Many people today, whether they know it or not, technically qualify as adherents to a worldview known as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). MTD is the view that God created humanity with the main goal of providing for humans and making them happy. MTD can be summarized with five statements:
- A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
- God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
- The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
- God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
- Good people go to heaven when they die.1
While these five statements might seem to many people to be a summary of Christianity, these statements actually fall very short of the traditional, biblical understanding of who God is and why He created humanity. One of the best ways to show that MTD and traditional Christianity are not compatible is to discuss the classical Christian understanding of the reason God decided to create the universe.
In my previous post, I mentioned that I am planning on going into detail on the themes of creation, the seed conflict, covenants, and God’s presence. Accordingly, the first theme I want to cover is creation, but I think it would be best to first discuss why God created anything at all. This will not only expose MTD as a false view of Christianity, but it will also shed a lot of light on why God does what He does every time the theme of creation is repeated throughout the Bible.
So why did God create the universe? Ask this question in Sunday school, and the usual answer you will get is, “God created everything for His glory.” This is the correct answer. But what does it even mean, and where does it come from? Wouldn’t it be a little narcissistic for God to create everything just so He could be glorified? This post will cover the answers to these questions. First, I will discuss Bible verses that mention why God created. After this, I will provide more insight into these questions from the thought of the medieval philosopher/theologian Thomas Aquinas.
The Bible on Why God Created
Biblical authors mention why God created in many places throughout the Bible. Some verses that mention God’s reason for creating are more direct than others. God’s reason for creating might not be obvious with any particular verse, but some clear patterns emerge when taking all of these verses together.
In particular, two main patterns can be seen regarding God and creation in the Old and New Testaments. The first pattern is that God creates things for His glory. The second pattern is that the things God creates show God’s glory and attributes.
God Creates Things for His Glory
In the Old Testament, there are several verses that indicate God’s purpose for creating. One example is in Is. 43. Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God declares to the Israelites that He made them for His glory:
Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your descendants from the east,
and gather you from the west.
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back!’
Bring my sons from far away,
and my daughters from the ends of the earth—
everyone who bears my name
and is created for my glory.
I have formed them; indeed, I have made them (Is. 43:5-7).2
Later in Is. 48, the words of Isaiah indicate that God acts for the sake of His glory. Here, God’s message from Isaiah is that God is allowing the Jews to be banished because they did not obey Him, but He will not allow them to be destroyed for the sake of His glory:
I will delay my anger for the sake of my name,
and I will restrain myself for your benefit and for my praise,
so that you will not be destroyed.
Look, I have refined you, but not as silver;
I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
I will act for my own sake, indeed, my own,
for how can I be defiled?
I will not give my glory to another (Is. 48:9-11).
Similarly, God speaks through the prophet Ezekiel and mentions that He brought the Jews out of Egypt for His glory:
But they rebelled against me and were unwilling to listen to me. None of them threw away the abhorrent things that they prized, and they did not abandon the idols of Egypt. So I considered pouring out my wrath on them, exhausting my anger against them within the land of Egypt. But I acted for the sake of my name, so that it would not be profaned in the eyes of the nations they were living among, in whose sight I had made myself known to Israel by bringing them out of Egypt. So I brought them out of the land of Egypt and led them into the wilderness (Ezek. 20:8-10).
The idea that God creates things for His glory is also seen in several places in the New Testament. For example, in a very direct manner, Paul mentions that the purpose of God’s plan of salvation is for His glory:
Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens in Christ. For he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in love before him. He predestined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ for himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he lavished on us in the Beloved One (Eph. 1:3-6).
A few verses later, Paul mentions that “everything…both things in heaven and things on earth” are involved in God’s plan of salvation that is meant for His glory:
He made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he purposed in Christ as a plan for the right time—to bring everything together in Christ, both things in heaven and things on earth in him (Eph. 1:9-10).
Confirming Paul’s notion that God created the universe for His glory, Paul recites a hymn that mentions all things are from God, through God, and to God:
For from him and through him
and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever. Amen (Rom. 11:36; see also Col 1:16).
A less direct, but relevant, passage is found in Rev. 4:
Our Lord and God,
you are worthy to receive
glory and honor and power,
because you have created all things,
and by your will
they exist and were created (Rev. 4:11; see also 1 Chron. 29:10-12).
