The concept of glorifying God needs to be understood within the honor-shame culture that gave birth to the idea. Jackson Wu has a great deal to say about it on his blog.
Addition: Here is a link to Wu’s media page. If you scroll down a bit, there are several videos on honor/shame worth watching, as well as his presentation on whether our theology is enslaved to law.
Haven’t been able to hold a tire iron since the last time you beat me with yours.
Yeah I have sung that song. I guess we can always try… but I suspect that we get more out of that than He does.
I was going to say this would be like an ant trying to step on an elephant, but then the Bible says that Jacob wrestled with an angel. Hmmm…
Yes, and I am a 5 solas protestant, glory to God alone, and all that. Though I don’t really believe that a quest for glory has anything to do with God’s motivation for the things He does.
I tried to understand that stuff but it is very difficult for me. How can I explain…
As a toddler I had the personality of a lone explorer, and when others of my age came into contact with me I would tend to be the leader, and not because I had any skill with people. I didn’t get them to follow I simply did what I wanted and they followed. This never really changed all that much. But how about school and the teachers? Didn’t I have to follow them? Not really. Either they interested me and I learned from them or I drove them crazy because I ignored them. And the same story with “peers,” if there was a heirarchy of some sort, I ignored it – probably why I was picked on a lot. But honor and shame never had anything to do with that for me. Wu said that if you have been to jr high then you know very well what honor-shame culture is. Not if you were as oblivious of others as I was. The friends I had were in classes and pretty much all about the subject of those classes. As for those who sought to intimidate others, were nothing but fauna and obstacles in the environment to navigate around – snakes and puddles of filthy water. They couldn’t shame me any more than the teachers could when they tried. Could have got me killed and nearly did more than once.
In the end all the categories Wu talks about are bit alien to me: sovereign, social and standard. None of them really meant much to me. So what do I think about when confronted with the words “honor” and “shame?” It is all about whether I live up to my own decisions about what is right and wrong largely according to my own theoretical principles. So it is hardly any wonder that what connected to me in Christianity was Paul’s cry of frustration in Romans 7:15-24. I couldn’t live up to my own principles any better than he could.
It does make me wonder how much of my take on Christianity is a purely a product of personality.
All this is proof that you don’t have the same frame of reference as the biblical audience, which very much operated in an honor-shame, collectivist culture. So, it makes sense that God talking about doing things for the glory of his name might not connect the same way.
No, it’s what we’re called to do:
“so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:6)
“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:12)
"so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God." (Philippians 1:10-11)
“and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:11)
That humans are to glorify God was already understood by the Jews:
"Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name." (1 Chronicles 16:29)
God wants and deserves to be glorified, and he’s chosen to do that through us, as we become more like Christ and that is seen by others. Not exactly a controversial concept in scripture.
I don’t think that it is simply a matter of stroking God’s ego either. There are other passages of scriptures that indicate that we are to be One with Christ and that, I believe is the ultimate goal. I’m not sure that people realize what that actually means.
Exactly! And that’s what we’ve historically done in Christian worship. The Gloria is the longest section of the mass. When the psalms are read or sung we end with “Glory to the father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost” etc. And the psalms themselves glorify God. Not that anybody gives 2 poops, but there is a rich body of musical literature out there of settings of this stuff.
I am definitely down with the worthy part. At least the God I believe in is. But not the controlling, power obsessed, theology enslaved, rule by fear, unforgiving, impurity phobic, sadistic, glory seeker that I often hear described by some Christians and which I find mightily difficult to distinguish from a devil or mafia godfather. That one has and always will have my middle finger no matter what his threats and promises. I am certainly not going to worship and glorify the devil just because he commands it “or else.” Thankfully Jesus shows us a God and creator who is nothing like that at all. I will glorify that Father God even in the fires of hell. But what matters to me is character… not power.
Paul’s cry of dereliction always connected with me, as well. Your take isn’t purely a product of your personality, but of your personality plus the socialization you received in this particular culture. You are a highly individualistic personality raised in a highly individualistic culture, so of course Wu’s categories are alien to you. They are alien to almost all Westerners, even those who aren’t as personally individualistic as you, just as the culture of first-century Palestine is alien to post-industrial moderns.
