What Is God’s Glory?


John Piper:

Defining the Impossible

Defining the glory of God is impossible, I say, because it is more like the word beauty than the word basketball. If somebody says that they have never heard of a basketball — they don’t know what a basketball is — and so they say, “Define a basketball,” then that would not be hard for you to do. You would use your hands, and you would say,

Well, it is like a round thing made out of leather or rubber and about ten or nine inches in diameter, and you blow it up. You inflate it, so it is pretty hard. Then you can bounce it like this, and you can throw it to people, and you can run while you are bouncing it. Then there is this hoop at the end (but it used to be a basket), and you try to throw the ball through the hoop. That is why it is called a basketball.

They would have a really good idea of what it is. They would be able to spot one and to tell it from a soccer ball or a football.

You can’t do that with the word beauty. There are some words in our vocabulary that we can communicate with not because we can say them, but because we see them. We can point. If we point at enough things and see enough things together and say, “That’s it! That’s it. That’s it,” we might be able to have a common sense of beauty. But when you try to put the word beauty into words, it is very, very difficult.

Holy Spells Worthy

It’s the same thing with the word glory. So, how shall I do it? You have to try, because we can’t just leave it for people to fill up on their own. Here is the way I am going to try to do it. I am going to take it and contrast it biblically with the word holy and ask, “What is the difference between the holiness of God and the glory of God?” In doing that, I think we get a little handle on the nature of this term the glory of God. That is the way I am going to try to do it.

The holiness of God is, I think, his being in a class by himself in his perfection and greatness and worth. His perfection and his greatness and his worth are of such a distinct and separated category — we have been taught that the word holy means separate — that he is in a class by himself. He has infinite perfections, infinite greatness, and infinite worth.

His holiness is what he is, as God, that nobody else is. It is his quality of perfection that can’t be improved upon, that can’t be imitated, that is incomparable, that determines all that he is and is determined by nothing from outside him. It signifies his infinite worth — his intrinsic, infinite value.

Manifest Holiness

Now when Isaiah 6:3 says that one angel is crying to another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts,” the next thing he says is this: “The whole earth is full of his . . . ” You might have expected him to say, “holiness,” but he doesn’t say that. He says, “glory.”

Intrinsically holy, and the whole earth is full of his glory— from which I stab at a definition, by saying that the glory of God is the manifest beauty of his holiness. It is the going-public of his holiness. It is the way he puts his holiness on display for people to apprehend. So, the glory of God is the holiness of God made manifest.

Listen to this word from Leviticus 10:3. God says he will be shown to be holy among those who are near him, and before all the people he will be glorified. “I will be shown to be holy,” he says. “And among all the people” — to say it another way — “I will be glorified.” So to see, to apprehend, and to reckon with his holiness (and, in some sense, to perceive it) is to see glory and, thus, to glorify him.

So, here is an attempt at a definition: the glory of God is the infinite beauty and greatness of God’s manifold perfections. I am focusing on the manifestation of his character and his worth and his attributes. All of his perfections and greatness are beautiful as they are seen, and there are many of them. That is why I use the word manifold. Here it is in another sentence: the glory of God is the infinite beauty and greatness of his manifold perfections.

How God Shouts

In the same sermon, Pastor John went on to conclude like this:

The heavens are telling the glory of God (Psalm 19:1). What does that mean? It means he is shouting at us. He shouts with clouds. He shouts with blue expanse. He shouts with gold on the horizons. He shouts with galaxies and stars. He is shouting, “I am glorious. Open your eyes. It is like this — only better, if you know me.”

And, the Bible says, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3). If you had eyes to see in this room, you would see the glory of God everywhere. We need eyes. We need eyes more than we need anything: “The god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

So I ask, “Do you see it? Do you love it?” You were made for this, deep down in your heart. If you are a totally disinterested person, sitting there tonight just eager for the service to be over, there will come a day (and I hope it’s tonight) when enough of the crust is scraped off that you will say, “I am made for this. This is why I exist: to see that. Everything is pointing to that. All the glory that I thought was so attractive is going there. This is all husks and ashes. He was right. The Bible was right. Jesus was right.”

I hope it will not be too late when that happens for you.

Peter serves as a pastor-teacher, at home and abroad, resourcing gospel-centred communities.