Is God a Megalomaniac?
We have an email here from a mom named Coleen who is writing in on behalf of her son. And for the sake of anonymity of him, as a minor, I am not going to use his name here. Coleen, his mother, writes in to ask this. “Dear Pastor John, I am hoping you can help us with regards to the topic of God being a megalomaniac, which is what our fifteen-year-old son currently believes. We’ve talked about this, and he has said that you may be the only person who can change his thinking. Because of the Westminster Catechism’s answer to the chief end of man, he now believes that God is somehow weak and has an enormous ego, that he created human beings so they will worship him. That God is too ‘needy.’ My son wants to enjoy other things more than God and thinks ‘programming’ people to find their greatest happiness in worshiping him is coercive, mean, manipulative, and wrong.”
I don’t know Coleen’s son’s name, but for convenience sake, I’m going to call him Joe, and speak directly to him. According to his mom, Joe believes six things. What she doesn’t say, and if I were having a conversation with Joe, the first thing I would ask is probably, what are you basing your view of God on? Are you making it up? Are you trusting some human teacher? Are you deducing it from nature, and the logical use of nature? Or are you basing it on God’s word in Scripture? And how he answers that question would probably affect how I answer.
But, since I don’t know, I’m just going to rest my case with God’s word, since I regard all those other sources as very unlikely sources of reliable information about infinite reality, especially the source of my own head. I think if we are going to know anything about God for sure, God has to tell us. There’s no other way to know. We need both the word and the Spirit’s opening our hearts to see what’s really there. So let me say a word about the six things that I see Joe apparently believes about God.
First, he believes God is somehow weak. According to Scripture, “Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure” (Psalm 147:5). Job says, “The Almighty — we cannot find him; he is great in power” (Job 37:23). In fact, Job comes to the end of his book with this overriding conviction: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).
“God seeks our worship, not because it meets his need, but because it meets our need.”
In Isaiah 46:9–10, God himself puts it like this, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’”
So no, Joe, God is not weak. He is infinitely powerful. He upholds the universe by the word of his power. He holds you in being moment by moment. If he stopped thinking about you, you would vanish out of existence.
Good and Upright
Second, Joe says God has an enormous ego. The problem with that statement is that the connotation of the word ego is that his head is swollen beyond what it should be or he’s too big for his britches. He’s posturing and posing to get people to think he’s greater than he is, or that there’s a void inside his big, boasting head that desperately needs filling from others who can give him what he lacks. So, in this case, he’s always trying to make up for some deficiency from the contributions of others.
That’s the way we talk about big egos, but all of those connotations are sinful. They’re ugly. The Bible never portrays God in any of those sinful ways. None of those connotations about God’s self-exaltation are in the Bible. None of them.
None of those connotations is true of him. Psalm 25:8 says, “Good and upright is the Lord.” Or “The Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 100:5).
Joe, you seem to have decided to use this derogatory language about God because of this next thing you believe.
Created for Worship
The third thing is God created humans so that they will worship him. That’s true. That’s absolutely true. Listen to Isaiah: “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isaiah 43:6–7).
“If it is ugly and sinful for me to act like that, how can I admire a God who acts that way?”
Jesus in John 4:23 says God is seeking worshipers in spirit and in truth. In Ephesians 1:5–6 we read, “He predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” — why? — “to the praise of his glorious grace.”
So, Joe, it sounds like you’re asking, “If it is ugly and sinful for me to act like that, how can I admire a God who acts that way?” That’s a very good question. And here’s the reason that you dare not seek people’s worship while God should and must.
If I say to a crowd — puny, puny John Piper, sinful John Piper — if I say to a crowd, “I came tonight so that you would all see my beauty and find your greatest happiness in me” — if I believed that and said that, I would not be loving.
First, because I’d be wrong. I am not where your greatest happiness can be found. I am emphatically not where your greatest happiness can be found. Second, I would be unloving because I would be distracting you from the one whose beauty can make you supremely happy and satisfied, namely, God and all that he is for us in Christ.
But if God were to come into the room tonight and say to the crowd, “I came tonight so that you would see and know my divine beauty and find your greatest happiness in me,” he would not be unloving.
First, because it is true. He is the only source of deep and longest happiness. Psalm 16:11 says, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Second, he would not be distracting us from what would make us deeply and permanently happy. He would be giving us the surest way to joy, namely, offering us himself.
Now, Joe, add this to that thought. This is crucial — hear this. God did not just come into the room, or the world, and say, “Here I am for your enjoyment.” He came to people who hated him. He came to people who rejected him, who belittled him, who called him an egomaniac, and he died for us. He died for us. That is not weak. It’s not needy. It’s not what egomaniacs do. They don’t die for their enemies out of love.
Strength to suffer for his enemies and bring them to eternal happiness in worshiping him — that’s a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful strength. The most beautiful strength in the universe was shown at Calvary for sinners like you, Joe, and me.
The fourth thing you say is that he’s too needy. No, he’s not needy. He’s not needy at all. That’s not coming out of the Bible. It’s not coming out of reason. It’s coming out of unreason. Acts 17:25 states, “[God is not] served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” God does not need us. If he were hungry, he would not tell us (Psalm 50:12).
God seeks our worship, not because it meets his need, but because it meets our need. We were made. We’ve got this big, God-shaped vacuum in our hearts. We were made to enjoy God, know God, love God, serve God, and worship God — that is, to enjoy to the max and to overflow with admiration over what is most admirable.
Joe, I hope you take this right: God is stuck with being God. He didn’t choose to be beautiful. He is beautiful. He is absolutely who he is. “I am who I am,” he said (Exodus 3:14). The only question God has is not whether to be beautiful and all-satisfying. The question is whether he’s going to share it, and then die for it.
Giver of Happiness
Then Joe says, “God’s programming people to find their greatest happiness in worshiping him is coercive, mean, manipulative, and wrong.” There are two problems with this, Joe.
“Every pleasure not rooted in God will fail you. Your heart was made to find greatest and longest happiness in God.”
1. God’s way of bringing people to worship him is not programming. It’s not programmed because that implies computerized robots with no moral will and no soul, which we have. It’s a mystery of great proportion. So God is not manipulative. He’s not coercive.
2. The other problem is that it cannot be mean. It cannot be mean to bring a person to their greatest happiness. If it really is our greatest happiness, then you and I, Joe, would never want to leave it, not in a million years for anything. Which leaves us, Joe, with this question: Is your indictment of God not based mainly on good evidence from his word, but on the fact that you don’t like it, and you want very much to be free to enjoy other things more than God?
If that’s true, I pray and I hope and I ask you to reconsider. Every pleasure that isn’t rooted in God will fail you. Your heart was made to find greatest and longest happiness in God. If sin keeps you from supreme joy in God, sin needs to go, not God.