Reflecting on the age-old question of why the universe exists? You're not the only one.
In Douglas Adams’s comic sci-fi novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a group of super-intelligent beings asks a supercomputer to learn the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.” It takes the computer 7.5 million years to compute and check the answer, which turns out to be . . . 42.
That’s not a satisfying answers of course, but the real answer may seem just as cryptic and—at least initially—unsatisfactory: the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything is . . . God’s holiness.
Christians talk a lot about holiness, and yet we often don’t understand what the word means. The basic meaning of the term holy is something set apart from other things. We say the Bible is holy because it is set apart and distinct from all other books. Similarly, we are called to be holy because God set us apart and made us distinct for his purposes. When we say that God is holy, though, we are saying that he is set apart in a category of his own.
In Leviticus 10:3 God says, “Among those who approach me I will be proved holy.” When we approach God and get to know him we do indeed begin to see that he is like no other, he is set apart and different from everything else that exists. As John Piper says,
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 worth, his intrinsic, infinite value.
Holiness is closely tied to God’s glory, for as Piper explains, glory is the going public of God’s holiness. It is the way God puts his holiness on display for people to apprehend. The glory of God is the holiness of God made manifest. Piper defines God’s glory as the “infinite beauty and greatness of God’s many and various perfections.”
Before we delve into what this means for us, though, let’s consider what it means to value things. Imagine you are offered a choice between a cup full of water and a cup full of diamonds. On the whole, water is more useful; it’s even necessary to your survival. But you’d still prefer to have the cup of diamonds. Why?
The answer is more difficult than it might appear, and it took economists a long time to figure out what they called the diamond-water paradox. What they realized is that what we value at any given time is subjective. We’d prefer the diamonds to water because we already have lots of access to water, but not much access to rare jewels. Yet if we were in the desert and dying of thirst, we’d prefer the water to the diamonds.
So what does this have to do with God and his glory? It helps us understand why we should always value God above everything else. God is the only thing that is never subjectively valuable, for he is always objectively and infinitely valuable. We should prefer God to diamonds or water or even life itself because God is more worthy and more valuable than all other things in the universe combined.
In fact, God’s glory is the reason the universe exists.
Reflecting on the question of why the universe exists, the great Puritan philosopher and theologian Jonathan Edwards replied,
Creation must have arisen because of the way it accomplishes something God values. God values things like goodness, truth, and beauty. And yet those words are simply labels we have come up with to describe things that were, before creation, all him. So I think we are logical to conclude that if God could have created the universe to expand and increase himself—and, implicitly, all the things that we have come to know in the abstract as goodness, truth, and beauty—then that best explains the logic behind his decision to create a universe in the first place.
The same logic that leads us to value God more than anything else, Edwards explains, must also lead God himself to value himself more than anything else. God should value himself above all else because his existence and work lead to the existence and work of all other good.
“So, although it seems strange at first,” Edwards adds, “we put God’s judgment into question if we assume that he doesn’t accurately esteem the most valuable entity imaginable: himself.” It’s appropriate, not self-centered, for a holy God to esteem himself above all else since, unlike us, he is fully committed to the prospering of good in the universe.
How does this answer the reason for Creation? Edwards concludes, “Creation must have resulted from the way God saw the value of expanding himself: [expanding] his goodness, truth, beauty, and all the things that are a part of him.”
All creation exists, in other words, because God valued the expansion of his glory and the enjoyment of goodness, truth, and beauty. We exist, therefore, to glorify and enjoy God. As C. S. Lewis wrote, “The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is ‘to glorify God and enjoy him forever.’ But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify him, God is inviting us to enjoy him.”
In commenting on Lewis’s observation, John Piper draws three inferences:
Glorifying God by enjoying him forever should be your goal in life because it’s the reason God created the universe. And that’s why the going public of God’s holiness is the only true answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.
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