“It is absurd to believe that the deity has human passions, and one of the lowest human passions, a restless appetite for applause.” -David Hume
“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31 31
“Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God . . . so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever.” 1 Peter 4:11
There is a popular notion among Evangelicals that I think has become part of our folklore. Indeed, it is the shibboleth (secret pass code) of my fellow Calvinists. When I call this “folklore” I don’t necessarily mean “not true” (as we will see), I simply mean that it is uncritically accepted without much thought. Many would say that God’s sole purpose, intent, and motivation for creating humanity and all of creation was for His own self-glorification. If you were to ask God, “Why did you create us?”, his answer, without hesitation, would be, “Easy, to glorify myself.”
Many unbelievers will bring this up as a primary point of departure from the Christian faith. They would say that the Christian God is an egotistical maniac, only out for his own self-glory. As one person put it: “If I had a child I would not bring him into this world and say, ‘Congratulations, I created you to worship me’. I would not want a son simply to serve me.” He goes on, “I never asked to participate in this game of life. I was nothing and then I was created simply to serve him or I’d have to burn for eternity?” He goes on to accuse God of being egotistical, sharing in the most base traits of humanity. Is this true? Does God have a “relentless appetite for applause”?
Wrong answer #1: Yes, God is an egomaniac. But it is okay since he is God.
This is the answer many people would give (though not in so many words!). The idea is that being self-serving and demanding of recognition is acceptable so long as the recognition is warranted. It’s only bad when we do it because we don’t deserve it. Therefore, God’s egotism is a “righteous egotism.” What is base and sinful for man is not so with God.
I am going to let you in on a little secret. I am from Oklahoma. We have a certain way of getting by with things here through the way we talk. We can sanctify many conversations by using certain qualifiers. For example, we can get by with any gossip by simply adding the words “God bless his/her/their soul” to the end of the sentence. “Did you hear about Bobby and Susan? They are having marital problems, God bless their souls.” “I hear Rick is starting to drink again, God bless his soul.” I think we have something similar in Christianity. We can attribute just about anything to God so long as we tag it with the word “righteous.” God is vindictive, but it is a “righteous vindictiveness.” God is jealous, but it is a “righteous jealousy.” God is cruel, but it is a “righteous cruelty.” I think we need to be careful here. Sometimes these things are true, such as God’s jealousy (Deut. 5:9). But simply placing the word “righteous” in front of the character trait does not often do justice to what is trying to be said.
To say that God is egotistical or a glory monger without lots of qualification can do great damage to his character. It is not okay for us to ascribe attributes that do not fit God’s personality as revealed in Scripture.
However, let me first say this: God could very well be egotistical and self-consumed and we, as His creation, could not say anything to change that. We don’t have a vote in truth. Our ballots won’t get tallied in the heavens. God is who he is and we simply discover this. We don’t create him. But the fact still remains that even among the best and brightest of our kind, we do not honor glory mongers. Why? Because anyone who only seeks to draw attention to themselves is seen as a dysfunctional human who needs physiological help. We understand that one of the greatest characteristics humans can possess is being focused upon others, and not on their own greatness. Do we really want to allow God to bear a great dysfunction and call it a virtue simply because His is deserving? I would be very careful with this.
Theological Considerations: When we, without qualification, concede that God is only out for his own glory we implicitly deny His aseity, thus implying some sort of lack or need in God. The aseity of God is a doctrine which says God is without any need. Literally, he is “of himself.” This means that God does not need man in any way whatsoever. He was not in heaven twiddling his thumbs before creation and therefore decided to create us to avoid eternal boredom. It was not that God was lonely and needed companionship. Neither was God in need of someone to respond to him by giving him glory.
I love this passage of Scripture:
“Hear, O My people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you; I am God, your God. 8 “I do not reprove you for your sacrifices, And your burnt offerings are continually before Me. 9 I shall take no young bull out of your house Nor male goats out of your folds. 10 For every beast of the forest is Mine, The cattle on a thousand hills. 11 I know every bird of the mountains, And everything that moves in the field is Mine. 12 If I were hungry I would not tell you, For the world is Mine, and all it contains.”
God does not need people’s sacrifices. God does not need people’s prayers. God does not need people’s love. God owns everything. He is fully self-satisfied. And God did not and does not need us to glorify Him. Unless qualified with the reality of God’s aseity, saying God created us to glorify himself will do more harm than good.
Analogous Consideration: Consider an analogy for a moment. The closest that you and I can come to understanding the motive for creation is in having children. We have the ability to decide whether or not to have children. While we are not the ultimate creators of our children, we do serve as secondary causes and, from a human standpoint, do have a choice in the decision making process. When Kristie and I decided to start having children, we had reasons. But what if someone were to ask me why I had my first daughter Katelynn and I said, “Because I wanted to glorify myself. My primary purpose is that she would one day know how great I am.” You would probably send me off in a paddy wagon, and rightly so. But this is not the case. Kristie and I had Katelynn because it is a joy to share life with others. We receive great pleasure from this. We wanted someone to love, not necessarily someone who would love us. Katelynn will naturally respond in recognition of us and bring honor and glory to us so long as we deserve it. But our deserving this does not make it the motive behind our decision. I believe it is the same way with God. God is perfect and deserving of glory, and we, as His children, should recognize Him for who He is and thereby give Him glory. But this does not imply that His purpose in creation was for this end (again, unless qualified).
