10 January 2011

The Bizarre Passions of Worldly Culture, and Why They are Incompatible with a True Passion for God's Glory

by Phil Johnson

here's plenty of passion in the world today. Unfortunately, a lot of it is evil passion—lust, anger, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, self-love, and so on. Even whatever good feelings there are in this world are misspent—squandered on trivial things: sports, entertainment, recreation, and the pursuit of personal happiness. We're expected to be deliriously excited about things like that; and we're generally discouraged from taking serious things seriously.

In fact, it's one of the supreme ironies of our culture that raw passion per se (even if it's utterly irrational) is deemed perfectly acceptible, but devotion to God is generally seen as a sign of serious imbalance.

It's true. An earnest worshiper of God is likely to be regarded by our society as a deranged person—especially if he declares his faith. Meanwhile, young girls are practically expected to scream till they faint in the presence of boy-band celebrities. Men can be as fanatical as they like about their favorite sports team. Students can thoroughly immerse themselves in some mindless fantasy game. Anyone of any age can be wholly obsessed with some celebrity or pop star they have never even met. No one bats an eye at those things.

Celebrity worship is the real religion of our culture. In fact, certain dead celebrities have achieved the very same status in our culture as the mythological Greek gods who filled the pantheon of Rome in the first century.

So there's no shortage of passion in modern society. It's just the wrong kind of passion, and passion for all the wrong things.

If there's one thing we ought to be passionate about, it's the glory of God. There is no greater reality in all the universe. There is nothing more worthy of our deepest, most heartfelt emotion. God's glory is the very end for which we were created: to relish the glory of God, to reflect that glory, and to rejoice in the privilege of basking in and declaring that glory to the world. The very first answer in the Westminster Shorter Catechism says it like this: "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever."

The glory of God, of course, is one of the central themes of Scripture. God's glory features prominently in all the major eras of Old Testament history. You have the visible Shekinah cloud that led the Israelites in the wilderness for forty years. You have the visible reflection of God's glory that made Moses' face shine when he came down from Sinai. You have the vivid descriptions of divine glory around the heavenly throne in Isaiah 6, and then again in Ezekiel 1 and 10.

All those passages in the Old Testament mention the visible, palpable splendor of God's glory. And of course, the beauty of divine glory is not conducive to verbal descriptions. It is indescribable, unimaginable, and mysterious. Ezekiel's account in particular (see Ezekiel 10:9-22) is a breathless narrative about bright lights, amazing angelic creatures, lightning flashes, intricate, interconnected wheels with countless eyes and sparkling facets like awesome crystal and colorful gemstones. It was a stunning vision, and (speaking of passion) it provoked terror, astonishment, unspeakable awe, great affection, and deep humility in Ezekiel.

As we read Ezekiel 1 and Ezekiel 10 without actually seeing what Ezekiel saw, it's impossible to envision the spectacle. The most popular New-Age theory is that Ezekiel was describing a massive UFO, like a scene out of "Close Encounters" or something. And of course, that's nonsense. I don't think any amount of special effects wizardry could accurately portray the majesty of what Ezekiel saw. The verbal description gives us only the barest hint of it. All that really comes through clearly is a sense of indescribable grandeur, beauty far beyond the reach of any human explanation, unfathomable radiance, and infinite brilliance. It's a vision we cannot perceive from mere words, but between you and me if you can read Ezekiel's account of it and not have a passionate longing to see it with your own eyes, you must have a heart of stone.

It's clear from the Old Testament alone that passion for the glory of God is one of the key evidences of authentic faith. In fact, a yearning to see and perceive God's glory is perhaps the truest expression of saving faith and genuine love for God.

Personally, I can't wait to see the full display of God's glory with my own eyes. The thought of it frightens and intimidates me, but I want it more than anything in this world. That's the deepest hope of every true believer who thinks carefully about all that awaits us in heaven.

