in which Jesus died to me "because I'm worth it" - it expresses his love rather than my need.
However, that doesn't mean I lack anything that God values - by which I mean, Jesus didn't die to save a rock - and that's not just because a rock never sinned, but also because a rock is an unconscious, unrelational and inanimate object - and therefore isn't the appropriate receptacle of that kind of love. (OTOH, that's also why I'm capable of doing and being evil and a rock isn't.)
Furthermore, on the other tack, if this is what you mean by glory, what do you say of say the "praise of his glory"'s in Ephesians 1?
Sorry, that should be "expresses his love rather than my worthiness".
We personally correspond to God as those made after the Image of God (who is Christ). Rocks don't. To have *us* is to have personal counterparts to His eternal love. The image is not constituted by certain attributes but is a relation in which we stand to God. So again, it's not what's in us that God wants, it's us..
On Ephesians 1, Paul starts by calling it the praise of the glory of His *grace*. So God's glory is defined for us.
What do you say about Ezekiel 36 - all that "not for your sake, but for the sake of my name."? That's mostly what I had in mind in this post.
First, sorry to be so rude and not reply to your post and question until today - I left it until the next day because I needed to go to sleep, and then got a job interview I needed to prepare for so I decided to make sure I didn't spend time online until the interview was over this morning!
I'm not sure how far we are actually disagreeing about what I was saying in the first place about God valuing us, and how far it's just semantics. I said "God sees us as having some kind of value" - which perhaps could have been better said as "God sees us as valuable" - so yes, it's not what's in us that God wants, it's us.
Having said that, though, I'm unsure, though, whether you can entirely separate who we are from attributes, or attributes from our relation(/ship) to God. I don't see how one can meaningfully think about anything without splitting them into attributes, in some sense. What you say reminds me of, say, Mike Reeves' Trinitarian comments about analysing God in terms of relationships rather than lists of attributes - not sure if you're influenced by him here, but I figure I'll comment on him because you and he are clearly in a similar tradition and likely to agree or at least get one anothers position. I'm very sympathetic to what he says, and think there's a heck of a lot of philosophical speculation about attributes (especially divine ones) that is profoundly unhelpful and reminds one of the God of Plato and Aristotle rather than Abraham, Isaac and Jakob - but I don't (and, indeed Mike doesn't) think that means you shouldn't talk of divine (or human) attributes at all - only that it needs to be in the context of relationships. If you don't talk at all of attributes, you can't discuss anything. But you have to be aware that "attributes" discussion is a way of discussing part of a wider reality, viz. a relational God and his image bearers, and not attributes as something to get 'into' in themselves.
I'm not convinced the above paragraph is at all important, though - just wanted to say it because it's where I'm questioning you, just in case you felt it was and wanted to object!
Regarding exegetical issues - I think the first thing to say is that the more I study the subject, the more confused I get, so I definitely wouldn't want to say I have a consistent position - let alone one which coheres together with all the passages. Whether I expect to ever have one is an open question.
However, I think the overall context of Ezekiel 36 doesn't quite bear the interpretation you're giving it. The beginning of the chapter talks quite a bit about the problem and God's motivation - ie that the nations around are, seeing the Israelites in Babylon, saying bad things about God. God therefore acts for the sake of his name - ie so that the NATIONS acknowledge him. How I fit that into a wider theology raises a lot of questions, probably more than I can fit into a comment that's already this long (although feel free to challenge me!) The one thing I guess I would say is that with the benefit of my place in salvation history I guess I'd probably see a lot of that as future in that time - ie about the coming-in of the gentiles post-Christ. So it's more about "I'm returning you for my wider plan for the world - not returning you, Israel, for you - if it weren't for the wider plan, you'd be staying in Babylon."
When you say that in Ephesians 1 God is doing things for the praise of his grace, which seems like an ultimate goal - ie the praise is a ultimate goal. Are you reconciling the two with something like he has two ultimate goals (one is being gracious, the other is being praised for being gracious), or is it something closer to the three persons are loving and this is manifest both a) in being gracious, and b) in seeking (one anothers) praise for their gracious/loving nature. Or is it a third thing that I don't get?
Sorry for late response.
There's definitely a place to talk about attributes (or shall we call them 'characteristics' or 'personalities' or... something a little less impersonal). But when it comes to covenant relationships - "loving you for you" is vital. After you've committed to "loving you for you" there's all sort of 'attributes' you can point to: "I love your warm personality, I love your taste in music" etc. And it's important to put that flesh on the bones of "loving you for you." But the backbone of the whole thing (and what makes this *covenant* love) is a love for the *person* not what they offer.
I agree that Ezekiel 36 has a global context. It's a Deuteronomy 9 type - "I'm not saving you cos you're the biggest, you're the least" but through this priesthood of nobodies God will reach the world. Cos that's what He's like - He calls the things that are not to nullify the things that are. i.e. He is *so* loving that He looks beyond every attribute and simply loves. He's the husband who looks at a baby kicking around in its blood and says "Live" (Ezekiel 16). When the Bride has received this love, she is beautified. But it's not her beauty that attracts the Husband. In other words, it's "not for your sake". Don't look within to find the reason for the LORD's love. Look at Him. He's the LORD who calls the ugly, beautifies them and adorns them as priests to the nations. How glorious! But obviously, this glory is nothing else than His utterly self-giving love. Love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be.
In all this it strikes me that God loves us the way we love addicts. In spite of everything that the addict says they want, true love denies what their enslaved self wants and acts for the sake of their true self. And maybe the true self of the addict has never been released (certainly this is the case with sinners). But they are loved for the sake of who they can be, not who they are right now.
On Ephesians 1 - no, God doesn't have two ultimate goals (i.e. praise on the one hand and glorious self-giving on the other). His glory is His grace. I just don't read Paul as saying "...in order that God might /get/ praise out of His creatures." For a start - this praise for God's grace resounds not only to God but to the nations (ch1-2) and to the angelic realm (ch3). Isn't Paul essentially saying - in all that God has done in Christ, all credit to /His/ glorious gracious saving activity (and no credit to anything or anyone else)?
So, in all of that... what does this verse/prayer actually mean:
"glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you" (John 17:1)
Something like... 'Glorify your Son' means 'give me to the world in sacrificial death'. 'that your Son may glorify you' means 'that you might be recognized as the self-giving Lover you've always been.'
And note, just as Jesus is glorified in His body (v10), the Father is glorified in His Body (Christ). The Body glorifies the Head by receiving all things from its Lord (v22).