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Is God a narcissist?

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Is God a narcissist?
Posted on May 19, 2020  - By Dr. Barry K. Creamer

Doesn’t God tick at least some of the boxes for narcissistic behaviour, since every single thing He does and ordains is so that He alone is glorified?

Although your question is legitimate on its face, and deserves a respectful answer, three points should reveal just how far from the truth its point actually is. 

First, some basic tenets about God’s character make clear that a reasonable definition of narcissism does not apply to Him. Second, the implication of your question is that if God has some characteristics of narcissism, then He is morally suspect. There is an important line of reasoning which addresses that implication. And third, God demonstrates clearly that He is as close to the opposite of narcissism as imaginable.

Basic tenets about God’s character make clear that a reasonable definition of narcissism does not apply to Him

Deconstructing a definition

Not being a psychologist, I grabbed a more accurate definition of narcissism than my standard exemplars of American political leaders and celebrities. According to the Mayo Clinic: “Narcissistic personality disorder — one of several types of personality disorders — is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.” 

Other than trivialities, there is no overlap in the definitions of God and narcissism. In other words, the only boxes God ticks in this definition apply to every person, divine or not, narcissistic or not. That is, He has a sense of self, demands attention, and has relationships. But those are not characteristics of narcissism until they are respectively married into the phrases in the definition. That is, a sense of self is not narcissistic at all unless it is inflated beyond its actual importance; the need for attention and even admiration is not narcissistic at all unless it is excessive; and having relationships is universal.

A misguided suspicion

Filling out the details of how that definition precludes narcissism in God also leads to the second point, that there is nothing morally suspect about God even if we grant the assumptions of the question. That is, let’s relax the definition of narcissism enough to say that it does not require self-esteem to be inflated, or for attention to be excessive. And let’s narrow the understanding of God to a particular kind of theology which agrees with the question’s assumption that God “ordains it so that He alone is glorified”. Even with that more casual understanding, the question’s suspicion of God’s character is misguided. 

In consideration of the more formal definition, the responses are simple. How could God inflate the sense of Himself beyond the reality that He created all things and that only by Him do they continue to exist (Colossians 1:15-17)? Or, how could the attention or admiration given a Being whose mere appearance consumes those in His presence be excessive (Exodus 33:18-23)? [I’ll address relationships, troubled or otherwise, in a bit.] 

How could God inflate the sense of Himself beyond the reality that He created all things and that only by Him do they continue to exist?

You may say, “I thought we were going to relax the definition enough to say it seems narcissistic that God demands all glory for Himself.” Although I do not agree with the reality of the answer I am about to give, I do agree with it theoretically. That is, if it were the case that God demands all glory be His, it would be appropriate, since He is the source of all existence, and all things exist for the purpose He has given. 

Since objects and purposes come from Him, and morality itself is a function of the relationship between an object and its purpose, it would be impossible for the purpose God has given something (theoretically in this case, to glorify Him) to be morally suspect, since He created both the object and its purpose, which is perfectly fulfilled in glorifying Him. Logically, there is no room for narcissism in the evaluation of a Sovereign God.

God gives glory too

But I do not agree with that answer. Its logic is right, but it does not address the actuality. In particular, I think Scripture diverges from two facts assumed in the question. First, God does not ordain that He alone is glorified. Yes, Isaiah says twice that God does not give the glory properly due Him to someone else (Isaiah 42:6-8, 48:9-11). In both cases, the point is that the credit which properly belongs to God — for saving His people and setting them apart — should not be given falsely to another. 

But saying God’s glory belongs only to Him is different than saying there is no glory which He has given another; which invites a discussion about the second fact assumed in the question: that every single thing He does is solely for the purpose of glorifying Himself. 

Overly strident assertions about “Soli Deo Gloria” (only to God the glory) fail to consider God’s own very clear lessons about the intentional glory He gives His servants and creatures. There are others, but the dominant example of Psalm 8 suffices: God has crowned man with “glory and honor”. The word for the “glory” God gives man is the same one used about God throughout the Old Testament. Most importantly, the Psalmist’s claim is not hyperbolic, ironic, or exceptional. It is a basic component of Scripture’s storyline. God gives man glory by placing Him over creation. He even gives His angels glory (e.g. Revelation 18:1). Of course, their glory ultimately adds to His. But how could it do otherwise, since it came from Him to begin with? He is the source of their existence and purpose. 

Overly strident assertions about “Soli Deo Gloria” fail to consider God’s clear lessons about the intentional glory He gives His creatures

Such a mathematical formulation overstates the point, but since the glory His creatures possess originally came from Him, no value is added to Him when that glory is properly returned to Him. But that observation invites a question about why God would give any consideration to man at all. This question is the one David raises in Psalm 8.

The greatest contradiction

“When I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet…” 

The point of the question, and of grace altogether, negates entirely the final and essential characteristic of the narcissist, that he has “a lack of empathy for others”. Miraculously, and inexplicably, God — who requires nothing — acts not only with the sympathy of a father who knows we are dust (Psalm 103), but with the empathy of one who chose freely to be touched by the feeling of our infirmities (Hebrews 4:15). 

So finally, third, and bluntly, there is no greater contradiction to all things narcissistic than that the self-sufficient God of creation submitted Himself to the worst creation offers (death itself) in order to redeem the very ones attempting to take the glory which rightly belongs to Him. Such is the grace of our self-sacrificing but still supreme God.

Dr. Barry K. Creamer

About Dr. Barry K. Creamer

Barry Creamer serves as president of Criswell College in Dallas, Texas. A trained philosopher and historian, he holds an M.Div. from Criswell College, and a Ph.D. in Humanities from the University of Texas at Arlington. His writing has been featured on numerous print and electronic platforms.



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