Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wright on God Seeking His Own Glory

Below is an excerpt is from N.T. Wright's book, Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision. In this section of the book, Wright is critiquing John Piper's idiosyncratic view of God's righteousness as 'God's concern for His own glory.' While I think Wright's comments regarding God's concern for His glory are a fairly accurate assessment of the Scriptural data, I'd also say that Wright's view of God's righteousness as 'covenant faithfulness' also seems to have flaws. Instead, I think I'd follow Mark Seifrid who argues that "All 'covenant-keeping' is righteous behavior, but not all righteous behavior is 'covenant keeping,'" but I'd qualify this by saying that 'covenant faithfulness' is often a correct interpretation of God's righteousness in a setting where the God's covenant is contextually paramount.
There is a sense in which what Piper claims about 'God's righteousness' could be seen as going in exactly the wrong direction. He sees it as God's concern for God's own glory, which implies that God's primary concern returns, as it were, to himself. There is always of course a sense in which that is true. But the great story of scripture, from creation and covenant right on through to the New Jerusalem, is constantly about God's overflowing, generous, creative love--God's concern, if you like, for the flourishing and well-being of everything else. Of course, this too will redound to God's glory because God, as the creator, is glorified when creation is flourishing and able to praise him gladly and freely. And of course there are plenty of passages where God does what he does precisely not because anybody deserves it but simply 'for the sake of his own name.' But 'God's righteousness' is regularly invoked in scripture, not when God is acting thus, but when his concern is going out to those in need, particularly to his covenant people. The tsedaqah elohim, the dikaiosyne theou, is an outward-looking characteristic of God, linked of course to the concern for God's own glory but essentially going, as it were, in the opposite direction, that of God's creative, healing, restorative love. God's concern for God's glory is precisely rescued from the appearance of divine narcissism because God, not least God as Trinity, is always giving out, pouring out, lavishing generous love on undeserving people, undeserving Israel, and an undeserving world. That is the sort of God he is, and 'God's righteousness' is a way of saying, Yes, and God will be true to that character. Indeed, it is because God will be true to that outward-facing generous, creative love that he must also curse those ways of life, particularly those ways of life within his covenant people, which embody and express the opposite. It isn't that God basically wants to condemn and then finds a way to rescue some from that disaster. It is that God longs to bless, to bless lavishly, and so to rescue and bless those in danger of tragedy--and therefore must curse everything that thwarts and destroys the blessing of his world and his people. (pp. 51-52)

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