Here's the full transcript from my sermon from last weekend.
Why Does the God of the Bible Seem So Full of Himself, and How Can That Possibly Be Good for Humanity?
Job 1:20-22, 2:9-10
Job 38:1-7, 40:1-9, 42:1-6
I want you to imagine something with me for a minute. Imagine that you are an important part of a successful team. It could be a sports squad, or a work team, or a civic group; whatever it is, it’s the most important thing in your life, and you give it your all. You have great camaraderie among your team members, an important task ahead of you, and a great leader who brings everything together.
Ah, but about that leader. She or he is great at what they do, granted. But, they’re kind of the worst. Why? Because they want all the glory for themselves. They can’t stand to share the limelight with anyone. Basically everything they do is about letting everyone know that they are awesome.
Even though this is just an imaginary situation, I can sense that you are feeling disgusted at this leader. All of the happiness you derive from being part of an important cause, from being part of a real team, is offset by having to deal with this kind of person at the top.
Arrogance, jealousy, and megalomania are distasteful human characteristics. We don’t like being around people like that, we denounce people for acting like that, and we are careful to not be like that ourselves. Certainly God is not like this, and it would be blasphemous to even suggest so. Right?
I believe we are made in God’s image, a point I want to come back to in a minute. I also believe we spend a lot of time making God into our image. What do I mean by that? I believe we spend very little time really getting to know God on His terms, as He describes Himself to us in His Word. Instead, we spend much more time describing God from our finite and human perspective.
I believe the God of the Bible displays a lot of what we would call arrogance, jealousy, and megalomania. When we look at this from our human perspective, we find this distasteful and so we avoid these aspects of God and focus instead on other qualities of His that we see shadows of in the people we admire, like compassion and generosity and mercy.
I’d like to spend this morning counterbalancing that. The God of the Bible is intricate and multi-faceted, and whether we are in a personal relationship with Him or are still checking Him out, we would do well to make sure we see all sides of Him.
Furthermore, I would argue that we cannot fundamentally know about God, let alone know Him on an intimate and personal level, except that we understand this aspect of His character. Moreover, I would argue that we cannot effectively invite others into relationship with God until we can adequately explain this aspect about Him.
After all, it is often non-believers more than believers who understand that God is like this…and they are turned off by it or find it hilarious. In my research and preparation for this sermon, I spent a lot of time on Facebook and Buzzfeed. (I assume everyone else does this when they’re working on their sermons?)
The first thing I found is that God has a Facebook page. (Who doesn’t, right?) Yeah, God has a Facebook page, and it’s called “The Good Lord Above,” and one of its highlights is “Smite Tuesday,” in which God takes suggestions on who to smite.
We’ll come back to the smiting in a minute, but let’s now go to Buzzfeed’s “13 Best Online Reviews of the Bible.” These are actual posts on Amazon.com that, while hilariously tongue-in-cheek and highly irreverent, give you a window into how some people view the God of the Bible.
Here’s one from a Jacqueline Boss, entitled “Comedy of Epic Proportions”: “The plot follows the antagonistic character God, an angsty old man hungry for power, who becomes bored in his isolation and so creates a magical world where he places a naked man and a woman, but neglects to tell them the difference between right and wrong.”
Here’s one about the New Testament from a W. Christian, entitled “A Decent Sophomore Effort”: “For those of you who don't know, this is God's second novel after the Old Testament. It's a marked improvement, in my opinion. He got rid of a lot of his previous angst and scorn, and has really begun to show some of the maturity present in his later works. He's become a much more loving and kind God, and, noticeably, he doesn't throw nearly as many tantrums as he did in the first book.”
John Hebert gave the Bible one star. This is his entire review, entitled “Too Long and Boring”: “Main character is too full of himself, not relatable. I read a few pages then threw it under the couch.”
So is God really like this? And if so, why would we want to know Him, and why would we find joy and meaning in making Him known to others?
I think there are a lot of people out there who are turned off at the thought of such a God, and so they have cast Him out of their lives. But I also think there are a lot of people out there who don’t want God to be like this and so they make God into their own image, into a kinder and softer and humbler version that I believe is not the God of the Bible.
