Does God Demand Ego-Stroking?

rrrPersuading the skeptic that the Christian conception of God makes sense can prove daunting. The concept of God as a “perfect” being seems to stand in stark contrast with passages of the Bible that describe God as desiring – indeed, demanding – praise and worship. As one challenger put it,

You can say ‘he is a perfect being’ until the cows come home. It won’t convince me. A perfect being doesn’t demand ‘recognition of the fact.’ So, he is not perfect and your ‘recognition’ is really ego-stroking.”

This challenger does not believe that God exists; but, if one does, he is certain that He cannot be the God of the Bible.

Demanding worship demonstrates emotional weakness;

Perfect beings have no weaknesses, emotional or otherwise;

The God of the Bible demands worship;

Therefore, the God of the Bible cannot be perfect.

As long as the premises to this conclusion are sound, the logic would appear compelling. The problem for the skeptic, however, is that premises one and three, while clever, are in fact inaccurate.

When Demanding Worship Is Not An Emotional Weakness

“Demanding worship” can usually be considered an emotional weakness. It conjures up the image of a powerful, but insecure, person who can only feel an adequate sense of self-worth if those around him stroke his fragile ego. Many a tyrant has fit this description, and history is replete with the accounts of the wild mood swings and savage cruelty of such leaders. One wrong word – even an unfounded suspicion of disloyalty – and years of faithful service to such a despot come crashing down. The picture, in short, is of an emotionally stunted child in regal clothing.

But God is not “demanding” worship in that sense. To understand why first requires an appreciation of the difference between a human tyrant and a perfect Creator. The tyrant is a human being, as are his subjects. He has no greater worth than them, regardless of how hard he insists that he does. He is not entitled to worship; quite the contrary, in most cases. His actions entitle him to contempt and disrespect, but if he has sufficient force on his side, he may impose his will. While the tyrant tries to puff up his sense of self-worth and importance, and then feeds off the praise he extorts, he is in the end deceiving himself. When he can no longer force obedience, his “people” will turn against him.

God, by contrast, occupies a position above and separate from us. He embodies perfection of every kind. This includes perfect knowledge, both as to Himself and to us. It is literally impossible for Him to have an “exaggerated” ego that needs stroking. His self-knowledge is perfectly accurate. He doesn’t have a false – or exaggerated – idea of his worth; quite the contrary, he knows with certainty that He has infinite worth. He can’t have an “exaggerated” sense of self-importance because one cannot add to infinity. He literally is the most important thing possible. To the extent that He feels superior to His creation, it is because, well, He is. His knowledge of this is not arrogance.

Is there a valid distinction to be drawn between demanding and expecting worship? This response to premise three may strike some as hair-splitting, but God does not “demand” worship to satisfy a need; he “expects” worship because He deserves it. He “demands” what is just, and since justice in this context means a proper valuation of things, He is in essence “demanding” that His creation relates to Him in an appropriate way – a way that we would recognize as “praise.”

Consider for a moment what giving praise entails. To praise is to express approval or admiration for someone. In its true sense, it cannot be forced. I can mouth words of “praise” to a wicked tyrant, but everyone involved knows that there is no “approval” and no “admiration,” just coerced action. I can pretend to worship, but in reality I do no such thing.

Now consider, by contrast, examples of truly praiseworthy behavior. When the firefighter rushes into the burning building to save the vulnerable child, or when the soldier jumps on the grenade to save his squad, he is performing a selfless act that evokes admiration and approval. A professional athlete demonstrates the combination of tremendous talent honed by countless hours of practice. What these examples have in common is that each embodies a type of excellence, and whether we consciously acknowledge it or not, sentiments of respect and adulation come from deep within us, unbidden, in response to a natural process of our minds. I naturally feel awe and a desire to praise something excellent, outstanding, or virtuous. If I am honest about it, I will not refuse to acknowledge such recognition, even if part of me is jealous that I may lack these attributes. Moreover, for something truly amazing, I will feel the response that is due in such settings – awe. And what can be more truly amazing and awe-inspiring than a perfect Being?

The problem with the skeptic’s challenge is that he refuses to wrap his mind around the concepts he is discussing. Glimpsing the attributes of a perfect being would blind us; it would result in recognition that praise and worship of this Being are indeed appropriate. This is so not because He needs anything from us but because we need it – our refusal to correctly assess Him embeds us further into self-deception that will ultimately destroy us. In other words, knowing but rejecting God means we are living a lie – that we are living outside the natural order of things, in which praise flows naturally from lesser to greater beings. This harms us, not God.

In sum, then, when God “demands” worship, He is not asking for ego-stroking. He is simply expressing the natural order of the reality He created.

Posted by Al Serrato

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