If you have come from a spiritually abusive background, you most often suffer with a view of God that is distant, harsh, and arrogant. God was often depicted as this self-obsessed ego maniac who is hell-bent on forcing everybody to acknowledge how great He is. We’ve been examining 1 Corinthians 13 to see what the characteristics of our loving God must be. Already in this series, you’ve probably challenged some of the ways in which you’ve viewed God. Here we do so again, because, contrary to the fundamentalist portrayal of God as arrogant and capricious, the Apostle Paul writes that love is not proud, does not boast, and that it does not insist on its own rights. It’s not about oneself. Yet, for those of us who were exposed to a spiritually vitriolic environment, it may be difficult to look at a verse like Isaiah 48:11, which reads, “How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another,” and conclude anything but that God is a narcissist. How do we understand the concept of God being loving and yet someone who, at the same time, seems to be obsessed with His own glory? You’ll hear many Christians say, “It’s all about God, not you.” Is this really true?
With all of this focus on His glory, some may wonder whether God has a self-esteem that is unmatched. The term self-esteem is itself neutral. It means the evaluation of one’s personal worth or value. One’s self-esteem can be high or low. Of course, one’s evaluation of his self-worth is not always accurate, so it’s important to include the point that one’s self-evaluation, high or low, must be accurate, otherwise it’s delusional. What about God? Does He break the heights of the “self-esteem meter?” It seems like a silly question, but, it’s a psychological fact that any truly loving person must have a good self-esteem. Yet, as we’ve said, many people think that God has too high of a self-esteem. Certainly, God values Himself as a Being of infinite worth. Is God proud or cocky for doing so? Is He self-obsessed? In the Isaiah passage we looked at before, it kind of sounds like God is obsessed with getting the credit or is worried about His reputation. It doesn’t sound like someone who has a very positive self-esteem and we know that people who do not have positive self-esteem can become narcissistic. Is God like this? Now, most people who feel that He is would never admit to anyone (or even themselves) that they feel this way about God. I mean, who is man that he should accuse God of being arrogant?
But this is a serious problem, because, as we said earlier, 1 Corinthians 13 says that love is not proud, it does not boast, and it isn’t obsessed with its personal rights to the detriment of others. If God is love, then He is none of these things. How do we square this with passages like the aforementioned, which clearly seem to indicate that God seems adamant about not giving up His glory? Let’s begin answering this question by defining our terms. True, humble glory is the manifestation of an object’s beauty or greatness for the benefit or enjoyment of those who behold it. The joy of the glorified person is in the blessing of its glory to others. Thus, if God has a humble glory, it is the manifestation of God’s beauty or greatness, not for His own ego, but for the good of those who experience it. He would not find joy and satisfaction in getting His ego stroked, but in our experiencing the manifest beauty and greatness of being in relationship with Him and our enjoyment of Him and His blessings (and, of course, any love freely offered, not demanded, in return). Does this definition of humble glory describe God? Can we say that God has this humble glory (the opposite of pride) when He is so intent on assuring that His glory is not compromised? How can God, or anyone for that matter, manifest His glory without it being all about Him? How can it be humble for anyone to glorify himself?
Psychology can be of great help in understanding this mystery. Since we are made in God’s image, His Person(s) function relationally the same as we do. Object relations theory sheds light on how objects (or persons) relate to one another. The theory posits that as one’s ego (self) begins to form, he develops internal relationships to different objects (persons). These relationships with persons (both the “self” and others) that a child forms determine the relationship patterns he will exhibit in later relationships in his life. If a child has positive, loving relationships as he grows up, then he will love both himself and others. If he has poor, unloving relationships as he grows up, then he will be self-destructive and selfish toward others. Why does it work this way? The person who feels loved, or valued, in his relationships with other people comes to love and value himself as having intrinsic worth. We all crave being valued. When we are loved, we conclude that our being valued means we are persons of immense worth and we direct the valuing love other others have for us toward our “self.” When we fail to attain love in our relationships, then we conclude that our not being valued means we have no inherent worth. However, this does not make the desire to feel valuable go away. The result is that people then engage in behaviors, both good and bad, in order to elicit from others the praise or attention that will make them feel loved (at least temporarily). Thus, the person with low self-esteem will be destructive and self-centered while the person who sees himself as one of great worth will act from altruistic and others-centered motivations. They are not trying to gain self worth through those actions, because they already have it as a result of being loved.
How does this apply to God and His glory? It works in a similar fashion, but, as with anything else with God, it works perfectly. In the Trinity, each person of the Triune God lovingly values infinitely each other person. Those other members receive that love and internalize it. Since each member of the Trinity loves the others perfectly and receives love perfectly from the others, their internal self-images are ones of infinite worth (a result of being loved – i.e. each loves Himself because He is loved by the others). The consequence of their own personal self-esteem need being met is that they are free, because of this love, to lovingly value the other members of the Trinity infinitely and selflessly.
This mutual, perfect valuing and seeking of the goodness and happiness among the members of the Trinity is the essence of love. All that flows from infinitely valuing another person is called love and this love manifests itself in many ways. This mutual perfect love provides that each member of the Trinity feels fully loved and, as a result, loves Himself. We said a bit earlier that when a person feels loved to the full and lovingly values himself (he has good self-esteem), then he is free to lovingly value others self-less-ly! When his need for positive self-esteem is met, a person is free to express his gifts, talents, and personality toward others (i.e. glorify himself) so that those on the receiving end who experience him in these ways may be blessed. The person’s sharing himself with others is for their benefit and not to boost his faulty self-concept. It works the same with God. He is free to display the beauty of who He is (the glory of His love) in all the earth to every person for their good, because His own needs for self worth are met within the Trinitiarian community.
