“Why would a benevolent God command His creation to praise Him? Is God narcissistic?” Perhaps you’ve heard or read questions such as these—or maybe you’ve wondered them yourself. Skeptic or not, these doubts can wreak havoc on our faith if we don’t know the answer to them. But if you are genuinely seeking to understand the nature of God, these are great questions to ask to build confidence in our Creator.
Giving credit where it's due
When I first began looking into this question myself, I was surprised to find that in almost every instance where we are commanded to “praise” God in the Bible, it is in the context of individuals who personally experienced God in their lives and knew that it was imperative for us all to likewise give credit and honor where it was due! I’ll give you an example from Psalm 99, where the psalmist writes in his composition:
“The LORD is great in Zion, and He is exalted above all the peoples. Let them praise Your great and awesome name; [because] Holy is He . . . Moses and Aaron were among His priests, and Samuel was [also] among those who called on His name; They called upon the LORD and He answered them. . . O LORD our God, You answered them; You were a forgiving God to them, and yet an avenger of their evil deeds. Exalt the LORD our God and worship at His holy hill, for Holy is the LORD our God” (Psalm 99:2-9).
There were no verses quoting God as explicitly stating, “Thou shalt ‘praise’ Me!”
That said, I want to be clear that I am not claiming that God doesn't command us to worship Him—I’ll get to that in a minute—but my point is that an overwhelming majority of the scriptures giving commands to express our gratitude towards God are coming from individuals who experienced God’s goodness, witnessed His holy nature, and knew that praising God was absolutely essential to our human existence. Therefore, they commanded us to do likewise.
The book of Deuteronomy affirms this when it says, “What does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear [or to revere and worship] the LORD our God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul . . . for your good?” (Deuteronomy 10:12-14, emphasis added throughout). The author, believed to be Moses, continued by giving specific examples of how worship and a committed relationship with the God of the Bible benefits us: God’s “mighty and awesome” nature includes impartial judgments, not accepting bribes, taking care of those in need, and even multiplying their descendants. All of these are “things” that the people themselves had witnessed firsthand (Deuteronomy 10:14-21). Moses concluded that “He is your praise, and He is your God” (Deuteronomy 10:21).
When we think we’re a God
In contemporary Western culture, there is endless rhetoric on the importance of having respect for one’s self by knowing who we really are, what we want, and what we stand for. Yet when God states who He is, what He wants and what He stands for, some people then accuse God of being narcissistic. Wait a minute—what? If God is the Creator who caused the universe and our individual existence (which He is—a topic for another post), then wouldn't He deserve our gratitude, praise and respect because He truly is greater than us? Further, it stands even more to reason that since God’s desire is to have a loving and committed relationship with humanity—even though He is greater than us—doesn't that prove so that He is the opposite of a self-absorbed and narcissistic God?
In the Ten Commandments, God says, “I am the LORD your God” (Exodus 20:2) “You must not worship any other gods except me” (Exodus 20:3). So God expects us to give Him our allegiance. That is fair. Even Jesus Christ—Himself a co-eternal member of the Godhead—gave God the Father His allegiance (Matthew 4:8-10).
But have you also considered how awesome it is that God also commands us in the following verses not to make any “graven” images of Him (Exodus 20:4-6)? Think about it—in ancient times, especially in the time that this command was given, rulers often believed they were gods, commissioning statues and other depictions of themselves as a way to declare their divinity and superiority over the people. Yet God demands the opposite.
It was also not uncommon for rulers in ancient times to be tyrannical. God allowed these men minuscule degrees of authority in comparison to Himself, and they abused their power in their egotism. However, Jesus Christ, who was actually God in the flesh, called His disciples together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over [the people], and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you . . . the Son of Man [Jesus Christ] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28). His sacrificial love made it very clear that God’s heart and desire for worship is for the well-being of humanity.
God is genuine
In the Second Commandment, God also commands us not to worship idols because He does not feel the need to be conformed to the images we make of Him, His creation or His power. He expects us to take Him as He is. However, a narcissistic being might conform to whatever image they believe will give them the admiration of those around them. God is not seeking empty praise to inflate His sense of self; He seeks worship for the purpose of a genuine relationship with humanity.
The human ego is damaged whenever we are not recognized for our opinions, contributions and importance. It’s our ego that keeps us from giving God credit in worship where it’s rightfully due. It’s our ego that wants to make ourselves and our opinions superior to the Creator. And it’s our ego that seeks empty praise, at the expense of God, in order to boost our sense of self-worth. Therefore, it is essential that we strike a perfect balance of love and respect for our great God through worship, because expressing gratitude is healthy for our ego. If we fail to worship, perhaps we are the ones struggling with narcissism, not God.
While God’s greatness can be found in His fair judgments and the ability to create and sustain life, it can also be found in His selfless love, mercy and humility. He was willing to give up so much, illustrated so powerfully in allowing His Son to be tortured and beaten to pay the penalty for our shortcomings (Ephesians 1:3-6). There is no other god more pure or more deserving of our utmost respect, love and worship. For “God is mighty, but despises no one; he is mighty, and firm in his purpose” (Job 36:5, New International Version).