I learned an interesting lesson yesterday, about an 'unfinished issue' from twenty years ago...
I remember a objection some anti-Christian dude raised to me some twenty-plus years ago, that bothered me a good bit then, and off-and-on for the next ten years or so (obviously, I am a slow thinker!). It was worded something like
"I cannot accept a God who is so infatuated with Himself that He makes a whole universe just to praise and worship him! How self-centered can you get?! The Christian religion says in one of its creeds that the "chief goal of man is to glorify God"--why is God such a glory-hog? I cannot respect a God that creates a race of people just to grovel before Him, and to constantly fill his ears with sycophantic (and threat-induced!) praise! This looks more like an insecure individual, with a horrible Napoleonic complex!"[Obviously, there are TONS of issues teeming in this statement, but I want to focus on the overt one, about God being a 'glory-hog'...]
At first, this seemed like a good objection, but after about ten years I realized the first aspect of the 'answer'--that of His love for truth. If God made the universe as it is, with its beauty, diversity, and dependence on Him, then 'praise' or 'glory' was the only truthful response to Him. In other words, given the relative disparity in power, elegance, goodness, integrity between the universe and God, a recognition of this disparity was the only 'intellectually honest' position to take. And since God is very much interested in intellectual honesty, then it only made sense for this response to be one God desired. He wanted us to be truthful about everything--ourselves, our world, and our God. And, accordingly, it didn't look quite as 'pathological' for God to desire this!
[Soon thereafter, I actually realized that the objection was misguided--the universe was actually created as a gift from the Father to the Son...when the Father, out of love for His Son, creates a universe through the Son, for the 'glory' of His Son (although we must factor in Philp 2 here!), the issue is significantly 'smaller', but let me continue with the ORIGINAL objection...]
Some six or seven years later, another piece of the answer came to light--that of His desire for the happiness/well-being/actualization of His creatures. I had by this time discovered that a person's happiness, well-being, and personal actualization was bound up with the number and intensity of "healthy" relationships maintained--with family, with other people, with authority, with secondary groups, with institutions, with self, with 'nature', with God. Defining 'healthiness' within a relationship typically involved 'working within the structures that inherently defined the relationship'. For example, if I were a child, it was healthy to respect my parents. If I was a parent, it was healthy to encourage and urge my children to develop. If I was a citizen, it was healthy to be "conforming" but still "dissenting" enough to make a contribution to the development, goals, and effectiveness of the institutions. So, if one of my primary (if not THE primary) relationships in life was that of my relationship to the God of the Universe, then my happiness/well-being/actualization would be adversely affected by an improper, dysfunctional, or ignored relationship with the Living God. It is ultimately restrictive/destructive for a person to have healthy relationships in only a few of the major areas--we generally must have at least a 'working' relationship with ALL of the relationships (that we are members of). And too, if a person is 'doing well' in all of the relationships, but IGNORING/FIGHTING God, their internal health is not at the highest level it should be. If the 'structures of the relationship' with God involves an awareness of His qualitative and quantitative differences from me (suitable to encourage me to honesty with, and dependence on, Him), then for God to seek for me to admit these differences was a matter no longer of just intellectual honesty, but now was a matter of seeking after my happiness, well-being, and actualization. It was now to my benefit (given the very definition of what I was as a creature!) to do this. And, accordingly, it didn't look quite as 'pathological' for God to desire this!
But yesterday I saw another aspect of this, another nuance.
My son took and passed his test for his driver's license yesterday. He had driven a little over 1,000 miles with me by his side over the past 7-8 months. We spent hours and hours working on this, first driving in circles in empty parking lots at midnight, practicing parallel parking between shopping carts, routine local trips (every excuse for an errand I could find), and then finally the big road trip (a 9-10 hour trip I took with each of my kids driving, involving all types of road conditions possible--deep city, mountains, tourist towns, old highways, winding narrow roads, horrid interstate loops, etc.). And yesterday he passed the exam. And on the way home, in between fits of euphoria and relief, this young man thanked me, genuinely and deeply, for all the hours, patience, instructions, nurturing, perseverance, encouragement I had given him...This little verbal appreciation message from him lasted only 3-4 minutes, but its effect on me was fascinating--I was proud of him for having the depth, sensitivity, and perspective to recognize that giving on my part! His "praise" and appreciation for my 'goodness' spoke volumes about HIS character, depth, honesty, sensitivity. I did not do those things to 'earn' his appreciation at all, but the fact that he responded in this way impressed me immensely, and I was ready to praise HIM for his response...
Later, as I was reflecting on this, I thought of two NT verses:
A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29 No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God. (Rom 2.29)The concept of receiving praise from God has always seemed a bit strange, but it has become less so after decades of parenting the precious folks I call 'kids'. The issue in praising them is not MY character, but THEIRS, and the two intersect as they reflect upon the nature of OUR history and relationship. I know now that as I acknowledge God's kindness to me and His beautiful character, His 'respect' for me (in some sense) or His 'praise' for my developing character grows--at the same rate as His father-heart's smile broadens.
Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. (I Cor 4.5)
And for the living and loving God to be interested in me coming to that awareness--so that He can honor, acknowledge, and praise my developed character--doesn't look pathological at all. On the contrary, I am even more amazed at the beauty of His heart...
And I can remember the first time I wept over the kindness of God to me, and the first time He disciplined me by an overt instance of obviously undeserved blessing (now THAT is humbling!), and the first time my soul was "mystically lifted up" in praise to Him...awesome, "numinous", transformational, addictive experiences these...I don't "mind" praising Him at all--this creaturely role does have its benefits...(grin)...remember, the FULL VERSION of that creedal statement was "The Chief End of Mankind is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever"...
I am sure there are more lessons to be learned about this issue...all the questions are not answered...but I am sure it will probably take me another 5-7 years to 'get' the next piece of the puzzle...(smile)
Glenn Miller, 8/30/97