Biblical Consideration: If I were to hand a person a Bible who has never read it before and ask them to tell me why they think God created everything, I doubt that they would ever say at the end of the day, “The best I can tell is that God has created all things with the purpose that He receives glory.” What they would probably do is be overwhelmed by the generosity and mercy of God. I think the most natural conclusion from Scripture is to say that the God of the Bible created all of creation so that He could share of Himself. Therefore, generosity and grace would be the primary motive in creation, not self-glorification.
Notice, from the very beginning, God is seen as a giving God with no explanation as to why. I flip the pages of Scripture as if reading it for the first time and ask “Why is he doing all of this for man?” Adam was given life. God gave Adam the earth to rule over. He gave him the animals. If that weren’t enough, He then gave him Eve. Even when they rebelled, God initiated a plan to give man redemption. He gave them children and began to work through the line of one of them so that He could eventually redeem man who did not deserve to be redeemed. He gave Abraham a promise that He would be a father of many nations and that through him he would give the world a great blessing. When the fullness of time came, He gave His own Son over to a terrible death for man.
I am sorry, but I do not find an egotistical God whose sole unqualified purpose in creation is self-glorification. It is just not there, but maybe I have missed something.
But we are not done. If God is so concerned about some egotistical self-glorification, why is it that he is found consummating all things by sharing in his glory with us? Remember, when all is complete and the restoration of all things has come to pass, he gives his own glory over to humans.
“The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:16-17; emphasis added)
“And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:30; emphasis added)
“Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3)
Shining like the stars is a vivid illustration of receiving glory. I do not believe God is presented in the Scripture as one who is egotistically seeking to puff himself up. On the contrary, he is one who is continually giving of himself and sharing in his glory.
Wrong answer #2: No, God does not care about his own glory.
I think this answer is just as bad as the first. God does care about his own glory. God does seek to be worshiped. God does demand the allegiance of every created thing. But the reason is not because he needs these things. Nor is it because he has this one small eternal vice. The reason why he seeks his own glory is because he wants all of creation to be brought into concert with reality. He wants his beauty to be seen because he created us in such a way to find the most fulfillment and satisfaction in a recognition of the way things actually are. And the way things actually are is found in his glory.
Is it egotistical for the ocean to roar Is it egotistical for the sun to shine so bright. Is it egotistical for romantic love to make our hearts drop? Is it egotistical for chocolate to make our mouth water? Is it egotistical for the expanse of the universe to cause us to stand in awe? Is it egotistical for sex to feel good? Is it egotistical for music to affect our emotions? Is it egotistical for the sky to be blue? Yes, all of these are attributes of impersonal things. But they all call out for recognition nonetheless. This recognition brings fulfillment to us, not to the things themselves. When we see a personal God who not only created all these things that summon us to joyful recognition, but is also the very embodiment of them calling on us to glorify him, he is doing nothing else but what is expected from a loving God. He is calling us to recognize him and his beauty. In doing so, we experience the greatest pleasure existence has to offer. His call for us to recognize him is nothing other than a call for our own ultimate fulfillment.
Not only this, but it brings glory to God to be who he is and to act out his character. When God says through the prophet Isaiah, “Everyone who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory, whom I have formed, even whom I have made” (Isa. 4:7; emphasis mine), he is not talking about an ego trip that he went on at creation, but the glory that he receives by being who he is—the creator.
The reason this made my list of questions I hope no one asks is not because the answer is that mysterious. Neither is it because (like so many of these) I don’t really want anyone to ask it. It is because it takes some deep thinking and is so often misunderstood. God is not an egomaniac. Far from it. I think it is clear from Scripture that he is the most giving and loving God we could imagine. He is a God who created us to share all things with us, including his glory.
While becoming man was the most humbling thing God has ever done (Phil. 2:5-8), I think creating man has to come in a close second. He knew man would reject him. He knew that without drastic intervention the very work of his hands, to whom he gave so much, would raise their fists in the air in defiance. He knew he would have to sacrifice his own Son to rescue the ones who hated him. Yet he did it anyway. And we want to call that egotistical? An egotistical God would not have dared to create man, knowing how much his ego would suffer from said creation.
God’s purpose in creating us was to give to us life, love, and joy. His purpose in creating us was for us to share in his glory. He calls on us to worship, serve, and adore him precisely because he wants us to be fulfilled. His glory is reality. Our glorifying him is merely a recognition of that reality. Therefore, our purpose in life is to bring God ultimate glory in hopes that all of creation will be completely fulfilled.
“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]