While talking to my father only a short while ago, we stumbled upon a controversial question of great importance: that being whether or not it’s egomaniacal for God to demand that others worship Him. It seemed strange, at first, that He would embody a characteristic usually recognized as abusive, bizarre, and oftentimes difficult to explain to those outside the faith. But I believe these difficulties can be resolved, first, upon further inspection of man’s fall, and second, upon careful examination of what it means to be finite.
First of all, as Augustine noted in City of God (and as even pagan Plato was able to gather, as stated in The Republic), in the Creator God alone lies all virtue, beauty, and order, existing in their most complete and perfect manifestations. When God created the universe, all was created good, in that it bore all marks of His character, and functioned, like clockwork, according to His perfect reason. Man, of course, as well as some of the angels, was given a will and consciousness to experience and act, entirely unlike the lower creatures. The lower creatures lack human reason, they lack spiritual discernment, are subject to instinct. Man, on the other hand, has a will which, even being presented with the divine, in either Heaven or the Garden of Eden, acts not according to natural law, but rather according to his particular choice, according to whatever he thinks will bring him the most joy. The arrival of man and angel signified that the universe would not simply be a machine, subject to the concrete decrees of the Almighty, but rather that other lower forces, for many different kinds of individual reasons, would act upon it.
Even should urges have pulled in one direction, had man willed communion with the Creator, the Creator would have sustained him. Man would have, in essence, remained perfect. But having been given free reign over his own choices, man and many angels chose to depart from their Maker, and thus could not sustain perfection themselves. When man left God, he left reason, order, beauty, and love. Retaining only shadows of perfect reality, he became subject to decay, to every kind of lust, and to death. The urges which once bowed to man’s will then became unbridled; they ran wild, where they once were domesticated, and our understanding became darkened.
This historical fact observed, consider also that man’s actions exist within limitation, because he is not infinite; he acts, because he wants to become something which he formerly wasn’t; he is restless, dissatisfied. He doesn’t possess the entire universe like God does. Being alienated from the life of God, he doesn’t own all qualities at once, nor does he exist in perfect security, but in lack; his choice is finite, excludes every other possible action, and reveals the workings of his soul in that moment alone. In essence, man may be one thing one moment, and entirely another the next. His moods change, his capabilities suffer upon weariness and trial, the objects of his affections shift in a tumultuous barrage of stimulation, each and every object calling for his attention. When finite man acts virtuously, we praise him for his act, because in his finite self, he chooses to manifest some virtue at the expense of comfort, at the expense of something else less virtuous. But he is not always virtuous. Being subject to his lusts, and having inordinately granted his affections to unworthy objects, he oftentimes chooses what is ugly and selfish. And there are also many times when man acts, having the appearance of virtue, when he really acts in impurity. For such a being to demand unflinching adoration wouldn’t only be ridiculous, but dangerous. It would align man’s soul with something already corrupted, lacking of true ideal, and incapable of perfect beauty.
But consider, then, aside from God’s perfection, that God is infinite. Even His action is a mystery to the human mind; for how can one act, when in Him all things consist, when He does not change, when He possesses all goodness, when past and future are already His? I don’t pretend to understand this mystery, as my mind is confined within the limitations of time and space, but I do know that He is known by His works, that they testify of Him, and He does not move in isolated acts of goodness. He is goodness embodied. We do not say a man is love, because man only chooses, on occasion, to act in love. But God is love because love is dependent upon His existence. We cannot praise any virtue without praising its true source, just as we cannot praise a painting without indirectly praising the skill of its painter; for God isn’t an isolated act of goodness, but goodness defined.
To love God, then, to fix one’s gaze upon Him and worship Him alone, with all one’s heart, mind, soul, and strength, is to love beauty, order, and goodness, qualities recognized in themselves as worthy of admiration, but possessed by none except God Himself. For such qualities exist in total dependence upon being; though often cherished in the abstract, they are only realized by persons, have their existence in consciousness. Yes, man experiences shades of these, but he never has their whole until he communes with their source; he settles for the corrupted virtues, until He fellowships with The Highest. Being entirely dependent for his virtue, he must attach himself with a wild ferocity to its source, or risk degradation. And the source must be a person, or it cannot be a source.
Every second that man turns his gaze from God, in adoration of something created, is an act of rebellion not just against an infinite being, but against all goodness. It is neither beneficial to man, nor enjoyable to God; it strips man of the qualities for which he wrongly worships himself, and threatens him with judgment. For how can justice pardon the man who himself hates, turns from justice? How can goodness rejoice in the man who himself rejects goodness? And can a man praise an act of charity, while condemning the concept of charity?
When possessed by finite men, egomania is a terrible disease. But it isn’t a terrible disease because a being must never be worshiped. It’s a terrible disease when virtue is finite, and prone to deviation. Supposing such a Man were to walk the earth, supposing that He were to possess virtue, justice, love, not in part, but in whole; supposing He had the power to transform man, by realigning him with the source of all virtue; supposing He were to arrive amongst corrupted beings, and somehow not simply choose goodness, but be goodness, be light, be love, man’s only proper response would be to adore, with all his heart, the manifestation of everything we claim makes human consciousness sublime. Were this Man to walk the earth, we could only worship Him as Savior, and carry His banner to the ends of the earth, giving Him dominion not simply over the mountains and oceans and nations, but over the rugged wildernesses of the human heart. Where He does not reign is ugly; who He does not preside over as King, we have no choice but to pity.
Is God an egomaniac, then? My answer is simple. If hating goodness is good, if scorning beauty is tasteful, if loving darkness is enlightenment, then God is an egomaniac. But for those who have been called by Him, predestined to an everlasting inheritance, and to those who have been born of the Spirit, calling out to Him as Father to rescue us from the present darkness, it is far less like egomania, and more like nature. We worship Him because we cannot worship anything else; to worship anything else would be a waste of adoration.