The following is a manuscript of a talk I’m giving to some businessmen on Monday. I’d like to acknowledge my heavy indebtedness to John Piper’s ministry for helping to shape my thought on this issue.
Imagine that I stand here before you today and I have one goal. My goal is to show you all just how wonderful I am, to make you stand in awe of the wonder that is me, to hear you praise me for my wonderfulness, and to hear you tell everyone you know just how magnificent Andrew Shaver is. What would you think of me, or someone else who did that? You would probably think, ‘man, this guy is the biggest ego-maniac I’ve ever met. How completely self-absorbed he is, and how insecure!’ If this is what you would think of me, you would be right.
This is clear on a human level, but many of us have a similar view of God. In the Bible, God says over and over that we are to worship God, to praise him and love him with all our beings. The Bible also makes it clear that God’s central purpose in all of his actions is to show off his own glory. He says things like “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another” (Is. 42:8); and in Isaiah 43:7, God says that he created people for his glory. Again God says in Isaiah 48:11 that he brings judgment on people for the sake of his glory and that he is totally unwilling to share his glory with anyone else! Again and again, the God of the Bible claims that he raises up kingdoms, brings judgment on some and saves others all so that his glory would be known throughout the universe.
This is the message of the Bible that many, many people have stumbled over in the past, and continue to stumble over today. If God really is so great and so loving, and so powerful, then why does he care whether we worship him or not? Is he just lonely, or insecure, or completely self obsessed?
C.S. Lewis was a famous Christian author and scholar, but before that, he was a famous atheist. Before he became a Christian he said that he thought the God of the Bible was like an insecure old woman, always seeking compliments from others.
Actor Brad Pitt was raised in a Christian home, but left all that behind. He said, “I didn’t understand this idea of a God who says, “You have to acknowledge me. You have to say that I’m the best, and then I’ll give you eternal happiness. If you won’t, then you don’t get it!” It seemed to be about ego. I can’t see God operating from ego, so it made no sense to me.” C.S. Lewis, Brad Pitt, and many others stumbled over the notion that God demands to be worshipped, honoured, and loved for us to have any relationship with him.
I think that this is an important issue to address, so I’m going to make a brief attempt today. There are three things which we must understand in order to think about this rightly. First, God is supremely valuable, glorious, and satisfying. The God of the Bible created everything and holds together everything in existence. He is pure, righteous, just, and holy, that is, he is in a completely different category from every other being in existence. He is eternal, without beginning or end, and does not ever change or grow. He knows everything, is present everywhere, and is capable of doing anything that is consistent with his character. One philosopher described God as ‘that which no greater thing can be thought of’. We cannot think of anything greater, more powerful, more perfect, more beautiful that God.
You and I can’t make any claim, even on our best days, to anything approaching this complete goodness. For me to seek to draw you to myself, and to glorify myself is the height of egoism because I am in no way worthy of your adulation, no person is. God demands recognition of who he actually is, not who he pretends to be. He is not putting himself on a pedestal, he is inherently worthy of the love, praise, and worship of his creature.
It is one thing for us to say that God is worthy of the praise he demands, but that still leaves us with a God who is concerned only about himself with no concern for us. If we leave our thoughts here, we still have a God who is purely self absorbed, even though it may be right for him to be so.
The second thing we need to understand is that recognizing God for who he is, and acknowledging his perfection, his goodness, and his worthiness, is the only way that we can find true, lasting happiness, joy, and fulfillment. St. Augustine once famously said. “You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.” God made us to know and enjoy him. The Bible says that with God is “fullness of joy” and “eternal pleasures” in his presence (Psalm 16).
We go through life with a hole in us, that only God was meant to fill. We try to fill it with many things, family, career, money, sex, drugs, food, vacations, hobbies, but none of these things we meant to bring us ultimate satisfaction. All you have to do is look at someone like Charlie Sheen right now to see that all the money, fame, power, sex, and multiplied pleasures in the world cannot satisfy a human being. We are always left looking for something more, because we were made for God and nothing else. Our hearts are restless, until they find their rest in the God who created us.
The third thing we need to consider is a combination of the first two points. If God is perfect, complete, good, and ultimately deserving of all praise, glory and adoration, and if your heart and my heart were made so that that they can only find perfect satisfaction in this God, then God’s command that we praise him, love him, serve him, and glorify him, is the most loving command he could give us! When God commands that we give him glory for who he is, he is commanding us to do what will make us genuinely happy. Real happiness is found in God and nowhere else, so it would be most unloving for God to do anything but continue to show off his perfection, his beauty and his glory, and to draw us into them, that we can enjoy him like we were made to.
When you recognize something as good, or beautiful, or pleasurable, do you feel oppressed when you are asked to enjoy it? If you are a fan of a particular hockey team, do you feel ignored and slighted when they show off their greatness by winning a championship? When you enjoy a fabulous meal, are you not delighted that everything tasted so good, rather than thinking that the food was just showing off? When you see beauty in nature, it draws no attention to you, but you don’t think that it is selfish, you just enjoy it because it is beautiful. All of these things are little pictures or tastes of the beauty and the glory of God. They were never meant to satisfy us, but to draw us to thank and love the one who made them all.
God is the sum of all perfection, and because he loves you, he demands that you recognize him for who his is. God wants you to be genuinely happy, joyful people, but you can only find the happiness that lasts in knowing him. Are you thirsty? Jesus says come to me and drink. Are you hungry? Jesus promises to fill you up. Are you tired? Jesus says he will give you rest. We so often look for this kind of satisfaction in all the wrong places, but Jesus promises that he will satisfy you if you come to him. He is the only thing in the world big enough to fill the longing in your heart.
I want to close with a famous quote from C.S. Lewis – the same man who once thought God as like an old woman fishing for compliments. He says, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
God offers greater joy than we can imagine when he offers us himself. Let’s not be satisfied with mud pies, with shadows of happiness, but only with the lasting joy that comes from knowing the God for whom all was created, and whose glory will continue to delight us for all eternity.