These are the words of the twenty-four elders who cast their crowns at the throne of God in heaven. This passage is not as direct, but the elders’ words indicate that God is worthy of glory because He wills the existence of all things. Regardless, these passages show that God creates things with the intent of obtaining glory for Himself.
The Things God Created Display His Glory
A strong indication that God created everything for His glory is found in the biblical concept that the things God creates display His glory. If something God creates is performing a certain function, it is easy to conclude that God meant for this to be the case. Many Old and New Testament passages claim or indicate that God’s creation displays His glory.
A famous example from the Old Testament is found in the Psalms:
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the expanse proclaims the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour out speech;
night after night they communicate knowledge (Ps. 19:1-2).
It is hard to imagine a less direct statement regarding how God’s creation displays His glory. And it would also be hard to conclude that God did not mean for His creation to show His glory if it is doing so.
Another famous passage stating that God’s creation shows His glory is found in Romans:
For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, that is, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what he has made. As a result, people are without excuse. For though they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or show gratitude (Rom. 1:18-21).
Here Paul mentions that God’s power and glory have been evident in creation since the beginning. When humans look at the world, they are able to know things about God including His worthiness to be glorified.
Thomas Aquinas on Why God Created
In my opinion, one of the best, philosophical explanations of God’s reason for creating is found in the writings of the medieval philosopher/theologian Thomas Aquinas. In his work, Summa Theologiae, Aquinas explains why he thinks God created the world in light of God’s perfection, eternality, and love.
As a Christian and a classical theologian, Aquinas believed that God is infinite, perfect, eternal, all-knowing, and all-powerful. As the source of the world and everything that exists, God is self-sustaining in that He eternally exists by His own nature. Because God is infinite and perfect, God lacks nothing and needs nothing.
But these attributes start to be problematic when thinking about why God would want to create something. The question becomes, “If God is completely perfect, then why would He create anything?” Does God need food or shelter? No. As self-sustaining and eternal, God does not need to create resources to feed or sustain Himself in any way. Was God bored? No. As all-knowing, there is no experience that would be novel for God and no new knowledge that He could gain. Was God lonely? No. Although God is one, three distinct Persons proceed from His divine essence.
Aquinas argues that the answer to this question lies in God’s goodness and love.3 Aquinas followed other Christian philosophers and notes that love and goodness are things which tend to spread themselves. People who have experienced love know it is never something they want to keep to themselves. Those who know and feel love want to spread it as much they can. Love is not something that ever runs out. Even the exclusive love shared between a husband and a wife is spread through having children. So, love provides a possible reason for why God would want to create. As infinite love, God most likely created to spread His goodness and love.
If God wants to create to spread His love, this has several implications for what He will create. For one, this purpose entails that God will create beings with intellects and wills. If God did not create beings with intellects, there would be no one to know Him. If God did not create beings with free will, there would be no one to freely choose and love Him. Moreover, if God wants His creatures to love Him, He must also create the world in a way so it communicates His divine attributes.
All of this helps to make sense of the biblical concept of God creating the world for His glory. Narcissism entails that someone has an unhealthy, unrealistic, egocentric view of himself or herself, and he or she undeservedly wants praise. However, God wills to create to spread His love to His creatures. Creating and sustaining the universe is not for God’s benefit, and is completely for the benefit of humanity. It is not egocentric for God to create to spread love. Nor is it wrong for God to desire for His creatures to glorify Him. God is the perfect, all-knowing, all-powerful source of all life in the universe. As creator, God deserves glory, praise, and love. If people have no problem giving glory to and praising their parents, spouses, and favorite celebrities, then they should have little problem acknowledging that the One who sustains them in existence and provides for their eternal salvation ought to be loved and praised.
So, did God create the world with the sole intention of providing a place for humans to live so they can be happy and feel good about themselves? Nope. God created the world for His glory in that He created the world for the sole purpose that humanity knows and loves Him. The God of classical Christianity is not the god of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.
In my next post, I will discuss the theme of creation found throughout the Bible. As mentioned, this will make much more sense now that God’s purpose for creating has been explained. God not only creates in similar ways throughout the Bible, but He also gives specific individuals and nations specific commands that are meant to carry out His purpose. Noting these similarities and commands in light of God’s purpose for creating will help make a lot of sense out of the main plot of the Bible.
- Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 162-163.
- Christian Standard Bible.
- Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae III, q. 1, a. 1; see also Summa Theologiae I, q. 19, a. 2.