The Glory of God & Other Christian Clichés

t was my first time to preach at the church in Nashville, TN, where I was serving as a student pastor. I won’t forget the man in the cowboy hat sitting in the audience, whom I later learned was country music singer Tim McGraw. Nor will I forget the letter a guy about my age gave me after the sermon.

Early in the sermon I made the statement that I don’t know why God created a world in which we would fall. I wasn’t doubting the Bible or God, simply stating that the mystery of why God would create us or love us is beyond human comprehension, what theologians call God’s secret will (Deuteronomy 29:29). After the service, without saying anything to me personally, the young man walked up and handed me a page torn from a notebook covered in handwriting on front and back.

His letter was an explanation as to why God created the world. Over and over, he repeated, “He did it for his glory.” That statement, offered like that, hit me in a certain way that I’ve often been reminded of when I use those same words or hear them from others.

I know this expression is deeply meaningful, it just often seems to be lobbed about as if we know what it means. It’s often used as a trump card to end theological dispute. It can be a conversation stopper. It shouldn’t be.

Sometimes when others say, “God did it for his glory,” it can sound like “I don’t know why he did what he did” or “I’m not sure what to say.” It can be used almost poetically, like the way some people say “amen” twice at the end of their public prayers. Though sounding both orthodox and pious, I’m not sure, at least for me, that I always clearly understand what I mean by it.

In reflecting on that expression, the way we use it, the way we act like we know what it means, and how it can be informed by Scripture, I’ve tried to work out what I’m intending to communicate with those words. Here’s how I’ll often say it, “God did it for his glory, which is my way of saying that God has a higher purpose that I don’t have access to, but I’m trusting that he is good and that his plans are good.”

Like many things, when you have to define it every time you use it, sometimes the expression can give way to the definition. In other words, sometimes I will just offer these words, “I’m not sure why God would allow or do that, but I’m trusting that he is good and that his plans are good.” That’s my way of saying “God did it for his glory.”

That’s also my way of keeping this statement from being lost in a sea of clichés I might be tempted to use when I don’t know what else to say. After all, the fact that God has higher purposes, a design, a sovereign plan, behind everything, is profoundly comforting. For me, I just don’t want that notion to become trite in how I speak of it.