I don’t want to be either of those kinds of people. I want to know the actual God of the Bible, intimately and personally and on His terms, because I believe that to truly know Him as He has revealed Himself to us is far better than to cuddle up to our own human construction of Him. And to truly know the God of the Bible, we must remove ourselves from seeing Him as simply an extension of our best behaviors and traits, and see Him as defined by Himself.
When we make God in our image, then the thought of God smiting, boasting, and full of Himself is unattractive. We don’t like being around people like that, so why would we want to be around a God like that?
But God is not made in our image. He is the Source and the Standard. He is perfect and He does what He pleases without constraint. He speaks and the whole world is brought into existence. His Law is the Law, and all things are judged against that immaculate yardstick.
This is why people, Christians and non-Christians, have a problem with the concept of sin. Most of us, Christians and non-Christians, think of sin as behavior that is against a set of rules, as if it’s the same as in sports when you step out of bounds or jump offside before the play starts. If that is your sense of sin, that God has written a rulebook and that He smites people when they commit a violation, then it’s not hard to rage against the rulebook maker or consider his rules arbitrary or out of date.
But that is a God made in man’s image. God the Source and Standard is perfect and He does what He pleases. And what is most pleasing to God is what is meant to be most pleasing to us His creation, which is God Himself. Sin isn’t breaking some rule in a rule book; it is knowing that God Himself is the best for us and choosing instead to settle for less than the best.
It would be wrong for God to glory in anything but Himself, and it is wrong when we glory in anything but Him. This is God as expressed in His terms, and it explains where the intensity of His wrath in judgment comes from.
We make fun of God smiting because we misunderstand where that anger is coming from. God’s rage when we opt for something besides His ways and His very Self does not spring from insecurity and vanity; it is a demonstration of the unsurpassed goodness He is offering and the great offense we commit by refusing it. Here is how J.I. Packer puts it in his classic book, “Knowing God”:
“We have to remember that man is not the measure of his Maker. And we must remember that those elements in human qualities which show the corrupting effect of sin have no counterpart in God. Thus, for instance, his wrath is not the ignoble outburst that human anger so often is, a sign of pride and weakness, but it is holiness reacting to evil in a way that is morally right and glorious. And in the same way, God’s jealousy is not a compound of frustration, envy, and spite, as human jealousy so often is, but appears instead as a (literally) praiseworthy zeal to preserve something supremely precious.”
Let me repeat that last phrase. “Praiseworthy zeal to preserve something supremely precious.” That is a great definition of the jealousy of God, and a great explanation of why God being jealous makes sense and is a good thing. When we sin, the Bible describes it as “falling short of the glory of God.” How then can God Himself be anything but 100% about the glory of God? Or, as John Piper states in his bestselling book, “Desiring God”:
“Because God is unique as an all-glorious, totally self-sufficient Being, he must be for Himself if he is to be for us. The rules of humility that belong to a creature cannot apply in the same way to its Creator. If God should turn away from Himself as the Source of infinite joy, he would cease to be God. He would deny the infinite worth of His own glory. He would imply that there is something more valuable outside Himself. He would commit idolatry.”
God in our image, who smites those against Him and demands all glory, comes across as needy and egotistical. But God is not made in our image. He is the Source and Standard. And He is available to us. For us to glory in anything or anyone else is a gross offense. And for Him to glory in anything or anyone else would be similarly offensive.
Many years ago this church hosted a speaker who spoke of what he called “dog Christians vs. cat Christians.” The comparison goes something like this. Dogs say to their owners, “You feed me, you care for me, you love me…you must be God!” Cats say to their owners, “You feed me, you care for me, you love me…I must be God!”
It’s a fun analogy. But it gets to a serious point, which is that cat Christians are no Christians at all. Because cat Christians have made God in their own image, rather than meeting God as He has defined Himself, and they have kept themselves at the center of their universe, subordinating even God Himself to their own existence and importance and needs and wants.
Over and over again we see in the Bible that what God wants most of all is that we let Him be God, which is to say He is the center of the universe and the recipient of all glory and honor. Numerous examples abound, in the Old and New Testament, of people and groups and entire generations that failed to do this. They chased after their own gods, they made themselves gods, and they rejected the ways of God. They even did noble things in the name of God. But they did all of this as “cat Christians,” as people who paid lip service to God but they kept themselves as the center of their own universes, and their hearts were far from giving Him the full glory and honor due to Him.
