Question: "Is God selfish?"

Answer: The Bible does not directly address the question of whether God is selfish because it probably never occurred to anyone in ancient times to ask it. It is a thoroughly modern question. In recent years, it has become fashionable to accuse God of being selfish, even egotistical. Often, this accusation is leveled by people who do not believe in God but who use it as an argument that God as presented in the Bible is not really good. It often goes something like “the God of the Bible created everything for His own glory and then demands His creatures worship and obey Him or He will torture them in hell forever if they refuse.”

It seems that the more selfish a person is, the more he will be distressed by a perceived selfishness in others. A truly unselfish child will not be angered by the fact that another child does not want to share his toys. Selfishness is focusing attention upon one’s own self when that attention is not warranted. God is the only perfect being in the entire universe, and any attention, praise, and adoration that is directed to Him is completely warranted. Any accusation that God is selfish inevitably springs from the human desire to occupy the place that is rightfully occupied by God. It is only our own selfishness that allows us to accuse God of selfishness.

God was completely sufficient in Himself from all eternity. He had no need to create other beings in order to give Himself fulfillment. Within the Trinity there was perfect love and fellowship. The only reason He created human beings is that we might also experience His love and perfection. Accusing God of selfishness is like a 5-year-old child who accuses his parents of being selfish because they refuse to buy him all the toys he wants. Furthermore, his parents have the audacity to ask him to help with chores around the house. In fact, they require him to treat them with respect and to obey them all the time. Even when he knows better than they do, they still require him to submit to their direction. The only explanation that the child can fathom is that his parents are completely selfish.

The Westminster Catechism summarizes humanity’s purpose as “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” John Piper has often said that “we are most satisfied when God is most glorified.” By submitting to and glorifying God, we also benefit immeasurably and find the purpose for which we were created. But wouldn’t it be more generous (and less selfish) of God to give people happiness whether or not they want a relationship with Him? C. S. Lewis answers: “God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way. . . . God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing” (Mere Christianity, HarperOne; revised & enlarged ed., 2015, p. 50).

By nature, we do not want to submit to God and actively seek to banish Him from our lives so that we can maintain control and be gods unto ourselves. God would have been within His rights to simply let us go our own miserable way. (Whatever else hell may involve, that is certainly a big part of it.) However, God demonstrated His love for us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). It is God’s selflessness that allows us to be forgiven.