God’s Selfishness

Over at …in the outer…, there’s a post about how selfish God seems to be, because he wants to be worshiped and get all the attention and glory, and because he’s wired the universe so that we can’t really be happy unless we’re in line with him and his ways.

Yeah. I feel that way fairly often, too. These are some of the things I remind myself about in response to God’s apparent glory-hunger:

* God is selfish in the positive sense — he has a self, and lives and moves in and through that self; he is absolutely secure in his identity, self-image, self-worth, and all that, without any sin of pride (our pride is to want to be in God’s place; he’s already there and rightfully so) or thinking too highly of himself (how can he? he’s God).
* God is not selfish in the sense of not loving or serving others . There is love and service within the trinity, which is all about relationship. Love and service and worship and glory are given and received from Father to Son to Holy Spirit and so on.
* As for us, Jesus said he came to serve us, not to be served, and his sacrificial death is weightier evidence for God’s love (charity, unselfishness) for us than his requirements of worship are for his egotism.
* Somehow God’s requirements for worship are actually part of his love and service to us; they’re somehow for our protection and provision. And yet that doesn’t mean that God’s highest purpose is to love and serve us; we must flee the temptation to think that our existence completes God, that he would be lonely or meaningless without us. The trinity is complete in themselves. On the other hand, we should also flee the temptation to think his pleasure in us is the pleasure of a tyrant or chessplayer or an admired diva.

Then there’s that second idea that God unfairly wired the universe so that we can’t be happy apart from him and his will. The “how can the pot say to the potter, why did you make me this way” thing. A feeling of chafing captivity, which is hateful no matter how benevolently it’s carried out. This idea is also connected with the last statement in that last bullet above.

What if the potter is a tyrant who is oppressing me with his definition of what the pot should be like? If I feel I have been made wrongly, or if I feel I should be something else, where do such feelings come from? After all, clay is content to be clay, and turtles and trees are content to be what they are.

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis points out that we would have no concept of things being wrong with this world — evil, sin, injustice, unfairness — unless we were not at home, but strangers in a strange land, made for a better world. Fish don’t know they’re wet, because wet is home for them.

What if my sense of chafing captivity, and discontent with what I am, is the same sort of thing?

I think that’s partially true. I think some of our unfulfilled desires, and some of our sense of wrongness, do point us to what we are meant to be. The problem comes in the interpretation. Whose voice is wrong? Whose image of what we are meant to be is correct?

Consider one of my favorite novels, Brave New World, where people are grown in factories, each embryo treated and processed to be fit for the life ahead of it. Those people who are destined to work elevators are made to be happy with constant ups and downs; those who must work underground love the darkness; those whose work is menial feel no desire for intellectual pursuits. Sounds great, right — after all, someone has to do that kind of work, and why not eliminate unhappiness by making people’s expectations and desires fit their circumstances?

Of course, this novel is an anti-utopia. Huxley realizes that this kind of world is oppressive and dehumanizing, that it makes us less what we are meant to be, rather than more. The same is true of many voices in our culture, in our past experience, and so on, that tell us that the answer to discontent is to cut something off — to change our desires, to settle, to be reasonable, to conform.

We must not think the Bible’s talk of denying self, putting others first, serving, being content in all circumstances, being grateful, and so on, is this kind of destruction. In all these things, God aims to make us more what we are meant to be, and not less. There’s death involved, but it’s a death that leads to more life, not less.

On the other hand, we must not think God is a wild libertine who wants to free us from all boundaries and constraints and grant us to become what we think we are meant to be. God wants to free us from many things, but as the creator of all things, including us, he is the only one who knows what we are meant to be.

I think that the more we pursue him, and the more he pursues us, the more we will see how “thy desires e’er have been granted in what he ordaineth” (from “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,” by Joachim Neander) — when we think there is conflict, we should remind ourselves that God is more likely* to be right and us wrong, and that he loves us.

* I say “more likely” not because God is ever wrong, but because sometimes apparent conflict comes when we misunderstand God, and then we find that what he really means is the thing we thought we wanted all along. Of course, the opposite misunderstanding also occurs, when we find that what we wanted all along is really what he said, and not what we thought.

We can’t separate God’s love for us and his holiness and righteousness. God loves us, and so he will make us right, even if it hurts, even if it kills us.

How’s that for tough love?

That brings me back to the command to worship God. One of the things worship does is remind me that God is the good guy, that he hates evil and false constraints and emptiness more than I do, and that he is going to bring me into that perfect state, that fulfillment of my deepest desires, even if they turn out to be different from what I imagined. It reminds me to heed my discontent, to let it turn me from the emptinesses I pursue to assuage it, turn me from the destructive voices that promise a fulfillment that is far less than the one God promises, turn me from the crooked willfulness with which I rebel against him, and turn me “to him who is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or even imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).

It’s interesting to read that whole sentence:

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

God’s glory is not in conflict with our glory, except when we misunderstand our glory or his.


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