God invites us to something far better, far deeper, and far surer than that. He is the Source and the Standard. He is perfect and He does what He pleases without constraint. And what He pleases to do is to honor Himself by doing good for us all of our days. He feeds us, He cares for us, He loves us…He must be God. He is God. For Him to choose anything than to seek all of the glory would be antithetical to His perfect character. And for us to choose anything else is to commit a grievous offense against Him.
We see this aspect of God’s character clearly in the passages we read from the Book of Job. This is one of the oldest stories in the Bible, and the vast majority of the book is a conversation – sometimes crushingly personal and other times maddeningly philosophical – between a suffering man and his friends. For 30 some odd chapters these men debate the nature of human suffering and divine authority.
When God finally enters the picture in Chapter 38, he has no answer for Job, a man who He thinks highly of and who has endured great and terrible tragedy. Job, the man of God, cries out in great pain to His Maker just as any of us would: “Why, Lord?” God does not see fit to deign an answer. Instead, He asks the questions, along the lines of “Can you do what I do?” Job, in ashes, repents: “No, I cannot. You are God, I am not.”
Like many of us, Job may be a righteous person whose heart is for his God. But there are still important lessons for his soul to learn. And the biggest one is: he is not God. God is God. And God’s primary aim is to exalt His Name in this world and in our lives. Any comfort, any provision, any blessing He wants to and can give to us is subordinate to refining us until all that burns in us is all that burns in Him, which is that He is glorified according to the glory due Him. Here is Piper again, in a sermon he gave on the book of Job:
“What we have seen so far, then, is that Job's suffering has a twofold explanation: its purpose at the outset was to demonstrate God's value and glory, and its ongoing purpose was to refine Job's righteousness. His suffering is not punishment. It is not a sign of God's anger. Job's pain is not the pain of the executioner's whip but the pain of the surgeon's scalpel. The removal of the disease of pride is the most loving thing God could do, no matter what the cost.
Remember the words of the Lord: Better to suffer the excruciating pain of a gouged out eye than to let any sin remain in your heart. If this does not seem obvious to you—namely, that sanctification is worth any pain on this earth—it is probably because you don't abhor sin and prize holiness the way God does and the way you should. Let us examine ourselves carefully at this point.”
The fact that God comes across in our human eyes as exhibiting arrogance, jealousy, and megalomania is not a mirage. Indeed, it is at the core of who He is and how we are to understand and relate to Him. And it is unbelievably good news for our souls and for humanity. For if this God, who cannot not uphold the greatness of His Name, and who chases us down to redeem us and refine us and provide for us and perfect us, if this God is for us, then who can be against us? Here is Piper again, in another sermon from the book of Job, giving credit to Job for giving glory to God in the midst of all of his suffering:
“Comforts and calamities come from the hand of God. This rock solid confidence in the sovereignty of God Job will not relinquish—and neither should we! Picture Satan in heaven surrounded by 10,000 angels awaiting Job's response. Then Job answers, and, unknown to him, 20,000 arms are raised and 10,000 mighty voices shout, ‘Worthy is the Lord God of Job!’ And what does Satan do? He flees from the presence of the praise of God.”
My fellow created ones, we have a glorious Creator who is 100% about Himself, whose glory is somehow wrapped up in our being rescued from the self-imposed shackles of our many offenses against that glory, who will defend that glory to the point of refining away everything in us that would keep us from the very best, which is God Himself.
When we experience lofty highs and crushing lows, Satan, the enemy of our souls, hopes that we take our eyes off the glory of God. He hopes we credit ourselves for our good fortunes or curse God for our bad fortunes. Meanwhile, 10,000 angels hold their breath and wait to cheer, for they exist only to glorify God, they long to see the same zeal in us, and they break forth in song when He is truly exalted in our lives.
We were made by a glorious God to glorify God, and we find our true selves when, in the midst of lofty highs or crushing lows, we are able to say as Job said, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” May He refine us until we are made in His likeness in that our only aim is His only aim, which is that He gets all of the glory due Him. It may come off as arrogance, jealousy, and megalomania when we look with human eyes; but from His divine perspective, it is just, and for fallen humanity, it is good news…the best news ever. Amen.