Because we are mortal and fragile, without the love of God, everything we build will in time become corrupt. Even our language changes in strange and unpredictable ways. Thus, the Authorized King James Version, first published in 1611, can sometimes be confusing. Consider this passage.
Exodus 20:3-7 King James Version (KJV)
3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
7 Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
Because he misunderstood the use of the word “jealous”, we have a commenter (here) who cited this passage to show God is narcissistic. What that commenter does not understand is that the meaning of the word “jealous” has changed.
jealous (adj.) c.1200, gelus, later jelus (early 14c.), “possessive and suspicious,” originally in the context of sexuality or romance; in general use late 14c.; also in a more positive sense, “fond, amorous, ardent,” from c.1300, from O.Fr. jalos “keen, zealous; avaricious; jealous” (12c., Mod.Fr. jaloux), from L.L. zelosus, from zelus “zeal,” from Gk. zelos, sometimes “jealousy,” but more often in a good sense (“emulation, rivalry, zeal”). See zeal. In biblical language (early 13c.) “tolerating no unfaithfulness.”
Most of the words for ‘envy’ … had from the outset a hostile force, based on ‘look at’ (with malice), ‘not love,’ etc. Conversely, most of those which became distinctive terms for ‘jealousy’ were originally used also in a good sense, ‘zeal, emulation.’ [Buck, pp.1138-9]
Among the ways to express this in other tongues are Swed. svartsjuka, lit. “black-sick,” from phrase bara svarta strumpor “wear black stockings,” also “be jealous.” Dan. skinsyg “jealous,” lit. “skin-sick,” is from skind “hide, skin” said to be explained by Swedish dialectal expression fa skinn “receive a refusal in courtship.”
Here is a more contemporary translation of Exodus 20:3-7.
Exodus 20:3-7 Good News Translation (GNT)
3Worship no god but me.
4 Do not make for yourselves images of anything in heaven or on earth or in the water under the earth.5 Do not bow down to any idol or worship it, because I am the Lord your God and I tolerate no rivals. I bring punishment on those who hate me and on their descendants down to the third and fourth generation.6 But I show my love to thousands of generations[a]of those who love me and obey my laws.
7Do not use my name for evil purposes, for I, the Lord your God, will punish anyone who misuses my name.
Because God will not tolerate any rivals, does that make our Creator — The Creator Of Everything — narcissistic? If God thought it appropriate to tolerate rivals, would that make Him more humble and therefore more worthy of our love and worship? Why would we want a humble, all-powerful God?
We will come back to the issue of God’s humility, but let’s consider first the nature of God’s rivals. God considers any thing or any person we would put before Him a rival or an idol. Why would we worship an idol before God? I think pride drives such foolishness. Whereas God makes seemingly harsh demands upon us, our idols seem to serve us.
Consider how Jesus summed up God’s commandments (Matthew 22:34-40). God commands each of us to love Him with all our heart and all our soul and to love each other as we love our self. At such commands, our pride rebels. We do not want to be the servant of God and of our neighbors; we want the universe at our own command. Therefore, we may choose to deny God will. We may create gods of our own, gods more subservient to our will.
Yet why would a loving God punish the descendants those who hate Him down to the third and fourth generation? In truth, the fault is not altogether His. When God created us, He made us self-willed, and He gave us a great gift. When we raise our children, we have the opportunity to be like God to them. Like God, we can shower our love upon our children. Like God, we can receive our children’s affection.
Are we zealous for our children’s affection? Do we want them to follow false “parents”, people who do not care for them, people who would lead them astray? We say we do not. Don’t we warn our children against those who would entice, molest and abuse them?
Similarly, God warns us against false gods. Yet like wilful children, we use gods of our own imagination and creation to justify hearing what we want to hear — to excuse escaping our obligations and responsibilities as we engage in vain pursuits.
With the approval of nature gods; metal, stone, and wooden idols; and emperors who demanded their worship; our ancestors sinned. Whatever they could imagine, from fornication to warfare and from slavery to child sacrifice, they did against God’s will. Therefore, Moses and the prophets condemned the worship of any but the one, true God.
Unfortunately, we are no better than our ancestors. Instead of nature, we worship science and the environment. Calling the unborn lumps of flesh, we abort babies. Demanding a clean and “natural” environment, we callously sacrifice whatever prosperity the poor might have. Instead of an emperor, we worship the state itself. Somehow making ourselves believe that government bureaucrats can give us what we want, we readily sacrifice our God-given rights. Instead of idols, we worship money and prestige. Chasing after ever more dollars and ever more promotions, we leave our obligation for our children on the doorsteps of politician-run schools. Therefore, our sins will fall upon our descendants down to the third and fourth generation.
If we love our children, we must expect them to respect and obey us. As parents we know that when our child wants something that will hurt them — like touching fire — we must with authority refuse their desire. Similarly, God is not humble. Instead, he rightfully expect us to humble ourselves before Him. As our creator He rightfully expects us to love Him and obey His commands.
Nonetheless, consider what Jesus did for us. When the Word became flesh, He became one of us. Then He modeled humility for us. He showed us how to love and obey the Father. If we love our children, we will become like Jesus. We will humble ourselves before God and obey His commands. With our example we will lead our children to God, the Eternal Father of us all.
I tried to explain to my student/friend that God getting glory is the best thing for all of creation, because when God is glorified the rest of creation is blessed and in right relationship, achieving it’s purpose. (I also asked him what would God do that would NOT bring Him glory. He didn’t have an answer). God receiving glory is the highest purpose there is, so we have to stop trying to turn God into just a man. God already did that, and Jesus humbled Himself, died and rose and when He ascended, He was Glorified. God is not a man, He Is, and He won’t fit into our little boxes.
I suppose we should not be surprised that in a culture and age of narcissism, we would recreate God in our own self-centered image, but it is surprising when we find orthodox Christians, and even careful scholars doing this.
In God Magnifying God: A contemporary debate, we learn of the debate that Witherington’s post (above) elicited.
For the video oriented, here is one from from Thinking Matters, Is God Narcissistic?