And that has always been the hope of true believers. Moses desperately wanted to see God's face. Even though he knew an unhindered look at the radiance of God would be fatal to him as a fallen creature, Moses did get to see some of the glory of God through a shielded view from behind. Only as that glory receded did Moses get a small glimpse, and the splendor of that little peek reflected with such a glow off Moses' face that the people of Israel were frightened for their lives when they saw how Moses' face shone. They begged him to cover it up with a veil.

David likewise longed to see God's glory face to face, and in Psalm 17:15, he said that was the one thing he knew would ultimately satisfy him. All his desires, all his longings, and the object of his every passion lay in that one goal: he wanted an unhindered vision of the glory of God.

Man was created to enjoy and to reflect God's glory. Our race was supposed to be the perfect vehicle for God's likeness. We were designed to be living lanterns through which God's own glory would shine. That's what Scripture means when it says in Genesis 1:27: "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him"

Sin marred the image of God in man and left us with a deep longing for what Adam lost. It's a longing that can only be satisfied by God's glory. That is another reason God's glory is the one thing in the universe that ought to enflame our deepest passions more than any other.

In other words, not only is God's glory inherently worthy of all our affections, it's the very thing our affections were created for in the first place—and it's also the only thing that can ultimately satisfy our most basic urges and longings.

A lot of this life's sins and frustrations would be eliminated if we could just bear that in mind.

Phil's signature


Anonymous said...

Phil, thanks for your insight, very helpful. I especially liked how you brought together the different passages that speak to the subject. Your second paragraph reminded me of a friend’s response to “What are you thankful for?” His answer was “passion.” I agree that to yearn for and see and experience a vision of the glory of God is essential to what it means to have faith. But on the other extreme I am uncomfortable with those who “glory in their passion for God” as if it is something to be accomplished by skill and effort. Phil. 3 make a contrast between true worship – glory in Jesus and self worship – the self praise of the circumcision party. Some are simply passionate about passion.

Paula Bolyard said...

Great supplement to the sermon at church today - er...yesterday - on Isaiah 6. A lot different than the "Jesus is my boyfriend" attitude that is so prevalent these days.

Steve Berven said...

I've been thinking the same thing lately. I wonder how different our society -- and our Church -- would be if people had the same passion for Christ that they showed for Justin Bieber or the heartthrobs from Twilight.

People will revere movie stars and athletes, put Oprah and Dr. Phil up on a pedastal, but then get all huffy and self-righteous about kneeling and praying before God.

If you dress up like Britney Spear or have posters of Robert Pattison everywhere it's cool. Put up posters of Jesus and wear a cross and too many people today have been conditioned to think of you as a fringe weirdo.

Steve Berven said...

I've often wondered what it meant to be "clothed in light" like Adam & Eve were in Genesis? To be able to walk in the presence of God, in the cool of a garden, a casual intimate familiarity.

Can't wait!!

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

Thank you for this article, Phil. It touches such a special place in my heart. I have so often told God that I cannot wait to see His face, and if I were not one of His elect (which I know I am), I would be absolutely devastated, and not because of the fear and dread of hell, but because I would NOT see his beautiful face and be in His glorious presence.

I am so glad you feel the same way.

God bless,

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

One more comment. This is my all-time favorite Pyromaniacs article. It has made my day and then some.

I would hope that more articles could be written about God's glory. I also noticed you used the word basking....I use the same word myself when talking to the Lord.

I just want to bask in His glory. What a fitting word that is.

William Dicks said...

I think this post ties in very well with the sermon John Piper preached at Passion 2011.

Piper asked the students: "Do you feel more loved by God because He makes much of you or because He enables you to make much of Him?" Piper explained that if someone responded that they loved God because He makes much of them, that is idolatry.

James S said...

Neat article.
Reading how Moses and David felt that their ultimate satisfaction would be seeing God's Glory or face, made me wonder if that's what I think.

I'm not sure that I do, at least in exactly that way. For me, it's hard to put in words, but once I am in His presence in heaven will be the whole thing that I have been being moved towards all my life. I think not exactly that looking on his glory is what I am after, but more of this: To know that I am finally doing what and existing in the way God meant for me to exist.

