Is God selfish?

I already asked Siri why God created human beings and all she said was that it was a good question and that she’d be happy to search the web for that. The purpose of life however, she told me, is 42. I then insisted: 

Thanks for nothing, Siri.

I’m no theologian, but who hasn’t heard that God created human beings to love and praise him? We do nothing but praise him. We sing praise and worship music. We go to church to worship. We have worship leaders. The psalms say over and over, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.” (Psalm 51:15, NRSV) St Augustine speaks of the goodness God gives and then says, “You therefore command me to praise you for that and to ‘confess to you and to sing your name, Most High…’” (Confessions). “If you will not listen, if you will not lay it to heart to give glory to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse on you and I will curse your blessings.” (Malachi 2:2a, NRSV) We were made for God’s glory and God demands it!

But what does that mean? Is God… selfish? (Gasp!) There are two points we should make. First, “selfish” is an adjective we attribute to humans. We would be horrified at the thought of a parent having a child for the sole purpose of having the child serve or worship them. God has existed before time and has always existed. God is Creator and therefore there is no greater being than God. God cannot search outside of Godself to find someone with more power or more glory. So there is no purpose in God being selfish because all Creation belongs to God! As human beings it is so easy to project human attributes onto God, such as when some might say that God created us because he was “lonely”. Loneliness is a human attribute. So unfortunately we cannot think in human terms. When a human glorifies him or herself it only causes hurt to others, not joy. Even the human Jesus was not selfish. He did all he did not to draw attention to himself, but to glorify his Father in Heaven.

The second point is that “selfish” is defined as lacking consideration for others. When you picture God, do you see a god saying, “Me me me me me!!”? Unlikely. God continuously gives and pours out blessings on his creation and onto us. Ignatius says God gives in these ways:

  • God gives me all sorts of gifts (friends, things, talents, graces)
  • God self-gives (God becomes human in the person of Jesus and dwells with us)
  • God labours for me (sustains life, moulds me, dies on the cross for me)
  • God’s giving never ceases

And before you call God a power-wielding megalomaniac think a minute of the gift of free will given to human beings. It’s right there in Genesis 1 when man was given dominion over the animals and plants, even given the freedom to eat from any tree, including the forbidden one. God’s giving lives throughout all of salvation history: freeing the Egyptians from slavery, saving Israel and installing just kings and rulers. Eucharistic Prayer IV from the Catholic Mass captures beautifully the good God has done for humankind:

We give you praise, Father most holy, for you are great, and you have fashioned all your works in wisdom and in love. You formed man in your own image and entrusted the whole world to his care, so that in serving you alone, the Creator, he might have dominion over all creatures.

And when through disobedience he had lost your friendship, you did not abandon him to the domain of death. For you came in mercy to the aid of all, so that those who seek might find you. Time and again you offered them covenants and through the prophets taught them to look forward to salvation.

And then God chose to enter the struggle of human life in the person of Jesus. Need more be said about God’s giving? Seems rather selfless. So why must we glorify God?

Our glorifying God serves two purposes. First, it acts as a love-response to all the good God has done for us. Since there is no way to repay God for what he has given to us (and God doesn’t expect that) all we can do is praise him in gratitude. Second, the kind of glory God has is a sharing of his divine goodness with all creation. In fact, it might be “selfish” if God did not exhibit his glory and pour out his love and blessing. When we glorify God we not only show God our gratitude for all he has given us, but we actually act as an instrument for God’s glory and help bring it into the world. Is there part of the plan we can’t see? Of course, but what we do know is that God created human beings to live and work in the created world to use all created things, including our individual gifts, to bring peace, justice, and love to the earth.

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3 replies

  1. I always struggle in seeing God as selfish because of the way he made me. I struggle with feeling like he didn’t even consider our thoughts and feelings when he created us. And bc he’s the potter and I’m the clay I just gotta smile, ignore my existence and settle for the way that God has made me. I wish I created me than Him. I need to see Him as good, but I am just being honest. I mean no pity party.

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