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4. God Goes on Trial
But before going any further, let's just clear the air. Let's say we go ahead and put the Almighty on trial for his crime. We call Washington, bring in the justices, bus in the lawyers by the dozen, and lay our charge against the Deity.
ADDRESS: Everywhere, particularly 'the heavens'
CHARGE: Being selfish
The prosecutors bring in reams of evidence, piling it upon the podium, the most serious of which comes from the Defendant's own book. Among the evidence they cite:
1. Hell, Fires of. Billions will suffer there, and the Defendant says he will do it to "display his wrath"
2. Intolerance of non-Christian religions. He calls them idolatry and says he will punish them (1 Cor 6:9-10).
3. Intolerance of numerous behaviors that people enjoy (Ex 20).
4. Insistence that people focus all attention on Defendant all the time. Intolerance toward those who do otherwise (1 Cor 10:31).
In his remarks, the prosecutor points to the way the Defendant burned to death two young men, Nadab and Abihu (Lev 10:1-7). Further, the Defendant struck dead a man named Uzzah for touching the Defendant's Ark of the Covenant in a sincere attempt to keep it from falling off its cart (2 Sam 6:6-8). On one occasion, the Defendant killed everyone on earth but eight people (Gen 6-8). More recently, he took the lives of a married couple, Ananias and Sapphira, even though they were giving money to the Defendant's church (Acts 5:1-11). The Defendant thinks he's more important than other people. He thinks his rules are the only rules. He thinks everything revolves around him. The Defendant, the prosecution insists, is selfish.
What will happen? The Creator of the cosmos stands accused of selfishness, and the evidence is stacked against him. Not even O.J.'s lawyers could get him out of this one. The Defendant steps up to the bench and makes his plea: "Guilty as charged."
5. God is never an Instrument
There is one truth that--once grasped--unlocks a renewed understanding of God. One supreme passion drives God's interactions with us. God's primary concern in everything he does is to bring glory to himself.
What? Who does God think he is? The center of his own universe? Yes. God is concerned with his fame. God is self-centered. Selfish, one might say. Granted, as one who is rightly self-centered, he's been terribly generous, giving us his Son for our salvation. But if there's one thing we know from the Bible, it's that God is supremely concerned with the honor of his name--just look at the prayer Jesus taught us to pray. Before ever getting to our needs, we pray for God's name to be honored, for God's kingdom to be furthered and for God's will to be done (Matt 6:9-13).
Is this wrong? It would sure be wrong for me to be self-centered, as if I were God. But why? It's because I'm not God. However God is God, and it's an entitlement of deity to do what you want. It's the Potter's prerogative to do as he pleases with his clay (Rom 9:21). Think about it. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. God has not disobeyed this commandment. He is not an idolater. As John Piper writes, "The most passionate heart for God in all the universe is God's heart."
About 400 AD, Augustine clarified this point well. Everything, Augustine explained, is either an instrument or an end. Instruments are things that have a purpose beyond themselves. A pencil is an instrument we use to write; a painting is an instrument we use to display beauty. Instruments are properly used for other ends. God alone is not an instrument, Augustine argued, but the end for which everything exists. Everything else is a means to an end.
What? Even human beings? Is a person just a means to an end, something to be used? Absolutely. (The flip side of this argument, however, is that we have purpose, meaning, value and significance since we were purposefully made for an end higher than ourselves.) When the best theologians of the seventeenth century developed a teaching tool for children and new believers, this was the first truth they wanted people to grasp. The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, "What is the chief end of man?" That is, what's our purpose? Why are we here? Why did God make us? The answer? "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever." Without understanding this, nothing else in Scripture can be seen in proper perspective. Without this, God becomes a tool we manipulate to get what we want (salvation, personal peace, affluence--whatever).
6. Death to Barbie Religion
This is Theology 101. God is rightly self-centered. Therefore there is one thing we must never, ever do. We must never treat God as a means to some other end.
