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.


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