To know that I am obeying Him in the way that He wants me to.
That's why, more-so lately than ever in my life, I have been praying that He will make me obey Him. (I don't think that I have thought this up, but that He has led me to this point). That is, Make me want to obey, make it my greatest desire that I obey, and then make me obey as much as He can (without making me just a robot).

I know that I can't obey Him in my own effort, and even that I don't even want to obey him in my own heart. Therefore it is the thing that I will be most grateful and satisfied with, when I am finally in His presence knowing that I am obeying him as He wants me to. Again I do not mean that by my own effort, otherwise I would not be praying so often about it.

Finally in His presence I will no longer have that sneaky feeling in the back of my heart that says "I am doing something I shouldn't be doing" or "The Lord is not pleased with me because I do not keep his commands fully as I should".

Maybe it really is that seeing His glory is the ultimate satisfaction. At least if that is happening, then I will know that I must be doing what I'm supposed to be doing, or he woudn't let me see His Glory at all.

But mind you, when I say "doing" I am not meaning in my own efforts, but that He is willing through me to do what is right and keeping me from dis-obeying in the power of His might.

I fear all of that may not convey in human words the way I understand it in my heart.
That's probably why I could never be a preacher.

Either way, you have certainly made me anxious to read and study Ezekiel again.

James S said...

Forgive me for my verbosity. I want to try to explain furtherby mentioning something that I often reflect upon.

Do you know those creatures that we learn of in the 'Revelation of Jesus Christ to John' who day and night do nothing more stand at the throne of The Lord and say "HOLY HOLY HOLY!"?

I think about them often. I think "Boy what a life, huh?" They don't get to do anything, or relax ever, or think on their own (At least it seems that way), or be entertained or eat good food or listen to good music or what not.

But in reality, they are doing the greatest thing that any creature could ever do, and the most right thing in the world! Glorifying God!
That is what it's all about.

If I were to glorify God rightly, THAT is what I should be doing. It's not about me, it's about Him.

How kind and generous of God to even allow me to think and take in any and all of His creation. He is being gracious just in letting me enjoy any pleasure at all.

I could have been one ofthose creatures saying Holy Holy Holy! all day and night. But in reality, He would be fully justified in making me that. Because that is the most proper thing anyone can do, to glorify Him day and night and not be self serving in any way - Because He alone is worthy of all glory.

Kay said...

Colour me convicted - too many things take up my passions in place of the passion which belongs only to Christ. It fair stirs the heart to be thinking about God's glory, though. I think I shall be doing some more of that.

Victoria said...

Just a wonderful article about a beautiful subject. Thank you.

Mike Riccardi said...

Awesome Phil. Amen and amen. Thank you for this.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

James S:

Years and years ago, I remember Billy Graham having a column in one of these following papers, the Detroit News, the Detroit Free Press or it may have been the Pontiac Press. Sorry, this was soooo long ago and I am not sure which paper my parents subscribed to at the time, but I always looked forward to reading his column.

Anyway, he made the comment in one of his articles that always stuck with me, that God would have many things for us to do in heaven, activities of all kinds, and we would always be busy. It was then I thought to myself, it really wouldn't matter to me if we had activities or not, if I had to stand on the head of a pin, on one foot for all eternity and sing holy, holy, holy, like the seraphim’s, I would be completely and blissfully happy for all eternity.

God is our entertainment, our amusement, our joy, our happiness, and it is inconceivable to me how anything in heaven could top this. I believe we will spend an eternity discovering more and more of all the treasures and joys that are to found in Him. His beauty and glory are truly inexhaustible.

Solameanie said...

I needed this today. Glory to God indeed.

donsands said...

Well done post. Truly, the genuine born again believer has a passion embedded in his heart which longs to see Christ, and His glory, and to bow in love and fear before Him.

I suppose those girls are going nuts over the Beatles. I always cringe a little when I watch "A Hard Days Night" when these girls go crazy.

