Many of us are compelled into saving faith in Christ by the all-giving, self-sacrificial atonement He performed as His all-encompassing declaration of His eternal love for the world. In many instances we assume that this was God’s ultimate design, purpose and goal in the history of mankind all along: to save sinners like us and restore the brokenness of this world.
And yes, we must affirm that part of the purpose of God’s redemptive plan was that He loved us so much as to reconcile broken relationships with Him (John 3:16) and to bring about complete restoration in His creation (Acts 3:19-21; Rev 21:3-5). But what we often neglect from what Scripture teaches about the counsel of God’s will is that all these above goals are subservient to His ultimate goal: to bring maximum glory and praise to Himself. The apostle Paul in Ephesians 1:5-6 says that, “[God] predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will… to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” He reiterates this truth again in verse 12, having been predestined according to God’s plan and purpose we were chosen, “in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ… might be for the praise of his glory.”
These verses make it crystal clear that making Himself known to the world to be glorified in the beauty, power and splendour of His divine perfections is God’s greatest imperative, and the redemption of both mankind and creation are the means that serve towards this ultimate end.
But this begs the question: Doesn’t this sound selfish to do, even for God Himself? Why does God feel the need to bring attention to Himself? Is He that insecure about Himself? Wouldn’t God be seen as a narcissist who is excessively obsessed with Himself?
These objections are real and confronting. If I’m willing to bet on the number one reason for why many Christians strongly object to God’s divine prerogative to glorify Himself, it would be this: we just hate attention seekers. These kinds of people are always looking for every opportunity to make it all about themselves! These are the types who boast in the prestige of the university they attend to and the degrees they study, whilst verbally defecating on other people for the somewhat questionable choices of university and profession they made. The types who are infatuated with their own good looks, collection of material possessions or proficient skills, and consider themselves superior over others who comparatively might not be as attractive, wealthy or gifted as they are. The types who brag of their own achievements in their career, and demean other people for the perceived lack of success in theirs. Don’t we all share the same sentiment of irritability and resentment whenever these attention seekers begin to open their wide mouths?
The common denominator within all of these relatable examples shown are that these braggarts place others as side-characters in their own life narrative to accentuate their significance as the main character in their own fantasy world. They puff themselves up in their overblown egos at the expense of others’ integrity. They hunger for attention, respect and glory that is devoid of the hunger to cultivate joy and happiness in others.
But is God really like this? Does He really belittle others to make Himself look better? Is God exclusively concerned about Himself, with no regard for others? It is here that we need to make at least two considerations:
1) “Self-centred” Selfishness vs “Other-person-centred” Self-interest
I find it most helpful to make the distinction here between plain ‘selfishness’ and ‘self-interest.’ In hindsight, these two terms seem intimately connected and can often be used interchangeably. However, there is actually a subtle difference that distinguishes the two:
Selfishness is the pursuit of joy, pleasure and welfare exclusively for oneself, generally at the cost of other people. It’s not overly difficult to think of some of these examples that typically manifest in our own lives. We are often captivated by the mere minutes we save on the clock, to only throw other people’s lives in danger when we are speeding over the limit. Not much thought comes to our minds when we snatch as much stationary and other freebies as we can at the annual Careers Expo, leaving none for other people to take. When we go out to eat in group settings, some of us like to evade paying for our own dishes in the hopes that someone else will pick up the tab! There is no regard for anyone’s wellbeing but ourselves.
But “other-person-centred” self-interest seeks to find joy and pleasure for themselves, in the flourishing joy and pleasure in others! Come with me into this thought experiment:
Your good mate decides to take you to eat at a fine-dining restaurant and orders the most extravagant dishes for the both of you. He also graciously pays the entire bill. Savouring every bite of the cuisine and enjoying every single moment of the fine-dining experience, you ask your mate, “Why did you go all this way to take me here? You didn’t have to pay for my share either! Why?”
Your friend smiles and replies, “I find it my greatest joy when I’m spending time with you and seeing you having such a great time trying these exotic cuisines!”
Now how should you respond to this statement? Would you dare say your friend is being selfish for trying to seek joy and pleasure for himself through his self-less act of generosity to you?
This makes all the difference. There is a way to seek joy and delight in oneself, through seeking the joy and delight in other people! By this same principle, the God of the universe finds His greatest joy in receiving the praises of His name from the professions of His church, recipients of His sovereign grace who have experienced the eternal love that God has given to them by the atoning work of His Son. God is pleased to bestow His mercy on us, for our indescribable joy in Him is what brings Him the greatest glory! God finds joy in our joy. The Psalmist understood the extraordinary delight that the living God has when His people abide in His steadfast love:
His pleasure is not in
the strength of the horse,
nor his delight in the legs of the warrior;
the Lord delights in those who fear him,
who put their hope in his unfailing love. (Psalm 147:10-11)
2) God’s greatest act of love to mankind is to bring glory to Himself
One of my favourite theologians, John Piper, postulates this brilliant argument in his best-selling book Desiring God on why we would all fall in utter despair and grief if God failed to pursue His own glory.
He argues that since God is an infinitely-glorious and totally-sufficient Being, He must be for Himself if He is to be for us (p 47). What this means is that if the infinitely-glorious God does not promote Himself as the Source of eternal joy, then it effectively implies that there are other sources that are more valuable than Himself. But we know that all that is in creation fails to satisfy our eternal longings, so where else can we direct the desires of our hearts to?
Mankind can never experience the full stature of exhilarating joy and satisfaction if God doesn’t utterly commit Himself to seeking His own glory and praise, by revealing Himself as the Source of ultimate joy to mankind. If we want God to be for us, then God must be for Himself.
So to conclude, is God utterly selfish to demand worship and attention from all people around the world? I think not. Far from ever being narcissistic, the almighty God thrives to exalt Himself rightfully and demands the praises of His name for the wondrous works He has done in saving us from sin, because our praises vindicate the encounters of everlasting joy we have in His communion. The most loving thing God could ever do for us, is to promote His excellence and glory to us!