Here is a Spiritual Conundrum submitted to Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life by a reader named Cat:
I am really puzzled by why God would require that Christians must love and worship him. I understand his requirement for us to love our neighbors/fellow humans. But doesn’t the requirement to love, worship and praise God make him seem superficial, self serving and even insecure? If God would save non-Christians as long as they love their neighbors, why would Christians be subject to this additional requirement to love God?
Thanks for the great question, Cat!
Many Christians believe that God created the entire vast universe for his own glory. And many of the same Christians believe that after we die, we will spend all eternity praising and worshiping God in the heavenly equivalent of a vast, never-ending church service.
Is God really that vain? Did God really make us so that there would be billions of people to glorify, praise, and worship him? Is the universe all about God creating a vast crowd of sycophantic groupies?
In a word: No.
But there’s a reason God allows many of us to think so—and even says things in the Bible that make it sound as if praising and worshiping God is what life is all about.
Here’s the short version:
God wants our love, worship, and praise not because God needs anything from us, but because when we focus our hearts and minds on God instead of on ourselves, we open ourselves up to new love, light, and power from God.
In other words, God wants our love, worship, and praise so that God can more fully love us, enlighten us, and help us as we travel along our often dark and troublesome path of life.
Now for the long version.
Why did God create the universe?
If you Google the question, “Why did God create the universe?” you’ll find plenty of articles by Christians saying that God created the universe for his own glory.
Why do they think that?
It might have something to do with the words God says in Isaiah 43:6–7 (italics added):
Bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.
Or with this statement about Christ in Colossians 1:15–16 (italics added):
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.
Also, many stories in the Bible present God as shaping and influencing human beings for the sake of his own glory. Read, for example, this segment of the Exodus story:
The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and I will multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt. When Pharaoh does not listen to you, I will lay my hand upon Egypt and bring my people the Israelites, company by company, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out from among them.” (Exodus 7:1–5)
This led to the famous ten plagues of Egypt, which forced Pharaoh to let the Israelites go.
A few chapters later, when Pharaoh and his army pursue the escaping Israelites to bring them back to slavery in Egypt, we read:
Then the Lord said to Moses: Tell the Israelites to turn back and camp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall camp opposite it, by the sea. Pharaoh will say of the Israelites, “They are wandering aimlessly in the land; the wilderness has closed in on them.” I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, so that I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army; and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord. (Exodus 14:1–4, italics added)
This led to the complete destruction of Pharaoh’s army as the waters of the miraculously parted Red Sea that the Israelites had just crossed on dry ground closed in over Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, drowning both horse and rider, and saving the Israelites from Pharaoh’s power.
According to the story, all of this happened because God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in order to gain glory for himself.
And there are many other places where the Bible says that humans are to give all glory to God.
So it’s not surprising that many Christians believe God created the universe in order to gain glory for himself by having billions of people to worship and praise him, and grovel at his feet.
But as many thoughtful people have objected, this very human conception of God’s glory is not worthy of a God of infinite love and wisdom.
Is God really that petty and insecure?
Why did God create the universe? Another view
It is true that the image of God as a powerful monarch who gains glory by lording it over puny human beings is a common one in the Bible.
But fortunately, the Bible also offers a much more powerful and pervasive image of God: that of a father (and occasionally a mother) who tenderly loves the universe and all the created beings in it. This offers another view of why God created the universe.
Here are just a few Bible passages proclaiming the steadfast love of God toward the universe and everything in it:
The earth, O Lord, is full of your steadfast love. (Psalm 119:63)
The word of the Lord is upright,
and all his work is done in faithfulness.
He loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
and all their host by the breath of his mouth.
He gathered the waters of the sea as in a bottle;
he put the deeps in storehouses. (Psalm 33:4–7)
Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your judgments are like the great deep;
you save humans and animals alike, O Lord. (Psalm 36:5–6)
Psalm 136 is a paean to God’s love for all creation and for God’s people. Every other line reads, “for his steadfast love endures forever.”
In Jeremiah 31:3 God speaks tenderly to his people Israel:
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
And John 3:16, one of the most quoted verses in the Gospels, begins:
For God so loved the world . . . .
These are only a few of hundreds of Bible passages presenting God as a being whose relationship with the universe and everything in it is one of love.
And this suggests that God has far greater motives for creating the universe than having billions of people to stoke God’s ego.
And indeed, Psalm 115:1 poetically tells us that when we give glory to God, it is not to build up God’s ego, but to remind us of God’s great love for us:
Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory,
for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.
Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) expands on this idea in a beautiful statement about the nature of love—especially God’s love—and why God wants our love, worship, and praise:
The essence of spiritual love is to do good to others for their sake and not for our own. This is infinitely more so in regard to the essence of divine love. It is like the love of parents for their children. They do good for them out of love, for the children’s sake, not for their own sake. We can see this clearly in the love mothers have for their little ones.
People believe that because the Lord is to be revered, worshiped, and praised the Lord loves reverence, worship, and praise for his own sake. In fact, he loves them for our sake, because they bring us into a state where something divine can flow in and be felt. This is because by these activities we are removing that focus on self that prevents the inflow and acceptance. The focus on self that is self-love hardens and closes our heart. It is removed by our realization that in our own right we are nothing but evil, and that nothing but what is good comes from the Lord. This yields the softening of heart and humility from which reverence and worship flow. (Divine Love and Wisdom #335)
In other words, God wants us to worship, praise, and give glory to God, not for God’s own sake, but for our sake. When we focus on God’s greatness instead of focusing on ourselves, it softens our heart and brings us into a humble state in which we are open to receiving God’s love, wisdom, and power.
So here, once again is the short answer to the original question:
No, God does not require Christians, or anyone else, to give glory to God in order to build up God’s ego out of some sense of insecurity, or for any other superficial or self-serving reason. Instead, God requires Christians—and people of every other religion as well—to worship, praise, and glorify God because God knows that when we do so from the heart, God’s love, faithfulness, kindness, and power can flow into us in new and more powerful ways.
Or even shorter:
God wants our praise and worship, not because God loves himself, but because God loves us, and wants us to receive, feel, and express God’s love to the people around us. That’s the only way we humans can experience our highest joy.
Why does the Bible speak so much about God’s glory?
Why, then, does the Bible talk so much about God’s greatness and glory?
Why does the Bible even go so far as to present the universe and everyone in it as existing to give God glory? Why, for example does the Revelation 4 present God as a king on his throne surrounded by adoring worshipers who eternally chant:
Holy, holy, holy,
the Lord God the Almighty,
who was and is and is to come. (Revelation 4:8)
You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created. (Revelation 4:11)
And in Revelation 5, where it says:
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing:
To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might
forever and ever! (Revelation 5:13)
The final book of the Bible paints a picture of all creation arranged around God and singing God’s praises!
Why does the Bible put so much emphasis on God’s glory?
Clearly, this imagery in the book of Revelation is not meant to be taken literally. God did not create us to attend an eternal, unending church service. In fact, the Bible specifically sets aside only one day of the week to focus specifically on God:
Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. (Exodus 20:8–10)
If we were meant to spend all our days in endless worship, the Ten Commandments would not tell us that six of the seven days are intended for us to labor and accomplish all our work, whereas only one day of the week to be devoted to worshiping and learning about God.
Clearly, God does not want us to spend all of our time worshiping and praising God. Rather, God wants us to spend the bulk of our time showing God’s love to our fellow human beings through practical service to our neighbors here on earth.
God wants to break down our ego by getting us to focus on God instead
But the Bible does have a purpose in presenting God as great and powerful, and us humans as mere worms in the presence of God.
We humans tend to get stuck on ourselves and our own greatness. We build vast political and economic empires, often as monuments to our own ego and power. And in doing so, we commonly bring great oppression, pain, and misery upon our fellow human beings. If we look at the powerful human empires of history, and even at many powerful nations today, we see humans inflicting injustice and death upon one another in order to build up their own wealth and power.
When God looks down from heaven and sees all of this human pain and misery caused by our own ego, pride, and self-centeredness, it gives God great sadness of heart.
And so in the Bible and in many other sacred texts of humankind, God tells us that it is wrong to give glory to anyone else but God. God tells us that our human glory causes only pain and suffering, and ultimately crumbles into dust, whereas God’s glory is eternal, and brings comfort, peace, and joy to all who are touched by it.
When we self-absorbed humans read the Bible and take that message to heart, it begins to break down our natural ego and self-centeredness. It begins to open us up to what truly is most important in life, as embodied in the two Great Commandments given to us by Jesus in the Gospels:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:37–40)
The meaning of God’s glory
When we put God first in our life by giving all glory to God, and by listening to God’s commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves, our life here on earth is raised above our small, self-centered, and ultimately futile human desires for power, possessions, and glory for ourselves. Our life is elevated into the greater power and joy of a human community in which each of us lives to love our neighbor and serve the needs of our fellow human beings.
God knows that this is the only way we will reach our own highest potential, and our own highest peace and joy.
And that is the true meaning of God’s glory.
God’s glory is not like human glory. It is not about building up God’s ego.
God’s glory is about spreading God’s love, wisdom, and power far and wide, throughout the entire universe, and especially into human hearts and human communities.
This article is a response to a spiritual conundrum submitted by a reader.
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