That God demands man—indeed, created man—to worship him is a fact. He desires the praise and worship of every man and woman without exception. What does this tell us about God’s character? Is his demand and desire for worship unreasonable?
An article at the Richard Dawkins Foundation For Reason & Science website speculates upon a hypothetical scenario where a team of psychologists assess God’s behavioral profile. The author writes:
The following is what I think would be high on their lists. Narcissistic. God likes to be praised. If you don’t praise him, he will either kill you, send you to hell or excommunicate you.
Now, as to the broad assertion that God kills, damns, and excommunicates those who choose not to praise him, I’ll refer readers to Trent Horn’s new book, Hard Sayings, for a masterful refutation. But as to whether God is a narcissist, here are some thoughts.
God is the greatest
It seems God has good reason to think of himself as the greatest conceivable being, because he is, in fact, that. To describe God as anything less than that is to describe a divinity inconsistent with what Christians mean by God. St. Anselm, in his Proslogion, described God as “that than which nothing greater can be thought.” Not only is God the greatest thing to exist in reality—and thus more than just the greatest idea ever conceived—but, as Robert Sokolowski explains in The God of Faith and Reason, he is also unlimited in his greatness, whether he creates or not.
God plus the world (and God plus any creature) is not greater than God alone. This means that when the Creator creates, he doesn’t do it for his own increase in greatness; he acts purely out of love. Our existence is a gift, and gratitude ought to be our response.
A narcissist has an exaggerated sense of self-importance and, thus, suffers from delusion. A person who understands himself as “the greatest conceivable being” may well be called morally corrupt and, perhaps, insane. He is in error and sees the world—or wants the world to see him—in a way that is not in accord with reality (like the lunatic and liar of C.S. Lewis’s trilemma argument). But a person who understands himself to be “the greatest conceivable being” andis that sees what is really and truly there. He sees reality as it truly is—and “to see what truly is” is the measure of sanity. One can hardly fault God for his sanity.
If God is bad, a lot of people are wrong
If God were narcissistic or evil, then, as Lewis suggests in The Problem of Pain, it is no small wonder that such a vast number of men throughout history have come to understand God as good. If the God of the Bible is not good—if he is an egomaniac or a murderer or a despot—why has the majority of people believed that he is in fact good? Where are all of the believers in an evil God, or even a duality of gods?
Atheists don’t count as believers in an evil God, because they don’t believe in God (although they often sound as if they do). Perhaps this is what Chesterton was thinking when he wrote, ”If there were no God, there would be no atheists.” Certainly this is what Lewis was thinking when he said of his younger years before he became a Christian, “I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing. I was equally angry with him for creating a world.”
Divine revelation reveals quite a different God than the egotistical, self-serving one suggested above. There is no question that the Old Covenant people understood their God to be merciful and loving. Consider Psalm 100:4-5, a prayer of thanksgiving recited daily by the ancient Jewish people, which exclaims:
Give thanks to him, bless his name!
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
Narcissists don’t die for others
The New Testament helps to put the goodness of God into clearer focus. First, as St. John the Evangelist writes: God is love. Not only does the Trinity exist eternally as a perfect union of divine persons, God has chosen to create other persons to share in that inner life of love. To love is to will the good of the other, which God has done by creating us, not for his good (remember that he is unlimited in perfection in himself, whether he creates or not) but for our own good. Our very existence is contingent on the goodness of God. He is not interested in taking advantage of his creatures; rather, he wants them to share in his inner life as “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4).
Furthermore, God became man. Consider as an analogy how the dignity of Pope Francis the man is immeasurably greater than the dignity of a cardboard cutout of him. Now, God, in an even greater way, condescended an immeasurable distance to become man that he might suffer and die innocently for the salvation of mankind. God as Trinity is self-gift by his very nature, evidenced further by the Incarnation and redemption; he is not self-centered, focused on himself like cat chasing its tail.
Finally, that God demands the worship, or the unreserved love, of every man is not an arbitrary command of God: it is the nature of things. Man exists to worship God, and thus has an obligation to do so, precisely because man is man and God is God. Every human lives, moves, and has his being in God, and for that reason it is right and just for him to lovingly offer himself and all he has to his Creator; and God is never outdone in generosity.
God cannot increase in greatness; but man can—if he will live according to the natural order and choose to love God. As St. Athanasius wrote: “The Son of God became man so that we might become God.” The self-condescension and self-sacrifice implied in such a statement are hardly the marks of a narcissist.
***This post was originally published at Catholic.com.