I have to admit, I lost it a little during the Ravens game yesterday. My wife helps me come back down to earth.

Yet, when I compare it to my gathering with the Church yesterday to worship God, it is completely different, and doesn't really have the same affections.

""As a person would be foolish to look for money only to look at it, without trying to get it into his possession, so the heathen, though they knew God, were satisfied with and gloried in the mere knowledge of Him. They left out of mind His worship, in par...ticular, the inward dedication to God, whom they knew." -Martin Luther

Steve Drake said...

Steve B.,
Your comment at 12:40AM piqued me. You said:
"I've often wondered what it meant to be "clothed in light" like Adam & Eve were in Genesis?"

Can you elaborate? Where do you find this reference to Adam and Eve being clothed in light? Maybe I'm missing something here? Just curious.

Rachael Starke said...

So - honest question, then.

What does this look like?

We were actually talking about this yesterday in Sunday School in relation to Paul's conversion. He had been a Pharisee of the Pharisees. His whole life was given over to what he thought was "the glory of God". (cf. John 9, one of the scariest stories, for me personally, in the whole Bible). Only, he was, to put it mildly, wrong.

How do we make sure that the light we're reflecting is really warm, radiant, life-giving heat,

and not the cold, lifeless, CFL-like light that makes everything look like it's ready for the morgue?

Melinda said...

Sorry, I think I might be coming from left field here, but I have a question.

One of the pastors at my church has been talking about passion lately. He says that we need to let the Holy Spirit do what He wants in our body and we could possibly find ourselves dancing, shouting, crying, etc in the church service.

I am almost positive that this is NOT what you are talking about. But the Justin Bieber comparison is throwing me off. Are you saying that it is good to act like if it is directed toward worship of God?

donsands said...

"One of the pastors at my church has been talking about passion lately. He says that we need to let the Holy Spirit do what He wants in our body and we could possibly find ourselves dancing, shouting, crying, etc in the church service."

"..all things should be done decently and in order." -Paul, 1 Cor. 14:40

Steve Drake said...

Rachel Starcke said,
How do we make sure that the light we're reflecting is really warm, radiant, life-giving heat,

and not the cold, lifeless, CFL-like light that makes everything look like it's ready for the morgue?"

When you are in relationship to another person, do you know if your light not hidden under a bushel is genuine, or are you aware that you are only faking it?

Or in relationship to God, are you genuine in raising your hands in adoration because of the realization of the price He paid on the cross for you, or is it an emotive response induced by the music or preacher?

bp said...

What an awesome article, Phil. I've often realized how sad and backwards it is that people go nuts at concerts or sporting events and are bored by and ignore God. Yet, there go I but by the grace of God.

Question for you: Your description of man being marred by sin and that we are created for (and can only be truly fulfilled by) knowing and worshipping God...do you think this is comparable to saying that we have a hole in our heart that can only be filled by God? I know that many have a problem with this, but I don't see a problem so long as sin/death/hell and reconcilation through Christ alone is also addressed. Curious about your thoughts. Thanks.

bassicallymike said...

“In fact, it's one of the supreme ironies of our culture that raw passion per se (even if it's utterly irrational) is deemed perfectly acceptable, but devotion to God is generally seen as a sign of serious imbalance.”

I guess it's because of the misconception that is prevalent on Grace, but even in a lot of churches, being a slacker is viewed as socially acceptable.

Steve Berven said...

Steve Drake:

{{Splutter. Gasp. Slap forehead}}

Whoa, my apologies. I thought I remembered them being described so, but can't for the life of me find any such reference, so will promptly scourge myself for promulgating false teaching!

Thanks for keeping me honest!

Steve Berven said...

No to hijack the narrative, but...

I'm thinking that the "clothed in light" idea is either aporcryphal, or infered from the texts. Probably mostly anecdotal, based on translations of the Hebrew which imply "light" as their covering, that was then lost at the fall thus "revealing" their nakedness.

Since I can't pin a scripture to it, I consider it mostly an intriguing and compelling idea.