This is the great crime of Barbie Religion. Our culture provides our values, goals and wants. It tells us to be Barbie, to have our Ken, the car, the house, the health, everything. God only enters in to get us what we want. This is the most basic form of idolatry--making God a means to a higher end, the American Dream. If God is supreme in his own heart, the American Dream cannot keep its hold on us forever. Francis Schaeffer warned thirty years ago that personal peace and affluence had become the God of American evangelicalism. We cannot apprehend a self-centered God without utterly renouncing our captivity to the American Dream. No one can serve both God and Barbie.
7. Secure in God's Selfishness
But there is security--just not for Barbie. The selfishness of God is the very reason we can seek him for blessing. David sought forgiveness, saying, "For the sake of your name, O Lord, forgive my iniquity, though it is great" (Ps 25:11).
Jesus even tells us he'll answer our prayers "so that the Son may bring glory to the Father" (John 14:13). The Holy Spirit's ministry on earth is to bring glory to Jesus (Jn 16:14), and the reason Jesus is coming back at the end of the age is "to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed" (2 Thess 1:9-10). All this, so that under his rule the knowledge of God's glory can fill the earth as the waters cover the sea (Hab 2:14). The religion of the Bible is not so much about our religion as it is about God's fame.
Because he is committed to himself, God is committed to his covenant people, those who bear his name. Even when God saves sinners from their sins--a supreme act of generosity--God insists that he's doing it for his own benefit more than for ours. "For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another" (Is 48:11). God will certainly purge his church of its idols and complete his work of redemption in us. Our finances may not have a certain future, and any one of us could die at the ripe old age of 97--poor, diseased, alone and in pain. I can't guarantee any of that. But I can guarantee that God will be as committed to his own name tomorrow as he is today. Because of his basic self-centeredness, I know our destiny in Christ is secure.
1. Two Questions
"Greg, I understand everything you're saying, except that your God is a self-centered and egotistical God on a cosmic ego trip who uses people." I've heard that question many times. When you teach Christian truth to challenge postmodernism's stranglehold on our churches and culture, you'll hear the question stated in one form or another. Why is God selfish?
I'm also frequently asked another question. It goes like this: "Greg, why wouldn't God want me to have ________?" Fill in the blank. The perfect house. The perfect job. The perfect kids. The perfect husband. The perfect wife. The perfect car. The perfect health. It's a common question in our culture. I call it Barbie Religion.
Imagine for a moment a little girl grows up wanting to be like Barbie. Someday she'll have her Ken. Someday she'll have her Barbie car. Someday she'll have her Barbie house. (How many of you actually owned the Barbie house, I wonder?) "Someday," she thinks, "I'm going to be Barbie." But then she goes off to college, gains thirty pounds, drives a Ford Tempo, and lives alone. It's devastating. Her world is crashing down on her. Where can she find hope?
Well, the story goes, one day she becomes a Christian. "I'll trust Jesus to make me Barbie!" she decides. She'll trust God to bring Ken into her life. She'll trust God to help her afford the Barbie car. She'll trust God to get her a real-life Barbie house. Only Jesus Christ can give her the life she dreams of.
Why wouldn't God want me to have __________? And why is God selfish? These are the first questions Christian theology must answer. If we don't, nothing else matters.
2. Really One Question
Years ago, I gave the wrong answer when asked these sorts of questions. Thinking I was helping God on his public relations, I'd insist that God was selfless in his mercy. When I saw fellow believers suffer lost expectations, I thought I was encouraging them by assuring them, "Oh, I'm sure God will give you that perfect wife/husband/job/health someday--in his timing." That was really wrong. I completely missed the real issue.
It took years of ministry among postmodern young adults for me to realize that these two questions were really the same question. They are merely worded differently. The question behind the questions is this:
3. "Who does God think He is?"
Yes, that's the real issue. It's a perceived problem with God. Who does God think he is, after all? We subconsciously think to ourselves, God shouldn't be so self-centered. He should share more. Didn't God go to kindergarten? Everyone knows you're supposed to share.
Granted, according to human standards it makes sense to think God shouldn't be selfish. We're fellow beings. He should love his neighbor as himself. He should put our interests on a par with his own. His ways should be our ways. God is good after all, and selfishness (for humans) is a bad thing. So God should treat us as equals. It sounds so liberating, so democratic, and so very American: baseball, apple pie, and a God who shares. To say that God is rightly selfish just rubs American Christians the wrong way.