Lesson 11

The Trial: Is God Selfish?  

DEFENDANT: God

OCCUPATION:  Maker, ruler, judge of heavens and earth

ADDRESS:  Everywhere, particularly “the heavens” 

CHARGE:  Being selfish

EVIDENCE:

1. Hell, Fires of. Billions will suffer there, and the Defendant says he will do it to “display his wrath.” Defendant even threatens that “they will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb” (Revelation 14:10).

2. Intolerance of non-Christian religions. He calls them idolatry and says he will punish them.

3. Intolerance of numerous behaviors that people enjoy.

4. Insistence that people focus all attention on Defendant all the time. Intolerant of those who do otherwise.

5. Multiple unexpected outbursts of anger.

a. Nadab & Abihu, whom Defendant burned with fire while they offered sacrifices in Defendant’s temple (Leviticus 10:1-7).

b. Uzzah, whom Defendant struck dead while trying to keep Defendant's ark from falling to the ground (1 Chronicles 13:9-11).

c. Ananias and Sapphira, whom Defendant killed while they were donating money to Defendant's church (Acts 5:1-11).

d. Christians in Corinth whom Defendant killed because they ate their communion bread too quickly (1 Corinthians 11:29-32).

6. Repeated remarks that everything must happen for Defendants own glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). Refusal to share glory with others (Isaiah 48:11).

DEFENDANTS PLEA:  Guilty as charged.

1. The Bible says God is supreme in God’s own heart.

There are lots of passages in the Bible that honestly trouble a lot of readers—passages where God kills people, punishes people, says things that seem intolerant, offensive, even selfish. Whenever a passage in the Bible rubs us the wrong way, it should give us pause, because the problem is not with the Bible, but with us.

What is it we don’t understand about God’s character that makes some of God’s actions seem so unfair? There is one simple truth that—once grasped—makes us see things as God sees them and unlocks a renewed understanding of God and God’s ways. One single passion drives God’s heart. That passion, as teachers like Augustine and Jonathan Edwards have helped us to see, is this: God’s primary concern in everything he does is to bring glory to himself.

God is chiefly concerned with his own fame. God is self-centered. Selfish, one might even say. If there's one thing we know from the Bible, it's that God is chiefly concerned with the honor of his name—just look at the prayer Jesus taught us to pray (Matthew 6:9-13). Before ever getting to us and our needs, we pray for God’s name to be honored, for God’s rule (kingdom) to be furthered and for God’s will to be done.

Even when God saves sinners from their sins—a supreme act of generosity—God insists that he's doing it for his own benefit more than for ours. Observe how God speaks of salvation in Isaiah 48:11: "For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another."

2. There can be no Greater Good than God by definition.

Think about it. If it is humanity’s highest purpose to glorify God, how can we expect God to have a lesser purpose? Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength. God has not disobeyed this commandment. The first commandment was to have no other gods before the LORD. God is not an idolater. As John Piper explains, the most passionate heart for God in all the universe is God's heart. God's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy himself forever.

Read the words of J.I. Packer:

If it is right for man to have the glory of God as his goal, can it be wrong for God to have the same goal? If man can have no higher purpose than God’s glory, how can God? If it is wrong for man to seek a lesser end than this, it would be wrong for God, too. The reason it cannot be right for man to live for himself, as if he were God, is because he is not God. Those who insist that God should not seek His glory in all things are really asking that He cease to be God. And there is no greater blasphemy than to will God out of existence.

God is ultimate, not us. And true religion ultimately exists not for humanity, but for God. This is only reasonable. It is wrong for a man to be self-centered because that man is not actually the center of the universe. God is, always has been, and always shall be the center of the universe.

Were God to act as if another were central to the universe, that “other” would be God. It is wrong for man to judge, as if he were God, because he isn't God. But God is God, and it is right for him to perform the functions that are only worthy of God. Besides, God’s perfect character is the very standard of good and evil. Whatever God desires is good. Self-centeredness—what the Bible calls God’s deity (Romans 1)—is of the essence of God’s being God.

3. Rejecting God’s self-centeredness is the heart of idolatry.

To insist that God exist for my benefit is the core assumption behind all idolatry. We make God over in our image so that he can bend to our desires, not us to his. Jonathan Edwards suggested that until God's selfishness is precisely what attracts us to God, we have not yet begun to love God at all, but only ourselves. The heart of true worship is in line with God’s heart, and wants nothing more than for the King to be magnified. Let us remember Henry Blamires’ warning:

If we try to change the face of eternal God, we indulge in the supreme idolatry, beside which perhaps, in the scale of sin, adultery weighs like a feather and murder like a farthing. Yet the sin is committed among us, within Christendom, within the Church— maybe within ourselves; for are we sure, after all, that we prayed to the true God this morning?

