Matt Papa. Look and Live: Behold the Soul-Thrilling, Sin-Destroying Glory of Christ. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2014. 256 pp. $15.99.
The quest for novelty is often exhausting. A technophile’s delight with his newest phone or computer quickly turns to discontent when the CEO of Apple stands up to announce next year’s product release. Fashion trends drift from year to year, requiring the fashionista to search for new styles with each successive turn of the clock. Theology, too, can be exhausting when the quest for novelty trumps the pursuit of delighting in already understood truth. Indeed, Christian maturity is often better displayed through a blossoming understanding of the implications of gospel truth than a growing breadth of information and background knowledge.
Matt Papa has written a book that contains practically nothing new. He is unafraid to extensively credit the fountains from which he has drawn his understanding of the magnificent worth and glory of God. Quotations from Jonathan Edwards, John Piper, Blaise Pascal, and R. C. Sproul adorn practically every chapter. In many ways Look and Live: Behold the Soul-Thrilling, Sin-Destroying Glory of Christ surveys contemporary Reformed thought concerning the majesty of the glory of God.
Arrested by Glory
So what does a book short on novelty that quotes sources many will already be familiar with have to offer? Grit and zeal. Papa writes theology like Cormac McCarthy writes drama. A vision of the glory of God has arrested his heart, and he will not rest until his reader feels the radiant joy of understanding the magnitude of God’s person and God’s work grip their own hearts. “[A]fter being a worship leader for 15 years,” writes the singer, songwriter, and worship leader at The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, “I have chosen to focus on the topic of glory rather than worship. Worship is the natural byproduct of seeing glory” (25). Papa’s words rise up from the page as if to say, “I have read the same books as you have, and my understanding of the greatness of God has produced this passionate response of joy in my heart. Has it done the same for you?”
Papa quickly identifies two kinds of “glory” in the Scriptures. The first he dubs “glory-be,” which essentially is internal excellence. God himself is the fullness of “glory-be,” as he is the only perfectly holy, loving, and just being in existence. “Glory-be” then compels “glory-to.” As human beings behold God’s “glory-be,” they respond by giving glory to God through delighting in their understanding of and relationship with him.
The problem for humanity comes from our inherent distaste for “glory-be.” Papa insists: “We are all facing some deity. Some glory has swept us off our feet, and this very moment like a rabid animal we are pursuing it” (11). Because of Adam’s curse we would rather worship objects of lesser glory than the Creator who is the source of all things. For Papa, the solution to this problem is not work or determination, but seeing the King in all of his magnificence.
Sight Over Sweat
Papa’s great premise is that experiencing the glory of God will be sufficient to break the chains of whatever idols we most naturally bow before in our hearts. The secret to overcoming sin and temptation, then, is not sweat but sight. As our sight of God’s magnificent worth and excellence becomes clearer, our redeemed hearts are drawn toward greater love for him. That love then transforms our affections, increasing our desire to live in the manner most pleasing to him. Temptation has strength because counterfeit deities seem to have something to offer that the true God does not. Such impostors appear to be full of glory-be only because we do not properly behold the unrivaled glory-be of the Lord. This idea runs counter to every self-help book gracing the endcaps of supermarkets and retailers. Sanctification is not based on the works that we do, but rather draws its energy from a deeper sight of the worth of God.
If sanctification is predicated on sight instead of diligence, how can we actively participate in our own growth in godliness? Is sanctification merely a happy accident in which we are passively transformed apart from our own effort?
The answer lies in content. And this is where Papa’s book proves itself to be greatly helpful. Gaining a greater sight of the magnificence of God does not happen naturally. The world is full of glimpses of his magnificence—the delicacy of a blossoming flower, the complexity of a fly’s eye, the joy of a loved one coming home after a long time apart. These glimpses, however, need an interpreter. And the Scriptures are that great storehouse of wisdom and knowledge about God. In them is revealed the wonder of the Trinity, the sorrow of the dying Savior, the unexpected wonder of his resurrection, the promise of rest with his return. While the created world is a glimpse of God’s majesty, the Bible is his own self-explanation to mankind.
In sum, Papa’s book is a plea for biblical literacy. As he explained the concept of his book to his wife, she asked, “So you’re writing a book telling people to read their Bible and pray?” In a word, yes. The Scriptures are living and active, working surgery on our hearts to behold the wonder of God and his work. A former pastor of mine likened this process to “changing the pricetags” in a person’s life. Things that were once valuable become worthless, and things that were once worthless become the most treasured possessions of all. What can the objects of our temptation offer in the face of God’s radiant perfection and love?
I hope people will pick up Look and Live and discover new shades of God’s radiance. A seasoned believer will be blessed by its passionate delight in the person of God, and a new believer will learn much about how to grow in such newfound faith. Papa has given a gift to the church; may God use it to bless us all.