For many years I have sought to understand how the God-centeredness of God relates to His love for sinners like us. Most people do not immediately see God’s passion for the glory of God as an act of love. One reason for this is that we have absorbed the world’s definition of love. It says: You are loved when you are made much of.
The main problem with this definition of love is that when you try to apply it to God’s love for us, it distorts reality. God’s love for us is not mainly His making much of us, but His giving us the ability to enjoy making much of Him forever. In other words, God’s love for us keeps God at the center. God’s love for us exalts His value and our satisfaction in it. If God’s love made us central and focused on our value, it would distract us from what is most precious; namely, Himself. Love labors and suffers to enthrall us with what is infinitely and eternally satisfying: God. Therefore God’s love labors and suffers to break our bondage to the idol of self and focus our affections on the treasure of God.
In a surprising way we can see this in the story of Lazarus’s sickness and death.
1Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. (John 11:1–6)
Notice three amazing things:
Oh, how many people today—even Christians—would murmur at Jesus for callously letting Lazarus die and putting him and Mary and Martha and others through the pain and misery of those days. And if people today saw that this was motivated by Jesus’ desire to magnify the glory of God, how many would call this harsh or unloving! What this shows is how far above the glory of God most people value pain-free lives. For most people, love is whatever puts human value and human well-being at the center. So Jesus’ behavior is unintelligible to them.
But let us not tell Jesus what love is. Let us not instruct Him how He should love us and make us central. Let us learn from Jesus what love is and what our true well-being is. Love is doing whatever you need to do to help people see and savor the glory of God in Christ forever and ever. Love keeps God central. Because the soul was made for God.
Jesus confirms that we are on the right track here by praying for us in John 17:24, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” I assume that this prayer is a loving act of Jesus. But what does He ask? He asks that, in the end, we might see His glory. His love for us makes Himself central. Jesus is the one being for whom self-exaltation is the most loving act. This is because the most satisfying reality we could ever know is Jesus. So to give us this reality, He must give us Himself. The love of Jesus drives Him to pray for us, and then die for us, not that our value may be central, but that His glory may be central, and we may see it and savor it for all eternity. “Father, I desire that they...be with me...to see my glory.” That is what it means for Jesus to love us. Divine love labors and suffers to enthrall us with what is infinitely and eternally satisfying: God in Christ. That we might see His glory—for that He let Lazarus die, and for that He went to the cross.
O Father, take us captive with this love. Open the eyes of our hearts to see and savor the glory of Christ. And when we are enthralled with being loved this way, make us lovers like Jesus. Let us labor and suffer to lead as many as we can into this all-satisfying love. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.