“Can God Be Selfish?” Answering Objections to Soli Deo Gloria

Having defined and explored the scriptural basis for Soli Deo Gloria, it is desirable now to address briefly a pair of common objections to the doctrine, which will in turn lead to a more solid understanding of God’s great zeal for His glory and its consequences for His creatures.

The first objection, as phrased by Edwards, is “that to suppose God makes himself his highest and last end is dishonorable to him, as it in effect supposes that God does everything from a selfish spirit.”[1]  This objection comes from common human observation as well as the teachings of Scripture, both of which attest that supreme selfishness and supreme goodness cannot possibly coincide in one soul.  However true this may be for the lowly creature, though, it does not translate to the divine Creator; as a matter of fact, God’s concern for Himself above all else is derived from His divine goodness!  As Piper explains, “God would be unrighteous (just as we would) if he valued anything more than what is supremely valuable.  But he himself is supremely valuable.  If he did not take infinite delight in the worth of his own glory he would be unrighteous.”[2]  In a magnificent turn of phrase, Piper remarks that “God’s esteeming himself supremely is not contrary to his esteeming human happiness, since he is that happiness”; consequently, “Nothing is more loving than for God to exalt himself for the enjoyment of man.”[3]  Indeed, it should come as no surprise that the all-powerful, all-wise, sovereign Creator God would have formed for Himself a world in which His ultimate end coincides perfectly with the greatest benefit of His creatures.

A second common objection to Soli Deo Gloria regards the supposed danger of positing a God who is not complete or fulfilled in Himself, needing the glory given to Him by creation in order to be complete.  Such a God would thus be dependent on creatures.  Bavinck expresses the objection thusly: “Since the world serves as an instrument of his glorification, there is something lacking in his perfection and blessedness.  Creation must meet a need in God and contributes to his perfection.”[4]  Well, in the first place, God’s supposed dependence upon creation or lack of perfection must be rejected outright.  God did not create from necessity but from His good pleasure; and this good pleasure was not constrained to find outlet in creation.  One is wise to note that infinity cannot be improved, and it certainly is not deficient.  In short, the divine fellowship and mutual glorification of the Trinity leave no room to suppose that God should ever be in want.  However, Edwards offers a healthy corrective to such a one-dimensional response:

Though it be true that God’s glory and happiness are in and of himself, are infinite and cannot be added to, and unchangeable, for the whole and every part of which he is perfectly independent of the creature; yet it does not hence follow, nor is it true, that God has no real and proper delight, pleasure, or happiness in any of his acts or communications relative to the creature or effects he produces in them, or in any thing he sees in the creature’s qualifications, dispositions, actions and state.[5]

The key to understanding this two-sided reality is to be found in this: that any glory or pleasure God finds in his creatures was not of their invention but His.[6]  Recalling Romans 11, all things which are “to him” were first “from him” and “through him.”[7]  Therefore, as always, all the glory belongs to God.

We’ve got one more post simmering in the proverbial crock pot for this miniseries on Soli Deo Gloria, but before diving into some juicy implications of the doctrine for our daily lives, it behooves us to pause and make certain that we’re all on the same page.  Is this all making sense?  Is there anything that needs to be explained in greater detail?  Are there other objections to Soli Deo Gloria that ought to be addressed?  Does the biblical evidence hold up?  If you’ve got a question, an observation, a rejoinder, a non sequitur, or a “yo mamma’s so Reformed” joke, I reckon we’d all benefit from hearing it.  So leave a comment below!  (That’s right, you!  Take it personally!)

[1] Edwards, The End for Which God Created the World, ¶ 93.

[2] Piper, Desiring God, 32.

[3] John Piper, God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1998), 169-170. Emphasis added.

[4] Bavinck, God and Creation, 434.

[5] Edwards, The End for Which God Created the World, ¶ 79.

[6] Westminster Confession of Faith, II.II.

[7] Rom 11:36, ESV.