Sunday, November 25, 2007

God a Narcissist? No, for God truly is Worthy of All Praise.

Ben Wirthington recently published a post suggesting that the traditional Reformed view of God would tend to make God a Narcissist (link).

I'll line-by-line it:
BW: "I was recently reading through the proofs of a new book on New Testament Theology, and it was stated that the most basic theme or thesis of NT theology is --'God magnifying himself through Jesus Christ by means of the Holy Spirit'."
I answer: That is an excellent summary.

BW: There were various nuances and amplifications to the discussion, but the more one read, the more it appeared clear that God was being presented as a self-centered, self-referential being, whose basic motivation for what he does, including his motivation for saving people, is so that he might receive more glory. Even the sending of the Son and the work of the Spirit is said to be but a means to an end of God's self-adulation and praise.
I answer: Sounds correct.

BW: What's wrong with this picture? How about the basic understanding of God's essential and moral character?
I answer: Well, framed that way, BW has a lot to lose. If he's wrong, it turns out he doesn't even understand God's essential and moral character.

BW: For instance, suppose this thesis stated above is true-- would we not expect John 3.16 to read "for God so loved himself that he gave his only begotten Son..."?
I answer: The fact that a theme is the dominant theme does not mean that it is the only theme. Even so, when we look at John 3:16 we see immediately that God's expression of love of the world is salvation of those who believe on Him. God loves his creation, and consequently the creation loves God. Mission accomplished.

BW: Or again if this thesis is true, would we not expect Phil. 2.5-11 to read differently when it speaks about Christ emptying himself? If the Son is the very image and has the same character as the Father, wouldn't we expect this text to say--'who being in very nature God, devised a plan to glorify himself through his incarnation' if God really is so self-referential? In other words I am arguing Christ, the perfect image of God's character, reveals that God's character is essentially other directed self-sacrificial love. God loves people, not merely as means to his own ends, but as ends in themselves.
I answer: Actually, BW's answer betrays a lack of understanding of Trinitarian Christology. Christ does what the Father tells him to do. Christ is obedient to the Father. The Father the loves and commands the Son and the Son loves and obeys the Father. Yet, Christ is "about [his] Father's business," even in the Incarnation.

BW: Or take Heb. 12.2-- we are told that Jesus died for our sins, not 'for the glory set before him', and in view of how this would improve his honor rating but rather 'for the joy set before him'. That is, he despised the shame of dying on the cross, which death was the least self-glorifying thing he could do, because he knew of how it would benefit his people thereafter, and he took joy in that fact.
I answer: See above.

BW: Or re-read Hosea 11 where God explains that his love for his people is not at all like the fickle, self-seeking love of mere human beings. But rather God keeps loving his children, whether they praise or love or worship him or not.
I answer: God's not-fickle love is worthy of adulation, and consequently reinforces (rather than detracts) the theme that God's glorifies himself in Christ.

BW: Let me be clear that of course the Bible says it is our obligation to love, praise, and worship God, but this is a very different matter from the suggestion that God worships himself, is deeply worried about whether he has enough glory or not, and his deepest motivation for doing anything on earth is so that he can up his own glory quotient, or magnify and praise himself.
I answer: God knows that God is God. God could have no higher form of worship than that. Furthermore, just look at how heaven is arranged: the four beasts proclaiming the holiness of God, and the 24 elders repeating the same back to God.

BW: If we go back to the Garden of Eden story, one immediately notices that it is the Fall and sin which turned Adam and Eve into self-aware, self-centered, self-protecting beings. This is not how God had created them. Rather, he had created them in the divine image, and that divine image involves other directed, other centered love and relating. It follows from this that not the fallen narcissistic tendencies we manifest reflect what God is really like, but rather other directed, self-giving loving tendency.
I answer: The image of God has to do with ruling over creation, not being naked. But man was created to love his wife how? as he loves himself. The one command to man was a command for whose good besides man's own?

BW: I like the remark of Victor Furnish that God's love is not like a heat-seeking missile attracted to something inherently attractive in this or that person. Rather God's other-directed love bestows worth, honor, even glory. Notice exactly what Psalm 8.5 says--God has made us but a little less than God (or another reading would be, 'than the angels') and crowned human beings with glory and honor. Apparently this does not subtract from God's glory (see vs. 1) but simply adds to it. God it would appear is not merely a glory grabber, but rather a glory giver.
I answer: The penultimate line is the answer to the ultimate line. God does give others glory, and in doing so adds to His own. God does not only glorify himself, but that is the principal theme.

BW: I suppose we should not be surprised that in a culture and age of narcissism, we would recreate God in our own self-centered image, but it is surprising when we find orthodox Christians, and even careful scholars doing this.
I answer: There being no one higher to swear by, God swore by himself. It is narcissistic when folks swear by themselves, because they are not the highest. It is a psychological ailment when a man thinks himself to be a god, but it is perfect rationality for God to recognize His own Divine Supremacy.

Those of Westminster were right, hence, I will continue to affirm that man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.


UPDATE: See also here and here. Also, this nice post by Centuri0n.


Stand and Be Counted said...


Anonymous said...


it is written in the post, I don't know if I can attribute these words yours?:::>

[It is a psychological ailment when a man thinks himself to be a god, but it is perfect rationality for God to recognize His own Divine Supremacy.]

I would say, of course seeing God is the One being charged by Satan with his own demise!

I tell my sons to realize what Jesus was saying when praying thus:

Mat 26:39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will."

...that He was certainly unwilling to become the sin of the world.

What does that mean?

It means, if you believe sin is separation from God, that Jesus had to separate from Our Heavenly Father and the Holy Ghost.

It also means that of the Divine Covenant to save my wretched skin, ah, spirit, soul and body so that I might dwell with Them throughout the rest of Eternity, the Blessed Holy Ghost had to and did unequivocally 'VINDICATE' Jesus before God Our Heavenly Father:

1Ti 3:16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.

I like to imagine the crisis that would have occurred if the Holy Ghost could not do that?


Jesus loved us enough to become our sin so that we could become His Righteousness and stand before the Throne of Grace in "right standing" before God!

These matters make me tremble!

Turretinfan said...

Dear Michael,

You wrote: "sin is separation from God" (in the context of "if you believe that ..." - which I suppose means you don't necessarily agree).

I hear that mantra a lot.

The problem is that sin is better defined as any lack of conformity to and/or transgression of the law of God.

Christ bore the wrath of God in his person on the cross.

I don't think it is completely accurate to say that he became separate from the Father, but I think it would be fair to say that he felt separate.

Hence it is both written "I will never leave you nor forsake you," and yet "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

Read that latter Psalm from beginning to end, though.

The wrath of God is something most fearful, and something Christ suffered instead of his people.

All praise and glory be to the Most High God!