Words of Healing “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” – Jesus (Matt 24:35).

1Mar/154

Is God Narcissistic?

I like my pastor, not only because he has a good sense of humor, but because he teaches what I would call an authentic Christianity. An authentic Christianity, I would say, is one that is marked by submission to God's authority--being a follower of Jesus--rather than merely giving lip service to the Bible. However, on half a dozen locations, my pastor has said that God is narcissistic, and while I think I understand what he is trying to say, I think that what he is actually saying is getting in the way of what he means. While it is merely semantics, the words we choose to describe God have great implications to those who hear it, and I think this has dangerous implications.

Now, what I think my pastor is trying to say is that, yes, God wants your worship all to himself, and he's God, so he deserves it and has a right to ask for it. However, if we accept that this makes God narcissistic, then that means my wife is also narcissistic. When it comes to women, my wife doesn't expect that I merely love her like I love other women, not even that I love her more than other women. My wife has the audacity to actually expect that she be the ONLY woman that gets my romantic-love and devotion. Does that make my wife a narcissist? No, it only makes her cognizant of the fact that certain types of love can only be expressed in a bond where exclusion of other, competing loves is required.

What is Narcissism?

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
Inigo Montoya - The Princess Bride

The word narcissism comes from Greek mythology where a boy, Narcissus, "pines away for love of his own reflection and is then turned into the narcissus flower". Thus, narcissism is described as "love of or sexual desire for one's own body," or egoism/egocentrism (m-w.com). As Wikipedia defines it: "Narcissism is the pursuit of gratification from vanity, or egotistic admiration of one's own attributes, that derive from arrogant pride" (emphasis added).

Psychologically speaking, a key indicator of narcissism is a lack of empathy for others because everything is about the narcissist. The narcissist may feign modesty, but there is no genuine humility in a Narcissist. To a narcissist, other people are just tools to be used when they are useful and discarded when they are not.

Is God a Narcissist?

The God of the Bible would have every right to be narcissistic, because there is nothing greater than Himself to admire. And certain passages taken out of context can certainly make it seem like God might be a bit narcissistic. However, we have to remember the relational context. Like my wife expects all my romantic love, God expects all of our "God-love"…all of our spiritual-longing…to be directed toward our relationship with Him. That spiritual-longing is designed to bring us closer to God, like romantic-love is meant to drive us closer to our spouses. This does not make God narcissistic.

If God were narcissistic, he would either annihilate us for ignoring His greatness, or He would be completely aloof--not caring what such lowly creatures do. There would be no interest in real relationships. In fact, a narcissistic god would be INCAPABLE of loving anyone other than himself, and so such a god's love for us would be on par with how a man loves a good meal…as soon as he got full, we would be discarded without a care in the world. We would only be useful to a narcissistic god so long as we fed into his own good feelings about himself. The Bible, in contrast, declares that God cares for us deeply despite our continual rejection of Him…that He is close to the brokenhearted and near those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34). God is empathetic and loves us deeply, not because we increase His good feelings about Himself, but because He is like a father that loves His children no matter what they do.

Nowhere in the Bible is this fatherly love portrayed more clearly than in the story of the prodigal son. If God were narcissistic, when the prodigal son returned home, the father might let him come back, but he would berate the son for all the worry that he had caused his father. A narcissistic father would be very concerned with the embarrassment that the son had caused him. The father would reiterate to the son how much the son had disgraced the family name, how he had squandered all that the father had worked to build, and he would make the son continually pay for that mistake. The Jews listening to the story were probably expecting as much, because a father would have a right to say such things. However, amazingly, the father in the story does none of this. Instead, the father doesn't seem to care at all about the fact that his son had hurt him, disgraced the family name, or squandered the wealth he had provided. The father only seems to be concerned with loving his child; he only cares that his son is home, and that he once again gets to have a relationship with his son. Nothing else mattered. That is the love of God.

And it goes further. We also see Jesus displaying an unexpected humility. Jesus had no reason to be humble…He's God. He could have come in glory, prestige, and power. However, instead, He came as a baby to a lowly craftsman. He took on the nature of a servant. Instead of having His followers wash His feet, He got down on His hands and knees and washed their feet. Even skeptics and non-Christians, who have no problem listing the faults of every Christian since Christ, seem to have a hard time finding anything negative to say about Christ Himself, and I would suggest this is in large part due to His unexpected humility.

Can you imagine a president of the United States jumping in front of a bullet to save one of his bodyguards? No, a president will allow others to die for him, and we don't even consider that arrogant or narcissistic. However, the amazing thing about the God revealed in the Bible is that He would jump in front of a bullet for you.

