Is God Self-centered?
There is a common misconception that God's over-arching desire is to promote His own glory, and that that desire control's everything He does. The idea is that God is essentially self-centered. To hear the proponents of this view, one would get the idea that God's greatest pleasure is to be praised, and His greatest desire is to have His glory increased. The rational for this view is that since God is the most important being in the universe, and is, in fact, the center of the universe, (and certainly nobody disputes that fact),therefore He must of necessity be self-centered. This may, indeed, seem quite reasonable. The old adage is "it's not bragging if you can do it. The only problem is that it does not reflect what the Bible actually says about Him. Jesus Christ is the absolutely perfect revelation of the Father, and nobody could ever say that Jesus was self-centered. The truth is, God has no need to be self-centered. He does not need to defend His position. It is not in jeopardy. C. S. Lewis says "We must not think Pride is something God forbids because He is offended at it, or that Humility is something He demands as due to His own dignity “ as if God Himself was proud. He is not in the least worried about His dignity. (Mere Christianity)
There are several passages used to defend the idea that God's primary aim is His own glory. I think the problem is that we don't really understand what glorifying God is all about. But I do think these passages need to be examined. The first is Isaiah 42:8. It says "I am the Lord; that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images. In context, this verse is talking about God's desire that His works not be attributed to idols. The question we must ask is, "why is God jealous of His glory? We understand that nothing can either diminish or enhance God's innate glory. God's glory is infinite. It can't be increased or decreased. What matters to God is people's perception. If people attribute God's works to idols, then they will trust in idols. If they attribute God's works to God, then they may trust in God. God is not affected one way or the other, but people are. God receives no benefit when He is glorified, but the people too whom He is glorified are greatly benefited. This is, I believe, key to understanding all these verses.
The second passage is Isaiah 43:7. The pertinent part is "I have created him for my glory, I have formed him, yea, I have made him. The "him in this passage is the nation of Israel. Surely we understand that God is not saying that He created Israel in order to increase His own glory. That is not possible. God's glory is infinite. He created them, rather, to be a witness to God's glory to all the nations. This is expressed in verse 10 of this chapter. So again, God's concern is not His innate glory, but His displayed glory. God loves the gentile nations, and Israel is to be His missionary to them.
Isaiah 48:11 is a little different. It says, "For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it: for how should my name be polluted? And I will not give my glory unto another. What is it that God is going to do "for mine own sake? Verse 9 tells us. He is going to refrain from cutting off Israel, and instead will defer His anger. He will, alternatively, refine them. He is doing so because of His promises to Abraham and others. His name would be polluted if He broke His promise. The world would say that God was not to be trusted. God's purpose is again missionary. His passion is that people would see and know His glory, with the end in view of their coming to Him in faith. God is not seeking His own benefit here (God cannot be benefited), but the benefit of the human race.
Ezekiel 39:21 says, "And I will set my glory among the heathen, and all the heathen shall see my judgment that I have executed, and my hand that I have laid upon them. Here again, God's glory is to be displayed, not increased! The purpose is so that both Jews and heathen will know who God is and what He is like. (vv. 22, 23) Who will benefit from such knowledge? Mankind, of course.
Malachi 2:2 tells us "If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name, saith the Lord of hosts, I will even send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings: yea, I have cursed them already, because ye do not lay it to heart. "Here, we might say, "surely we have an example of God looking out for Himself. But if we think carefully about it, I think we will see that God is still looking out for us. Is God injured when I glorify myself? Hardly. I am injured, because in glorifying myself, I am showing myself to be out of touch with reality “ in other words, insane. The benefit of recognizing reality is mine, not God's.
We could go on and look at Acts 12:23; Romans 9:23; Ephesians 1:6, 12; and II Corinthians 10:17. We will find the same theme in all of them. So what does it mean to glorify God? It means two things. First, it means to attribute glory to God, not because He needs more glory, but because He already has all the glory, and I cannot live successfully unless I recognize that reality. Secondly, it means to display God's glory to those around me, in order that "many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord. (Psalm 40:3) It never means me adding to or increasing God's glory, which is infinite, and it certainly does not mean that God is gratified or flattered by my praise, and somehow made to feel better about himself, as if He were a self-centered tyrant.
How we think about God matters very much, not because it threatens God's dignity, but because wrong thinking about God is destructive to us, and to others.
By Pastor Joel De Ford