Several key Christian doctrines rest upon the idea of some sort of necessity bound into the person of God. For example, it is commonly stated that the sovereignty of God in the salvation of individuals is necessary in order to preserve the glory of God. Men like John Piper have emphasized the pervasive theme of the glory of God throughout Scripture and recognize that this is the driving force behind the actions of God. Piper has the famous line that says (roughly) God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in him; this is nothing more than a restatement of the first question/answer in the Westminster Shorter Catechism which states that man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. But what is God’s chief end? Piper says that God’s chief end is to glorify himself and enjoy himself forever. Thus, it is necessary for God to act in Providence and the Salvation of his people in a way that maximizes his own glory.
Another example of this sort of necessity in God can be seen in the doctrine of the Atonement. Certainly this is related to Piper’s point, but in the doctrine of the Atonement it is insisted that sin has damaged the honor of God. If sin were to go unpunished, it would be at the expense of God’s honor, and therefore it is necessary for God’s wrath to be satisfied on the cross, to fully pay the price of man’s sin. Thus, given sin, the cross was the only way for God to deal with sin; to do anything short of the cross would compromise his glory and thus compromise his very being and nature which God cannot do.
While I fully affirm and warmly receive these doctrines, this sort of rhetoric nevertheless strike me as a little odd. First, I’m honestly not sure how the glory or honor of God creates necessity. True, the absolute holiness, glory, and honor of God are central to his character, his person, etc. So, yes, there is a sense in which God must “be true” to those things, but I’m not sure where the hook is that the idea of “necessity” can get hung on. Why must God defend himself? How is God bound to a modus operandi of self-preservation? It seems that it is actually “self-preservation” which ends up becoming the controlling factor. That is, the “necessity” is not really grounded in the glory or honor of God, it is instead grounded in this other, not-so-often-mentioned controlling attribute of God called “self-preservation.” And to follow the usual systematic formulation, this attribute of self-preservation would seem to be one of those incommunicable attributes, a characteristic of God which is not shared with humanity, and one which we are actually called to utterly renounce (according to the pattern of the cross). It seems very strange to make the foundational characteristic and attribute of God one which humanity is called upon to completely forsake and renounce.
Secondly, while the honor and glory of God are certainly pervasive themes in Scripture, it just sounds strange to put things in the way Piper and others put it. On the surface the rhetoric sounds pious and high-minded, but it really sounds like God is a tyrant and glory-monger. Of course, the Pipers of the world insist that because God is God, he is therefore due all glory and all praise. And it is a rhetorically defensible position (“Are you saying God doesn’t deserve all glory and honor?”).
I have great appreciation for what Piper and others have done in the church, and I have fond memories of being very edified by Desiring God. But what I would suggest or offer is that both of these areas (the glory of God in salvation and the preservation of God’s honor in the atonement, and perhaps others) would benefit greatly from more emphasis on the doctrine of the Trinity.
It seems to me to be far more persuasive and explanatory to explain the “glory of God” as the Father glorifying the Son and the Spirit, the Son glorifying the Father and the Spirit, and the Spirit giving back all glory to the Father and the Son. And this mutual glory-giving and honor-giving is the eternal friendship and communion of the One Eternal God. This bond, this relationship, this COVENANT is where the necessity comes from. The persons of the Trinity are so passionate (to use one of Piper’s favorite words) for each other that they jealously defend one another. Thus when Adam sinned against the Father who created the world and disobeyed his Word, it was the Spirit who came to call Adam to account (Gen. 3:8), defending the glory and the honor of the Father and the Son. Because Adam’s sin grieved the Spirit which had been breathed into Adam for life and righteousness, the Father and the Son determined to avenge the honor and the glory of the Spirit. I suspect that the history of Israel might be told somewhat along these lines, showing the persons of the Trinity defending one another, seeking the glory of the others, ultimately culminating in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is after all the Father and the Spirit glorifying the Son in the baptism of Jesus and at his transfiguration. It is the Son who is seeking the glory of the Father in his sufferings and resurrection and the same Son who glorifies the Spirit by sending him into the Church. Thus the cross, and the Atonement in general, is the persons of the Trinity at work restoring the glory and the honor of one another.
The Father and the Spirit send the Son into the world in the incarnation to defend the glory of the Son (witness the baptism, transfiguration, resurrection, and ascension). It is the Son who defends the honor and glory of the Father and the Spirit by offering himself up and accepting the justice of the Father on the cross (due to man for his sin). The Spirit vindicates the honor and glory of the Son (and the Father) by raising the Son from the dead. The Father and the Son vindicate the honor and glory of the Spirit by sending the Spirit back into the world into the new humanity in the Church. And so on.
All of this preserves the basic point of Piper and others who want to see some sort of necessity in the grace of salvation and a substitutionary atonement. It just seems like we display that necessity better in terms of the trinitarian relationship. The glory and honor of God is not about a hermit-deity up in the clouds scraping and demanding more glory and bashing the hell out of an innocent man on a cross because his creatures offended his pride. Rather, it is the eternally jealous love of the Father, Son and Spirit at work defending the honor and glory of the other persons which is displayed in the Incarnation and Atonement and likewise it is this same “necessity” at work in the saving of individuals. The reason all glory must be given to God in the salvation of individuals is because that is how the Trinity works. The Spirit is at work in the world to give all glory to the Father and the Son. And when an individual becomes aware of this mission of the Spirit (conversion), and comes to be united to the Son, he joins in giving glory to the Father and the Son, and the Father and the Son in turn direct their attention back on the Spirit, teaching the individual that it was all the work of the Spirit, and the Spirit says it was all the Son, and the Son says it was all the wisdom of the Father, and so on and so on. It is all about the glory of God; it is all about the honor of God. But this God is the eternal and all glorious Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit eternally committed to giving themselves up for one another.
There is another attribute in the Godhead which creates the necessity to protect and defend the glory of God. But that attribute is not self-preservation. Rather, it is just the opposite. It is the attribute of love: self-denying, self-giving, self-sacrificing love. It is the attribute of love that the persons of the Trinity have for one another that demands justice, glory, and honor for the other persons of the Trinity. And of course this love is an attribute that we are called to share in, to imitate, and it is the glory of God to invite us into it. Thus, Piper is right: the chief end of man is the glory of God AND the chief end of God is the glory of God.
Let me just add as an addendum that Piper and others may in fact be emphasizing these things too. I have only read Desiring God and heard a couple of other distillations of his work in various presentations and such. If that is the case, I’m thankful and wish someone would point me to the goods.