Someone may object: “Aren’t you boasting when you show yourself off? Let me ask you this: are you boasting when you show someone something good that you did, like having painted a beautiful nature scene? That would be a form of glorifying yourself. If you did it to bless the other person so that they could rejoice in the beauty of the art you produced, then it wasn’t arrogant. It would be arrogant if you did it with an attitude which says, “Look at me! See how great of a painter I am and (unspokenly) that you’re not?” In that case, it’s done out of a lack of self-esteem. You don’t value yourself enough, so you try to make yourself feel valuable by making yourself out to be better than others through showing off something you did. That is pride – falsely valuing yourself higher than other people because, in reality, you feel you are worth less than them. Bragging about how much better you are than someone else is boasting. It is the exaltation of self at the expense and devaluing of another person.
What God is doing is the former. He is showing Himself off so that everyone else can get in on experiencing the beautiful expression of His loving attributes. Our experiencing His love and goodness is what happens when He glorifies Himself and our receiving those things from Him is that which brings Him pleasure. His ego’s self-esteem is not at stake, because He is perfectly lovingly valued within the Trinity. He has no need to seek positive esteem elsewhere, because it is met within Himself. This enables God to display the beauty of who He is to everyone on their behalf. His love, in the form of goodness, beauty, faithfulness, justice, and peacemaking, is all for the benefit of those that receive it and not for God’s own self-esteem boost! God is not glorifying Himself because He is trying to prove how much better than everyone else He is! He is doing it to bless the objects of His love. This love for His creation is purely selfless. The unselfish manifesting of all his actions, thoughts, and feelings in the life of His creation has an inherent beauty to it. Thus, this humble glory (beauty) of who He is shines forth in those things.
God never boasts, “See what I can do and you can’t?” Could you imagine how petty of a deity He would be if He were like that? You’ll never hear him say, “I’m more important than you, so it’s my way or the highway.” Instead, He says, “Let me show you the glory of my faithfulness so that you might feel wanted even when you mess up.” He says, “Let me show my glory by fighting for your justice so that I can defend the dignity of your being human.” He says, “I will demonstrate my glorious power in healing and restoring your weary soul.” The sad thing is, however, that many people do not understand God and His glory like this. They believe in the fundamentalist god that is arrogant and condescending towards them and they are taught that they are “supposed to” love this god. On the contrary, this view of him as being self-obsessed makes it difficult not to resent him. Who likes people who are always out to prove how much better they are than you?
But think about it. Is this low self-esteem and narcissistic god not exactly the opposite of the God pictured in Jesus? Jesus doesn’t show up on a lightning bolt and threaten everybody into conformity by showing off his omnipotence. He shows up as a humble baby, born in a stable, demonstrating the glory of a God who would humble Himself to become like one of His creatures. Only a secure God could do something like that. The other thing the apostle writes in 1 Corinthians 13 is that love does not insist on its own rights. It gives them up in order to bless others or wherever others might benefit. This is another form of selflessness that is manifested in God’s glory. Philippians 2 talks about how Jesus did not see being God as something to be clung to as if to assert His right “to be God,” but that he willingly humbled Himself to be a servant of all. He didn’t use His power as God to serve Himself or give Himself an unfair advantage, but to meet the needs of other people. He used his power to heal and deliver from affliction. He used his omniscience to teach and guide the lost. He gave up the right to use all the attributes of His divinity so that He could walk among us and show us the true heart and face of God. This humble attitude, born of a God who is secure within Himself, is ultimately displayed on the cross. This, my friends, is the glory of God! The glory of God is that He selflessly loves others by expressing these attributes in relationship with them.
Remember that it is only because of the love of the members of the Trinity for each other within the Divine Community that God’s own need to be loved and to love Himself is met. Without being needy in any way for affirmation or self-esteem (having an infinite quantity of both), the only other reason for displaying his loving attributes is for the good of other people. God’s defense of His glory (see the Isaiah verse again) is not for the sake of His ego, but because, when it is mocked or misrepresented, people might misunderstand who our wonderful God is and fail to experience the fullness of His love for them. If that were to be the case, then those people would miss out! Think about your own experience. When you have failed to behold the glory of God’s love for you, what has happened? You are stuck with the idolatrous image of god who is stingy, heady, and selfish. Your failure to see the glory of God hurts you!
So to answer one of the first questions we asked: no, it’s not “all about Him” as you hear many Christians say. It’s about all of us. If it were only about God, then God has a major ego problem. His glory wouldn’t be all that glorious since it is self-seeking in nature. If God doesn’t really love you for your own good without the motive to get something in return, then He doesn’t really love you. His “love” for you would just be fishing for a compliment to boost his own low self-esteem. This motivation is hardly worthy of praise and love in return. It’s flat out selfish. Does God want to be loved and praised? Sure he does, just as we do. He desires our love in return, for this is what living in a loving relationship with Him is all about. Reciprocal love is necessary for a true, intimate relationship to exist. He doesn’t need it (or us for that matter), but he does want it – a closeness of heart that He desires with us being the result. In summary, God glorifies Himself for our good!! Seeing the glory of God liberates us, fulfills us, grows us, makes us whole (holy), and, fittingly, results in loving worship in return.
So you can let go of your image of God as being some self-crazed megalomaniac and replace it with the true one of a humble God who displays His glory in loving us unconditionally. If you struggle with an image of God where He is self-obsessed and is not really into loving you for you, but so that He might be thought of as a great guy, then you can lay that aside as a lie that has kept you in bondage. Realize that every time God seeks to show His glory it is so that peace, justice, love, and goodness can be manifested in the lives of all people and in the creation itself. A loving God could do nothing else. The glory God shows is humble and that’s what makes it glorious.