Why God Is Not a Megalomaniac in Demanding to Be Worshiped
Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) Annual Meeting | Providence, Rhode Island
Several years ago Wayne Grudem told me that I should come to ETS more often because I am surrounded by people at my church who largely agree with me and may not challenge me in the way I would be challenged here at ETS. Here people will be more critical, and I will be helped to avoid error and refine my thinking.
So here I am, and I am looking for criticism—or at least penetrating questions that will help me avoid error and sharpen my biblical thinking. That means I aim to leave half my time for questions. That also means I can only give a few theses and a few arguments.
What I am presenting is the nub of what I have been saying over and over for about 25 years. This will not be new. I hope that your questions about it will help me do better if the Lord gives me a few more years, because this message is close to the heart of what I believe he put me on the earth to say.
My all-shaping conviction is that God created the universe in order that he might be worshipped with white-hot intensity by created beings who see his glory manifested in creation and history and supremely in the saving work of Christ.
I am also persuaded that people need to be confronted with how self-exalting God is in this purpose. To confront them with this, I give a quiz:
Q 1: What is the chief end of God?
A: The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy displaying and magnifying his glory forever.
Q 2: Who is the most God-centered person in the universe?
Q 3: Who is uppermost in God’s affections?
Q 4: Is God an idolater?
A: No. He has no other gods before him.
Q 5: What is God’s chief jealousy?
A: God’s chief jealousy is to be known, admired, trusted, enjoyed, and obeyed above all others.
Q 6: Do you feel most loved by God because he makes much of you, or because he frees you to enjoy making much of him forever?
I press on this because I believe that if we are God-centered simply because we consciously or unconsciously believe God is man-centered, then our God-centeredness is in reality man-centeredness. Teaching God’s God-centeredness forces this issue of whether we treasure God because of his excellence or mainly because he endorses ours.
God’s eternal, radical, ultimate commitment to his own self-exaltation permeates Scripture. His aim to be exalted glorified, admired, magnified, praised, and reverenced is seen to be the ultimate goal of all creation, all providence, and all saving acts.
- “He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace” (Ephesians 1:5–6).
- God created the natural world to display his glory: “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalms 19:1).
- “You are my servant Israel in whom I will be glorified” (Isaiah 49:3); “. . . that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory (Jeremiah 13:11).
- “He saved them [at the Red Sea] for his name’s sake that he might make known his mighty power” (Psalm l06:7–8); “I have raised you up for this very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Romans 9:17).
- “I acted [in the wilderness] for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations in whose sight I had brought them out (Ezekiel 20:14).
- [After asking for a king] “Fear not . . . For the Lord will not cast away his people for his great name’s sake (l Samuel 12:20–22).
- “Thus says the Lord God, It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act [in bringing you back from the exile], but for the sake of my holy name . . . . And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name . . . and the nations will know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 36:22–23, 32). “For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; For how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 48:11).
- “Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:8–9).
- “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (John 12:27, 28).
- “He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15).
- “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9–11).
- “I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25).
- “Whoever serves [let him serve], as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified” (1 Peter 4:11).
- “Immediately an angel of the Lord smote [Herod] because he did not give glory to God” (Acts 12:23).
- “. . . when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints and to be marveled at in all who have believed (2 Thessalonians l:9–l0).
- “Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory, which thou hast given me in Thy love for me before the foundation of the world” (John l7:24).
- “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).
- “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the lamb” (Revelation 21:23).
This is not megalomania because, unlike our self-exaltation, God’s self-exaltation draws attention to what gives greatest and longest joy, namely, himself. When we exalt ourselves, we lure people away from the one thing that can satisfy their souls—the infinite beauty of God. When God exalts himself, he manifests the one thing that can satisfy our souls, namely, God.
Therefore, God is the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation is the most loving act, since love labors and suffers to enthrall us with what is infinitely and eternally satisfying, namely, God. Therefore, when God exalts God and commands us to join him, he is pursuing our highest, deepest, longest happiness. This is love, not megalomania.
God’s pursuit of his glory and our pursuit of our joy turn out to be the same pursuit. This is what Christ died to achieve. “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). When we are brought to God as our highest treasure, he gets the glory and we get the pleasure.
To see this and believe this and experience this is radically transforming to worship—whether personal or corporate, marketplace or liturgical.