Is God Arrogant? (Reading Paul Copan Together)

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This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Reading Paul Copan


It’s time at last to kick off my promised series, reading through Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster together. Ignoring two chapters of background material that’s not germane to our purposes, the meat of the book starts off in chapter 3 with a relatively easy question: Is the Old Testament God arrogant? Is he guilty of sinful pride?

Nobody likes to hang around someone who’s haughty, arrogant, or overly aware that he or she is better than you. We don’t like it even if in some ways it’s true.

Who’s really better?

When I was in music school I was surrounded by talent. Apparently I had talent myself. There were about sixteen of us studying the trombone my senior year, and I was at the designated top of the heap: principal trombonist in the trombone choir. What did that mean, though? The two players just after me were both sophomores. Both of them were more talented than me, and I knew that when they were seniors, they would be better than I was at that stage. My roommate was a violin/viola player who was probably more talented than any two of us trombonists put together, another trombone-playing friend was a gifted composer, and another one was knocking down top grades in the electrical engineering program.

You could add your own examples easily enough: the best, smartest person in one circle is low on the list in another circle. What’s more, the wisest among us know that they didn’t exercise any special wisdom before birth to get themselves born with the best genes and into the best life situations. That’s true even for those who claim to have done it on their own: for every “self-made” talent, there are undoubtedly thousands of others who could have done as well or better had they had better opportunities than they were given. It’s hard to be arrogant when you keep in mind how easily things could have turned out differently.

It’s hard, that is, but some people still manage to accomplish it anyway, and those are not the kind of people most of us prefer to be with. And have you noticed how much those people seem to need other people to prop them up with their praise? You can tell there’s something missing in them. There have been times when I’ve felt more sad for them than annoyed.

God himself is on record in the Bible as saying that kind of pride is wrong. So how does he get away with calling for worship and praise from the people he created?

Pride vs. praise

Copan answers firstCopan of all by clarifying terms. I’ve hinted at it here already. Sinful pride is about claiming more for oneself than is true, taking more credit than one deserves, vaunting oneself above others when those others are equally as good or better in many ways. God doesn’t do any of that. As God, he genuinely is stronger, wiser, more loving, more holy, and in every way better than humans, to a degree that the language I’ve used in this sentence to say so falls infinitely short. When others claim to be superior, they’re mostly wrong. When it is said of God, it is infinitely right.

Copan also speaks of worship as “getting in touch with reality.” I wrote about this once before, and I had my days as a trombone student in mind then, too. My teacher for the last two years in music school was Curtis Olson, a bass trombonist just out of the Eastman School of Music, and a truly great musician. As I wrote in that previous blog post,

He never called attention to his skills, but when he played, there was no doubt–especially when he played his first recital. It was pretty much perfect. I think the rumors we had heard were probably true–he was a tremendous trombonist, and every one of his students knew it. Our praise of his skills was perfectly fitting and right.

Suppose now that a trombone student there had been indifferent to Olson’s skills, or had thought him to be a mediocre player. What would that have meant to him as teacher? It might have been personally painful. The main thing it would have shown, though, is that the student knew nothing about the trombone. With so little discernment, that person would have no future whatever as a musician. To a teacher that would be a serious disappointment, because of the student’s loss.

Recognizing what’s real

There is something right and good about recognizing excellence where excellence exists. It’s not necessarily for the benefit of the person being praised. To fail to recognize and speak well of true, genuine excellence is to show that one doesn’t understand what’s real. It’s also a way to miss out on enjoying and experiencing excellence. Think of how you react when someone makes a great play on the athletic field. Is it more enjoyable to you, or less enjoyable, to shout, “Wow! That was great!” It’s more enjoyable, obviously.

Copan closes this chapter by reminding us that God gives himself for others. He’s not in relationship with us for himself. He’s self-sufficient; he has no needs that he depends on us to fulfill. Instead he gives to meet our needs.

Is God arrogant?