Our post-industrial Western culture, which developed under the influence of Protestant Christianity, places high value on the uniqueness, rights, and responsibilities of the individual, and when someone violates our cultural norms, we expect them to feel inner guilt for their behavior. Anthropologists refer to this as a guilt culture. Honor-shame cultures, however, operate along very different lines. Within them, people are much more sensitive to hierarchy and rank, and they do not think of themselves separately from their network of relationships. Individual identity is subservient to group identification; personhood is considered collectively and directly tied to family and community, so much so that, in first-century Palestine, paternity and communal origin were thought sufficient to predict one’s destiny. (Which is why Luke and Matthew go to such lengths to explain Jesus genealogy and birth in Bethlehem.)
At its most fundamental level, honor involves public recognition of social standing. A child inherits the status of the family, and future honor for the group is acquired through a perpetual struggle with others for recognition and acclaim. All members bask in the honor that any of them receive, and all likewise share in any shame. This type of environment produces a personality that values itself according to others’ opinions. People learn to keep the core of themselves hidden behind a façade of social norms and conventions – doing what brings honor and avoiding anything that may cause shame. Shame, in this case, is not personal guilt, but “losing face” in the eyes of others, to put it in the vernacular of Asian culture. In positive terms, to “have shame” means to have proper concern for one’s reputation, and to lack this outlook is simply “shameless,” an active disrespect for others. Negatively, since shame is the result of public disapproval, a person who has done wrong may feel no inner guilt for a shameful act as long as it remains hidden and unpublicized. (Of course, describing an entire culture requires speaking in generalities. One can easily identify instances of group identification, competition for public honor, and “shaming” activities in Western culture, as well as individualism and feelings of personal guilt in shame cultures.)
Jesus, for his part, operates within the accepted norms of his culture, yet simultaneously critiques and redefines them. Jesus criticizes his culture for its folly in seeking honor from men rather than God, its hypocrisy in judging by outward appearances, and its shallowness in defining one’s worth in comparison to others. He redefines power as serving rather than being served, and he redefines personal identity by teaching that God is Abba, Father, and all whom he adopts into his family become brothers and sisters. Ultimately, Jesus dies the most shameful death possible in his culture, crucifixion, but he not only accepts this fate, he embraces it as his path to honor and instructs his disciples to take up the cross and follow his example.
So, coming back to your original objection … As disciples of Jesus, we are members of his family, and our actions affect his reputation. When we act in ways that reflect positively on Christ, we give him honor and thus “glorify” God, and when we act in ways that reflect negatively on Christ, we sin and bring shame on the cause of Christ.
Hope that makes a little more sense now.
Not really. Not to my gut. To me it is like you are describing some group of neanderthals or something. Intelligent people don’t behave that way. My instinctive reaction is like… eww!
I’ll look up some exercises to build up that empathy muscle of yours. Haha.
You would like Wu’s book review where that theme is connected to honor-shame:
Why make generalizations about theologians? It’s okay to disagree with them, but why the venom?
What generalizations? If there is any venom it is toward a particular way of describing God. The term “theology enslaved” refers to many posts I have made quite recently about this tendency to make up a list of normal good things that God “cannot do” because it doesn’t agree with their theological proofs: God cannot change, God cannot learn, God cannot takes risks, God cannot give privacy, God cannot limit himself or surrender the slightest bit of control over everything, God cannot make choices, God cannot do any of the things which are an important part of love, God cannot be any other than how these theologians choose to define “his nature.” I disagree with them and find what they do absurd. But there is no generalization about theologians. I say nothing about ALL theologians. After all anybody who ventures to say anything about God is by definition doing theology and even if it isn’t as a profession that still technically makes them a theologian, including me. So blasting all theologians would be a pretty silly thing for me to do.
It certainly shows how difficult empathy can be when there is a conflict with our enculturation regarding the what is good and evil. I wouldn’t even imagine looking down on another culture because of mythical beliefs about strange gods and spirits. But talk about them behaving according to what I was programmed to believe is wrong and my empathy goes right out the window.
An important observation, especially for evangelicals struggling with social/cultural change …
I have long doubted that God needs people to worship Him or glorify Him. Since God created us, directly or indirectly, and He loves us, His concern should be whether or not people live well, and what to do to help people if they don’t, (not by feeding them but showing them the right way). If God seeks glory, what’s His purpose when He created humans? For people or for Himself?
So, after reading the discussions (very helpful), I realise that my God may not be the same as the God that a lot of Christians follow and worship. My God, as the perfect example for people to follow and learn to live their own life, doesn’t need people to worship or glorify. If people could live the right way and live well, then it’s already God’s greatest glory. That’s the God I try to find and follow.