When humankind chose to "eat the fruit" and obtain autonomy from God, God could have used His power to stop us and turn us into slaves.  However, instead of demanding that we pay a penalty for our rebellion against Him, He revealed to us--in the most incredible display of history--why our rebellion against Him was nonsensical. The King of all Creation allowed the created beings to put nails in his hands and feet and crucify Him. It is an absurdity. But, in that moment, in that pain and suffering, He revealed His character in a way that we would otherwise never be able to understand.

"God chose the radical tactic of self-sacrifice to reveal that He is the leader we can trust. In the face of our continuing insurrection, He deliberately made Himself vulnerable and allowed us to abuse and humiliate Him. Herein lies the awesome self-exposure of the Incarnation.

"…God cannot stop being God. He has the right and the responsibility to choose how rebellious human beings can be reconciled and received into His kingdom. Out of all the options that an infinite, all-knowing mind could devise, this was the best. God was determined to both maintain His integrity and salvage all who would choose to return to His kingdom. He could not compromise His authority and character, and He would not let go of His affection--for you and for me. He chose the cross as the door to His eternal love. It was brilliant. It was genius. His omniscient wisdom determined that there was no better way to reveal who He is and what His leadership is really like." (Follow Me, by Jan David Hettinga, p42-44)

God's revelation of His character is nothing like we would have expected it to be. God is empathetic to our pain, He is remarkably humble and doesn't lord His position over us with His might, He is servant-hearted, He is self-sacrificing, and He is the Father. To call God narcissistic after such incredible revelations is to either not understand the meaning of narcissism or a complete slap in the face.

The Foundation of Morality

There is a bigger problem with calling God narcissistic, however, and that is the idea of Moral Ontology (the foundation of morals). If God is narcissistic, but it is morally wrong for us to be narcissistic, that would mean our options for moral ontology are:

  • Might makes right: God makes the rules because He's the mightiest. If God says it is wrong for us to be narcissistic then He is saying "do as I say, not as I do."
  • A Higher Morality: What is morally right and wrong is "above" God (i.e. something like Plato's "The Good"), and God can choose to subject Himself to that morality or not at His whim, and when it comes to narcissism, He has a special exception to be narcissistic since He's God.

However, Christians reject both of these options. Christians claim that there is nothing higher than God, and that the foundation for morals is not the "might" of God but rather, God's very nature…His character. Christians believe that the reason it is good to love others is because God's nature is to love others, and thus He created a universe that corresponded with that nature. With this line of reasoning, if God were narcissistic, then it would be appropriate for us, also, to be narcissistic because we would be reflecting the nature of God, which cannot be anything other than good. In fact, the Bible commands us to be imitators of God:

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:32-5‬:‭2 ESV, emphasis added)

However, no Christian would defend that God wants us to be narcissistic. So, we clearly realize that narcissism does not reflect the nature of God and is not good, and therefore, we must reject that God is narcissistic. God's nature is humble, meek, and others-focused, and we are called to be imitators of that nature. We are called to love and serve, not just because God commands it, but because He has shown us by example that operating in that way is what works. It is in dying to ourselves that we begin to discover purpose and meaning in life, like many parents who discover such profound meaning in life when they make years of sacrifice in order to raise their children. The reason we find such purpose in self-sacrifice is because that is how God created us, and He created us that way because that is how He is. That is how God loves.

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (‭Matthew‬ ‭10‬:‭39‬ ESV)

Philosophical Rabbit Trail

When we look at the Trinity we see God always operating in an others-focused manner. The Father shines the spotlight on the Son, the Son does everything to the Glory of the Father, and the Holy Spirit is always leading people to the work of the cross. Each person of the Trinity is always looking out for the good of the others, and they cooperate in perfect unity…the kind of unity for which marriage and family are just a dim reflection. Interestingly, it is the Trinity, that explains why God's nature is not narcissistic, and why it is safe to say that morality comes from God's nature rather than merely His might.

Without the Trinity, you would have a god who could not love within his own nature since before he created anything there would be nothing to love other than himself. Thus, such a god would be inherently narcissistic, and such a god would have what Christians would consider an incomplete nature…meaning such a god would have to create other beings in order to learn how to love, since love would not inherently be part of that god's nature. This becomes problematic at best: If we consider love an essential to morality, it would mean that our nature, being created to love, in some way exceeds such a god whose nature needed to create other beings in order to love. We could in some ways consider ourselves "better" than such a god. Fortunately, the Trinity explains why love would be a part of God's nature; why he would create creatures who, at their core, are relational beings, and thus why morality comes from His nature rather than merely His might.

Comments (4) Trackbacks (0)
  1. I just learned that my ex is a prime example of NPD and through that learning curve started asking if God is a narcissist. The description of worshipping a god and glorifying him at all times, felt a bit narcissistic to me. When I googled my question I found this article and it helped me see the big picture and set my question straight. Thank you for this article.

