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.

15 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.

  2. Yes, why exactly IS “god” selfish ??!!!
    I’ve asked myself this question so many times, and come up with the same answer; “he” doesn’t believe any of us are “good enough” to have nice things, so he makes up these wacko-retarded rules and regulations that we will NEVER humanly be able to follow, so that he won’t have to “bless” us with nice things. This “god” is a politician, full of lies in the bible, and expects US to worship “him”. WORSHIP him ???? No way !!! I could NEVER worship a cheap god !!! How could a loving god see people all over the world “saved AND “unsaved” suffer the way they do ? Sounds like a self-serving god to me !!! “I”, on the other hand and completely the OPPOSITE, and LOVE MORE THAN ANYTHING to help out those in need !!! And I ask NOTHING IN RETURN !!!!!!!!! I have more of a heart than “god”, and that is evident in everything I do. I hardly have ANYTHING, and yet would help out a person in need in a second. Unlike “god” who makes us wait and wait and wait, and in many cases STILL doesn’t give much money or help. This god could certainly learn a thing or two from me, that is for SURE !!!

  3. Just remember folks, “pride growth before a fall” look it up it’s in the Bible!!!

  4. Selfishness is god, if god love humanity he wouldn’t see people suffer for no good reason, if people are trying why are people been enslaved in to job that gives human no chance in life?

    Not everyone is an evil person.
    God let you down I didn’t let myself down it’s the need for us to do his will, he gave us a choose a choose I never had and when I die I will stand before god and say you ruined my life for your will.

  5. I do believe god is selfish becuase he always want everyone to do his will, but don’t we have a mind of our own to choose what we want? and do we want to do? and be who we want to be? and even choose who to love? etc…don’t we have a right to our own dreams!? it’slways his way!!!!? his way is not necessarily what would make us happy! and i don’t appreciate preacher joyce meyer always telling us to do god,s will!!! like we don’t have the right to do what we want to do to make ourselves happy! etc like we don’t have the right to make our dreams come true unless we do god’s will? etc i would love to ask her, if we will do god’s way all the time, will we be truly happy!? i don’t think so!!!! or we might as well be a puppet to GOD! joyce meyer and all of those preachers on tv are only interested in one thing! to become richer selling their crappy dvds, videos, books etc! what a shame!!!!

  6. if i will receive a message that i will not like, then i will not respond.

  7. I wonder about the question too and I was confused with all the thoughts in my mind like God is “craving” for attention when people seem to forget Him. People are easy to be tempted with and when they choose to go with it even if they knew it’s wrong, they only add up their sins. His rules are truthfully hard to fulfill, I feel sad and guilty whenever I make intentional mistakes when I knew He is watching me always. Everyday I always repeat it not minding His rules, yes I am unconscionable and thick-faced to ask from Him and pray to Him to forgive me when at the end I still make the same. I know all these hardships, struggles, sacrifices and sufferings only leads us to what it is to be trully happy and contented when we live with God’s guidance. To the people who lost faith in Him, open up your eyes, minds and hearts, see the goodness of your surroundings. If you see nothing, don’t let anger embrace your hearts but never stop doing your best for what you think is just. God has plans for all of us, and these are all just challenges– don’t let it consume you, don’t let it be the reason for you to give up! God is where you find heal, enlightenment and peace of mind.

  8. I’m trying to stop that doing for me to have a peace of mind and to draw myself closer to God.

  9. If he wouldn’t have created us though, we wouldn’t have to go through torment and pain. If he would have just left well enough alone, we wouldn’t be enduring the junk we have to endure. It would have been better if he wouldnt have created anything.

  10. Okay, so if God is beyond human attributes and doesnt feel lonliness to begin with, what is the point of creating beings for the sole purpose of loving and worshipping him? Your article just jumps around the question and literally doesn’t answer it. If he doesn’t need our love but creates us anyway demanding it or being damned to hell, seems like a selfish thing to do. I can understand that he is not the cause of human suffering, but he created us knowing the monstrosities we are capable of, lets it occur, demands worship to be saved, lets the antichrist reign, lol do I need to go on?

  11. Hi Pete –

    I wrote this six years ago and would probably say that some of my own theological understanding of God has changed slightly, but not all. A God who demands our loving him is certainly not my image of God. Love cannot be forced or coerced. By its very nature it is freely given. I believe God created us out of an act of love, just as children (hopefully) come forth from their parents’ love. If God is love, then the very nature of God’s creation is borne from that love. Love is creative! There is no other way. A God who is Love does not sit stagnant, but creates, generates… And God does not demand our worship or a particular response – rather we are invited to a particular love response, chosen freely. One who truly loves another risks/allows the possibility of rejection because of their love for the other. And if rejected, they accept that out of the deep love and respect of the other’s freedom. So I’m still in agreement with the two-fold reason for our worship and praise – (1) that it is a love response borne out of gratitude and (2) that we glorify God in order to share and participate in God’s ongoing creation (love is always generative).

    I tend to think hell is something we need more than God. We like to think of God as a wrathful one who damns people to hell, with no second changes, no escape. We imagine God’s justice is retributive justice. We want people to be in hell because we can’t imagine a God who is infinitely loving and merciful, who would spare even our worst enemies.


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