So in summary, God is not guilty of the kinds of errors that people make when we fall into pride or arrogance. He is globally, totally, completely good. He is good in himself, not by the luck of birth or opportunity. His excellence is real, and the more we recognize and praise his excellence, the more in touch we are with genuine reality, and the more joy we can have, too. And finally, he’s not asking for praise because he needs it. He has no needs of that sort; instead, he gives to us out of his vast surplus of resources.

This is neither arrogance nor sinful pride. It is God’s goodness, there for us to recognize, to praise, and to enjoy.

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3 Responses to “ Is God Arrogant? (Reading Paul Copan Together) ”

  1. Tom,

    It’s a fascinating question. The answer really does depend on our own perception (we cannot perceive “all” of Him), which brings the illusion of a problem. And, it really does depend on who and what “God” actually “is” (this of course would solve the illusion of a problem in the first part, and so on). I had a few thoughts but I’m chopping them up into a few posts later/tomorrow or etc. as I’m sure there are more interesting directions to take this.

    So,

    Summoned by God – getting in touch with reality:

    ~ Worship Me and no other ~

    Copan and Tom both touch on the very nucleus of the question at hand: the essence behind God’s call on Man to enter into worship. They each (in the OP) touched exactingly on the explicit epicenter which is the locus of that essence: “…..worship as “getting in touch with reality”…..” It just cannot be said any better than that. The skeptic’s one-verse staw-man need not apply as we dissect “that”. There is in Scripture’s meta-narrative the entire continuum – from the whole of bliss to the bitter pains of our own fragmentation – of what David Bentley Hart sketches as he describes that we “….encounter the world….. through our conscious and intentional orientation toward the absolute, in pursuit of a final bliss that beckons to us from within those transcendental desires that constitute the very structure of rational thought, and that open all of reality to us precisely by bearing us on toward ends that lie beyond the totality of physical things. The whole of nature is something prepared for us, composed for us, given to us, delivered into our care by a supernatural dispensation. All this being so one might plausibly say that God – the infinite wellspring of being, consciousness, and bliss that is the source, order, and end of all reality…..” becomes ever more observable in and through Gods many modes of revelation.

  2. Man was summoned.

    And the entity we are charging with Pride for so summoning Man, for that peculiar claim made on Itself or on Himself as that which Man ought dive into just cannot be the skeptic’s straw-man that is less than this from David Hart: “God – the infinite wellspring of being, consciousness, and bliss that is the source, order, and end of all reality”.

    We have now two postures of That which manifest before Man:

    ~ Worship Me and no other ~ And, now, in this next phase of this seamless contour: ~ There is none like Me ~

    We are speaking of the God of the Bible, and, therefore, we must infuse those unique lines which are peculiar to that God into David Bentley Hart’s enigmatic archetype. The Skeptic does not want to face those contours of immutable love within the God of Scripture. But he will have to if he wishes to be heard – or even noticed.

    So then:

    Encountering Godin touch with reality:

    ~ There is none like Me ~

    Genesis begins with David Hart’s enigmatic archetype stating thusly of Himself and of Man: “Let Us Create man in Our Image”. God as Trinity – unassailably housing love’s ceaseless reciprocity within what can only be described as the immutable love of the Necessary Being – emerges from the start and defines not only the essence of our enigmatic archetype but also the final causes of man himself.
    First Man has been summoned by That God with, “Worship me and no other”, and, now, as Man dives in and begins to perceive, see, taste, his final good, his true felicity therein, a most natural – fitting – utterance comes forth: “There is none like You”.

    The very nature of Joy, as C.S. Lewis and Christ’s Own “that your joy may be full” remind us, is the serious business of the God of the Bible. In the God of Scripture – of the Bible – we find of Man that the very means and ends of Man’s image, Man’s essence, begin and end in the immutable love and unassailable faithfulness of God. Genesis and everything which follows is nothing less than the genre of, the meta-narrative of, that God in Covenant with Man ever moving Man forward as Man is – within the stuff of Time – ultimately delivered from – redeemed from – the pain of his own privation. Any analysis of God’s call on Man to enter into worship which fails to include Scripture’s entire swath of ontological real estate can never be taken seriously. Therefore we discover inside of the landscape of the beloved, inside of the landscape of embrace, the following topography in any (honest) metaphysical regression of the OT/NT claims on worship as we (necessarily) avoid any consideration of the skeptic’s all too common one-verse-straw-man:

    “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch……. [We say] that man’s chief end is ‘to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him……. the most obvious fact about praise – whether of God or anything – strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise……. The world rings with praise – lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game…… I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.” (C.S. Lewis)

    That sort of “reciprocity” which C.S. Lewis is describing is something we all taste and know. Such just is the nature of beauty, of the lovely, of relationship, of communion, of community, of friendship – of joy and where worship is concerned, since we are dealing with the God of the Bible, and not some other (straw-man) god, we are dealing with the (only) God Who in His love just does house that very landscape of reciprocity. Therefore as Man is called into communion with that God, as Man in the pain of his own privation comes to know, to see, to perceive in and through the stuff of time and in and through the stuff of revelation the Biblical God Who Himself is the “….infinite wellspring of being, consciousness, and bliss that is the source, order, and end of all reality…” we will find that love’s ceaseless reciprocity within the immutable love of the Necessary Being just is Actuality’s (Trinity’s) “means and ends” calling on Man to enter into communion with Him. It is into those means, into those ends, into those motions which God summons Man within the confines of scriptural worship for on the authority of Scripture’s entire meta-narrative it stands to reason that “in commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”

    We find thus far two utterances from this Wellspring-Of-All-Being which speak to Man that which is the True, that which is the Good: “Worship Me and no other” and “There is none like Me”.

  3. Called to be like God – Divine Humility:

    ~ Be perfect, even as your Father is perfect ~

    The question which naturally – fittingly – follows is: “What is perfection?”

    The Perfect is everything we’ve been describing up till this point and that has been the God of the Bible. How then does Christ define the contours of “perfection” in the NT? Simply by summarizing those immutable contours of love in the God of the OT from Genesis onward: Love your enemies.

    Divine Perfection is Divine Humiliation.

    God’s unassailable faithfulness from Genesis chapter 3’s fateful Protoevangelium to John chapter 3’s actualization thereof to redeem Mankind (the OT prophets are laced with “all nations and all tongues” being summoned into this Wellspring Whom we are speaking of) brings us specifically into the lap of God’s incessant humility both within His Own uncreated essence (Trinity) and here inside of the created order. For a world which hates Him, Divine Perfection manifests as Divine Humiliation. Once inside of the Trinity’s relational landscape there is no further “question” about the “real-ness-of” God’s unending pouring-out of all that we call “Self” – that peculiar echo of “Thine and not Mine” in those enigmatic contours of Actuality are forever within the amalgamation of the Divine’s Own simplicity.

    As God is within Himself, so God is towards Man:

    Throughout the OT and NT He remains unstoppable in His commitment to His traveling city of misfits despite His Name being – at nearly every turn – either forgotten, or questioned, or slandered, or outright forsaken. That faithfulness flows in part from within His manifest ceaseless reciprocity there within the Triune and such unique lines satisfy love’s ontological necessities in ways nothing else ever has or can ever hope to. Whatever our own lines of humility are here inside of our own petite swath of ontological acreage they can only be akin to – say – our intelligence where juxtaposition to the Divine is concerned. Divine Humility – wherever its ends reach – traverses inscrutable oceans atop means and ends none of us here inside of time and physicality can hope to spy. On Humility, on Sacrifice, on Love, it just is the state of affairs that God “is” – while Man “discovers”. It is sheer hubris (the irony) that we employ our narrow slice of ontological real estate to contrive some question on the humility of Uncreated Love’s Eternally Sacrificed Self. Eden’s First Adam and Gethsemane’s Last Adam (it’s all the same meta-narrative) tie up all metaphysical ends there in Christ – the fullness of Man in God, of God in Man – the fullness of Justice and the fullness of Mercy – for we perceive from Scripture’s A to Scripture’s Z love’s inconceivable vector of Divine Humiliation – and such He endures, embraces even, for we His beloved. It is He Who – from A to Z – first pours out for Man even as it is He Who first pours into Man, who first loves us, who first glorifies us – and – then – it is we who are invited to glorify Him – to enjoy Him forever.