What motivates God?

Why does God do anything? And, as it relates to us, how do we fit within that purpose?

Over the years this question has gained weight: I had to ask it. Why? Because I’ve heard different people locate all of life and meaning within one ultimate divine ambition. And I do it myself. But the answers differ. And if we have competing claims how is any one of them ultimate?

One speaker, for instance, holds that God is moved by his goodness. Another elevates love. Still others point to God’s glory, or his holiness, or his power. And in each case the person gives primacy to their designated issue so that everything God does is explained by just one quality or ambition.

What, then, should we make of claims for a single divine motivation?

To explore the question we need to consider at least two more questions.

First, isn’t it presumptuous to make such bold pronouncements about God’s “ultimate” character? And, second, wouldn’t it make better sense to adopt some sort of facet-theory? So that different attributes or ambitions are treated as coordinate aspects of God’s character? In this view it can be argued that sometimes we see more of one aspect in play and sometimes more of another. In one text it’s holiness, in another it’s love, and so on.

Any answer needs to come from the Bible: if it answers the motivation question with a coherent and sustained response throughout the wide range of Bible writings then we need to listen and respond. If not, then we can propose whatever makes good sense to us—and that sets up the possibility of our being presumptuous. In other word, we need to ask God whether he has an inspired—biblically speaking—answer.

He does. There isn’t a set of facets. Instead he offers us a single answer: he is moved by the mutual love that exists throughout eternity between the Father and the Son by the Spirit. This love is what moved God to create us; and why he allowed us to sin by loving ourselves; and why he sent the Son to save us from our ultimate sin of self-love.

In sum, the Father’s love for the Son and the Son’s response expresses the ultimate motivation of God—and he wants us to participate in that love but he won’t force it upon us. Here’s a nutshell basis for this claim as the Bible presents it.

We start with what Jesus, our Lord, tells us.

In John 17 He portrayed his relationship with the Father as a love-motivated glory (verse 24) so that the Triune communion “before the world existed” (verse 5) was one of shared glory. Love was the basis for this plan, a love that embraces all who respond to it and that forms a communion of love: “that the love with which you have loved me may be in them and I in them” (verse 26).

In 1 John 4 the divine communion was summarized by the declaration that “God is love”. Paul, knowing this, wrote to the Corinthians that in the spiritual-relational triad of faith, hope and love “the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Divine love exhibits God’s heart for us that the Spirit reveals to us in salvation as he “pours out” his love in our hearts. God so loved the world—revealing the spreading quality of his love—that he gave his Son over to death in order to raise us out of death in the Son’s resurrected life (John 3:16).

This plan was engaged in the Godhead before creation (Ephesians 1:4) and was anticipated by the writers of the Old Testament (1 Peter 1:10-12). It was the pre-incarnate Son who walked in the Garden in Genesis 3 and it was the promise of his coming incarnation that God offered as the resolution to sin (Genesis 3:15); and that launched the promised blessing (Genesis 12:1-3 & Galatians 3:8) in the coming of an anointed “servant” who is the Son (Isaiah 49-53) and who would suffer death on our behalf in order to bring us into a marriage with himself (Isaiah 54:5).

Which brings us to the application: what does this self-disclosure of God’s sole motivation mean to us?

It means that for us to be “right” with God—that is, to be “righteous” and “reconciled”—is for us to share his motivation. This call to love is what he called the “greatest commandment”: nothing else will do.

Listen, then, to the Old Testament call that encapsulates this wonderful disclosure of God’s ultimate motivation: “Kiss the Son” (Psalm 2:12). It’s what we were made for. And for any and all who aren’t there yet there’s still time to repent of any false loves that block a proper, true love.

So come one and all to taste and see that this relational, loving God is good. You’ll love his embrace.

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3 Comments

  1. Hasan Djemal

    Your right to say that we ought not to be presumptuous about talking about aspects of God and his attributes. However if we take that line nothing would be said. It is true that God is beyond us… Yet God became a man in Jesus Christ and through him we are brought into communion with God through the agency of the Holy Spirit. In Knowing Jesus and learning about him and spending time with him in Prayer on a daily basis the attributes of God and his love become living. We can share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the Muslim who focuses only on the attributes of God (the 99 names of God). Tawhid and Trinity are not the same but here in the attributes of God we can discuss and learn more about God. Jesus Christ the Son of God being God became a man and the message of God for all humanity. In him we can begin to understand what these attributes are (as a glass dimly). Humility is a good place to start for all humanity Matt 5 Beatitudes.

  2. Colleen Glassley

    There are certain characteristics that are the character of God: love, power, goodness, righteousness, etc. now Paul introduced us to see a characteristic that is not so often recognized, but that is comfort. Vs. 3 of 2 Corinthians, says “He is the God of all comfort”. He is the source and instigator of comfort. Comfort resides with God. When we are comforted, we are to learn to share that comfort with others. (Doesn’t that sound like God- we are always to spread His goodness )

  3. R N Frost

    Thanks for the comments. Yet in both notes I’m struck by our instinct to describe God in terms of his attributes or qualities. That makes sense in that they represent the ways in which we “meet” God (at least in the ‘communicable’ attributes). But do we deflect too quickly from the underlying motivation that explains those qualities?

    For instance, Hasan, I know from our conversations over the years that your heart for the Islamic world is birthed by your love for Christ, and that reveals the triune love of God. If only the Islamic world could know such love! Perhaps it might happen more quickly if we in the Body of Christ offered the proper lens of God’s motivation more distinctly and boldly.

    And, Colleen, your reference to God’s comfort reminds me that at the deepest level of my soul I’m comforted by love whenever I experience it.

    Good thoughts: thanks.

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