  2. It’s interesting to ponder why God would engage in creation at all: why would a perfect being of absolute bliss and One-ness have any needs or wants left? A perfect God would be silent and still, in prefect harmony with Himself. The fact that He created, tells us that He is on a quest; he is, just like us, still searching for perfection. He manifests to resolve.

    According to some mystic schools, God created (or: is creating) the Universe precisely because He is *not* yet perfect. Apparently, one answer still eludes Him: He wants to know Himself; to be called by a name; to see His reflection. And therefore, He expresses Himself in every possible way He can think of; in endless recursive permutations of His self-love, as the grand total of all things that were and will be, will in the end add up to the perfect answer.

    And to anyone who’s even been exposed to a person with NPD, these tendencies will sound all too familiar. Indeed, a narcissist who feels his artificial self-image is fading by lack of attention, will deliberately ‘stirr things up’, as the resulting chaos will put the spotlight back on him. Again, isn’t this very similar to the way God expresses Himself? How is the Universe not also a deliberate attempt to ‘stirr things up’..? Why not leave it at peace?

    But God is not a narcissist, even though He uses all the tactics that a person with NPD will use to create his false self-image. The thing is: the desire to question your existence, the desire to know who you are, the desire to create and manifest in order to define yourself, is, of course, not malignant in itself — and certainly not in the hands of God. It becomes malignant in the hands of imperfect men who seek to mimic God’s tactics in order to establish their place in the world and be worshiped. God doesn’t need to be worshiped; insecure men do.

    God is where the buck stops, and He knows that. He knows He has full responsibility, as there is no force above Him He needs to prove Himself to or that can hold Him accountable, or that can threaten His existence. God is free to love unconditionally, and therefore His quest to look for His own reflection is driven only by love and curiosity. In His hands, His quest of self-love is a glorious one, as it is completely unburdened by vanity, the fear to fall short, the fear to be ‘a failure’.

    This fear is only present in imperfect men, and it is this precisely this fear that drives the narcissist. Dreading the negative judgment of human tribe, the narcissist desperately tries to shortcut straight to the top by resolving to the tactics of the One and Only that really IS as the top.

    In His hands, solitary self-love becomes a glorious love for all of Creation, and indeed, Creation itself. In our hands, solitary self-love becomes malignant, as it cuts us off from God’s self-love. Solitary self-love is self-love born out of fear. It is not a humble and curious self-love that floats on the all-encompassing self-love of God, but a self-love that can only exist by denying the self-love of God. Narcissists are waging a continuous war against mankind and God’s creation; they seek to control and/or eradicate all other manifestations of God’s self-love.

    The fact that other people are alive and well and going about their business in a real Universe, is unbearable to the narcissist, as it is a constant testimony to the fact that there IS a higher power; that God’s self-love is real. This is why narcissists permanently lie to themselves and everyone else. They confabulate a superior role for themselves in their own inferior universe, as they cannot tolerate playing an inferior role in the real one. Not only that: a person with NPD will go out of their way to force others into “their” universe, where They are God. And woe unto them who try to leave their universe, or even question its existence! A narcissist will go to any length to try and prove his Godly might, even if this means hurting another person. Or worse.

    I’m actually convinced hat all the evil in the world is caused by this phenomenon. That, indeed, religion itself has been severely damaged by narcissistic men seeking earthly rewards and vindication, and sporting too many grandiose claims on behalf of God. For example, I’m convinced the way God is described in the Bible (especially the OT), has very little to do with God, but a lot with fearful men seeking control over others. They have described God as a wrathful and vain being, only to justify their own methods of fear-based leadership, and/or because their own instinctual existential fear rendered them unable to imagine a form of Divine Power that is based on love. They could not imagine another type of God, as they could not imagine how else they themselves would be as a God.

    So I think this whole question should be reversed. God is not evil for acting like a narcissist; narcissistic men are evil for trying to act like God.

    • You are right that self-this and self-that–our own narcissism–seems to be the root of evil. However, you are wrong in your assumption that this imitates God. I have already made my case for this. It would be valid for God to be a narcissist, but that is not what we see.

      A narcissist has children, perhaps, because he or she wants to live vicariously through those children, and they push their children to do what they wish they had done or some other such vanity. A healthy parent, one who is utterly complete within themselves, does not need children. However, they may have children anyway because they realize something vital: There is no limit to how much we can love. Adding more people to love does not mean that we are “more” now than we were before, it only means that there was no limit to what we had before. So, this, the healthy parent having children for the chance to love more…this is more an imitation of the Creator than narcissism will ever be.


Leave a comment

 

No trackbacks yet.