Tuesday, November 20, 2007
"For God so loved Himself?" Is God a Narcissist?
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'.
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.
What's wrong with this picture? How about the basic understanding of God's essential and moral character?
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..."?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.