Idolatry, in its most basic form, is making God into an instrument rather than an end. All true evangelism and every true apologetic MUST challenge the core idolatry of the human heart. Martin Luther noted that if we preach the gospel at every point except that point at which it’s currently under attack, then we have not preached the gospel of Jesus Christ.

4. God alone is not an Instrument.

Augustine explained that everything in the universe is one of two things. It is an instrument or it is an end. An instrument is something that has a purpose greater than itself—a function for which it exists and to which it is subservient. That purpose or function is the end for which it exists. Everything, Augustine explained, is an instrument. Pencils exist to write, toasters to make toast, mirrors to show a reflection. Even people are instruments—we have a purpose that is higher than ourselves. We have a function, a reason for our existence, a meaning to life. That purpose, or end, is the glory of God. We exist for God, to be agents by which his perfections are displayed.

Only God is not an instrument. God exists in himself, by himself, and for himself. He was not created, so he has no function beyond himself. He alone is the end for which all other things were created. Christians need to be extra careful not to make God into a means to a greater end of human salvation. To say that God exists to achieve some higher purpose of salvation is to commit the ultimate idolatry—to make God into an instrument for some purpose higher than himself. God is not an instrument, but the end for which we exist. This is why the English revivalist George Whitefield cried, “Let the name of Whitefield perish, so long as God is glorified!” Our salvation is the instrument to the higher end of praising God (1 Peter 2:9)!

5. Only God’s glory can answer every question.

The quest for truth ends when the seeker finds the answer to the questions of life—the one final answer that ultimately resolves every other question. The ultimate answer to every question—after all else is said and done—is “to glorify of God”:

6. God’s glory and humanity’s good are not mutually exclusive.

This teaching tends to hit people like a ton of bricks. Why? Is this a terrible notion? Not at all—this is it a cause for joy! If what we really want is for our Father to be honored, then no teaching should thrill us more! God’s self-centered majesty is what I find most beautiful about God—that God is God and there is no other! More than one Christian has been surprised by the joy he has experienced after giving his life over to God. Think about it—If we were created to glorify God, then glorifying God is True Humanism. We’re fulfilling our humanity most completely when we’re living for God. We satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts when we seek our satisfaction in the Lord’s perfections, base our dignity on his honor, ground our thinking in his wisdom, and give our lives over to furthering his fame. To state that human beings are a means to an end of God’s glory is not to lower humanity’s position, but to raise it up to its true position of dignity.

7. For One rightly self-centered, God sure has been generous.

Indeed, God had no obligation to save anybody, but generously chose to glorify himself not merely by displaying his justice against guilty sinners, but by displaying his mercy to sinners as well. The Lord is even referred to in the Scriptures as “the giving God.” Realize this; if God is the Greatest Good, then what is the most generous gift God could give? Himself. As Jesus tells us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Indeed, throughout the Scriptures, God gives himself to his people in a binding covenant, so that He belongs to us and we belong to him.

HOMEWORK

Think about these discussion questions over the next week. You may want to jot down your thoughts.

1. A friend remarks, “I don’t see how a good God could possibly have created a world full of so much suffering.” How would you respond?

2. How does the Christian belief in an historical Fall make sense out of the world we live in 

3. Why did the instructor say that free will is only a partial answer to the problem of evil? What’s the problem with the assertion that a creature who is free to sin is better than one who is not free to sin?

4. Why do you think people feel so uncomfortable saying that God allows evil in his plan in order to bring glory to himself?

5. The instructor stated that the rejection of God’s self-centeredness is the heart of human idolatry. Why is this so? Why is it only reasonable that God be self-centered.

6. A co-worker says, “I don’t see how God can tell me what to do. What right does he have to meddle in my life?” How do you respond? How could you point him to Jesus in the midst of this?

7. This apologetic lesson is as likely to make a believer hate Christianity more as it is likely to convert him. Why? If true evangelism has not taken place until you’ve challenged the idolatry of the human heart, then what should we make of gospel presentations that make sinners feel good but not challenged? Some have said to me, “If you teach God’s self-centered glory, no sinner will come to Jesus.” By human means, this is true—unless what happens???