Is ego ever appropriate in God or in people?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

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Question: If God created everything for His glory, and we are told to praise Him, doesn’t this show Him to be a selfish guy with a big ego? I don’t have a clear picture of how this works. When I think of God sitting on high — and we just praising and honoring Him — I think, how could that not be an ego driven thing? (Also, if that’s what heaven is, it sounds pretty boring!)

A related question is, since God seems to be chasing after us, we must be pretty important! So, aren’t we in danger of being accused of having big egos too because of this?

Answer: The basis of your query is biblically sound. God did indeed create everything for his glory (Psalm 19:1-4; Colossians 1:16). Furthermore, he wants his name to be proclaimed throughout all the earth! (Exodus 9:16). So, you are excused for questioning his motivations because these do sound like ego driven claims … I mean… what gives God the right to demand this of us? … and if he has the right, how is this not us merely stroking his ego?

If this is what’s going on in heaven, I must protest because that kind of give-and-take seems too small for such a big God.

The answer to this part of your question is pretty simple. God demands glory because he is worthy of it — this by definition (Revelation 4:11) — and any being who is ontologically worthy of glory should receive it without challenge. Furthermore, it should not be said of such a being that he has an ego problem — this too by definition — because intrinsic worthiness is mutually exclusive with vain ego.

Now, vain ego is the type of ego we humans have, but God’s ego could never be vain. Why not? Ego is appropriate in a being who is called “the Most High” over 200 times in Scripture. And how many beings like this are there? Just one! (Deuteronomy 6:4). Our God — the Creator-God of the Bible — is the only non-created being to have ever existed. As such, he is worthy of this type of glory (Genesis 1:1; Psalm 115)… but he alone is.

Here’s another way of looking at it. If God did not make it plain that he alone is the one who deserves praise and glory, he’d be setting us up for violating the first three of the Ten Commandments — and what kind of God would that be! The fact that he is worthy of glory makes him the only one who could issue such a moral code. This does not reflect an ego problem in the Almighty.

And God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God” …. “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” (Exodus 20:1–7, NIV)

But it’s not just the Bible that tells us to glorify God. The creation itself tells us to do this (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:18-20). After thousands of years of insisting that the universe itself was eternal (which was occasionally an ego problem among scientists), it is now the scientific consensus that the universe had a beginning… as the Bible had insisted all along (Genesis 1:1).

Now, philosophy says that any entity that began to exist had to have a cause of sufficient power to complete that task (See the Kalam cosmological argument)… and Christianity identifies this cause as God. It is only logical that a being this powerful receives glory from his creatures. So, neither science nor philosophy fights against this tenet of our Christian worldview.

Therefore, when you find yourself seeing God as having an inflated ego, this means that you’ve “lost” the view of who God is. He is worthy of glory — that is true… but he is worthy definitively. When you assign a human fault like egotism to God, you have just brought him down to your level… and you need to raise him back up. When you do this enough times, it will become a habit… and this problem will begin to melt away.

In my opinion, the best way to get a feel for this is to look at an example of someone who tried for glory… and who missed. The Bible talks a lot about Satan; it shows him to be the most powerful of created beings  and the being with the biggest ego ever recorded! He is a spirit-being like God — so he can access God without faith… but look at what he said in spite of having direct knowledge of God’s power and glory.

[Most commentators ascribe speech this to Satan] “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” (Isaiah 14:13–14, NIV)

There can be only one who is worthy of the glory that should befall the Creator… and that is God himself. But it is also necessary that such a being should be glorified. God made us to do just that. But to do this, God had to make us volitional creatures — creatures that have a true free will… and here’s why.

If we could not legitimately choose to ignore God, then we could not legitimately choose to give him glory. This is why so many people are lost. They use their free will to live godless lives… and God must allow this as a possibility to maintain our free will. Therefore, when God deigned to save us, he didn’t use a magic wand and go, “Poof! … you're saved!” Instead, he had to redeem us.

Why did God choose redemption as a saving methodology? Because redemption addresses rebellion in particular (Philippians 2:21) — the opposite of which is giving God glory! It’s the perfect salvific handshake for a God who was going to save rebels… but rebels who would eventually change their minds and give him glory.

As to being bored in heaven, thank you for saying that! I think the same thing! If heaven were all harps-and-clouds-and-praising-God…well… I’m not sure I’m built for that. So, in my opinion, God would have spent a lot of time preparing us for the wrong thing if that’s to be our eternal future.

Here’s the thing: history shows (and the Bible records) that God made us to be relational problem solvers… and all that training would be wasted on a harps-and-clouds type of heaven. Now, God could change us into beings that would be happy with that life… but how would that not be destroying our free will or changing our essential selves?

I chafe at that idea because, philosophically speaking, that would be a bait-and-switch. Besides, the Bible doesn’t give us many details about what we’ll be doing in heaven… so we’re guessing quite a bit. The most direct references are in the book of Revelation, but that’s a book of apocalyptic literature. Besides… it’s the most figurative book in the Bible!

Let me give you links to two articles that speak to the issue of being bored in heaven. One is from Got Questions Ministries, and the other is from the Creation Research Institute. (Please note that I tend to agree most closely with the latter on this issue. CRI features Hank Hanegraaff — “The Bible Answer Man”).

Finally, we come to the topic of our own egos. Since God made us in his image (Genesis 1:26) — and since he gave us dominion over all creation (Genesis 1:28) — maybe we should have big heads!

Now, I’ll admit… there’s a bit of a joke there. But people who do not hold to a Christian worldview tend to err in two directions when it comes to the doctrine of human exceptionalism: they either think too much of themselves personally (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:23)… or they think too little of people categorically (Genesis 1:28).

The latter error is held by people who take a physicalists position about humankind. They believe that physical causes are the only causes of behavior. They do not believe in metaphysical entities (like souls) or supernatural entities (like God). Therefore, these do not subscribe to human exceptionalism… except to admit that our large brains caused us to achieve what our otherwise weak biology could not have accomplished in this world. Their attitude about human exceptionalism is, “ If you think you’re so superior categorically, go and have that discussion with a polar bear!”

But here’s the thing: we have been so successful at subduing creation that we have driven many a great creature like the Polar Bear to the brink of extinction… so that Polar Bear argument doesn’t really obtain. This only proves that we have been unwise stewards… and that we are in need of redemption for more than just salvation.

Among believers, however, there are people of good will (like you) who are worried that they might give the impression of self-glory by accepting themselves as the crown of God’s creation. But that’s what we are… and it’s alright to “own” that. Just remember, first things first. We were created to be higher than the rest of creation… so it’s not our doing! However — and in light of this — thinking too little of ourselves is an insult to God’s work in us… and you don’t want to go there either.

So, since God set life up so that we are the crown of creation, it is not a problem for us to own and proclaim this. However, acting in a superior or arrogant way is a different issue. The hallmark of the Christian should be humility, not pride. But the truth of the matter is that we are indeed exceptional… but not because of ourselves. It’s because that’s how God made us… and I think Peter did a great job describing the balance that we Christians should strive for.

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV)

If we do first things first — revere Christ as Lord — then other people will see the hope that characterizes us… and this is not a pride thing. It’s a result of our having a meaningful life. So, people might ask us about that hope… and we can share about Christ with gentleness and respect. This methodology avoids the appearance of pride or arrogance… because there will be none to display.

That’s all I have to say — except that I’ve enjoyed our chat! I pray that this overview will help you.

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