“God complex” is not a clinical term. It’s not an official diagnosis that is treatable with various medications and therapies. It does not appear in any medical manuals or diagnostic evaluations. But we all know what it is nevertheless.
If someone has a “God complex” they have a consistently inflated sense of their own abilities, intelligence, and self-importance. But even someone with such inflated ideals doesn’t really think of themselves as God. Or, if they do, they are certifiably insane, because we all know that none of us are God. Even those among us who don’t believe in God know that they aren’t him.
So we don’t really think we are God. But despite that knowledge, there are ways in which we put ourselves in the place of God. Now there are obvious examples of people doing that in the Bible. Think of instances like when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon setting up a golden statue to be worshiped or later, in the same book, when King Darius issues a decree that for 30 days prayers be made only to him. But there are also less obvious moments when, though we might not think we are God, we nevertheless put ourselves in God’s place and in a subtle way claim the title of deity for ourselves.
Here are three such times, when we put ourselves in the place of God:
1. When we excuse sin.
There is a desire in everyone to avoid conflict if we can. To live peaceable. To be well-liked and to not stir up trouble and controversy. For the most part, those are good things. In fact, the Bible tells us that this is how we ought to live:
“…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (1 Thes. 4:11-12).
But that desire to live quietly and peaceably goes too far when it comes to excusing sin. When we refuse to acknowledge that sin is actually sin, we aren’t just failing to tell the truth. We are putting ourselves in the place of God, for He is the One who tells us what is sin and what is righteousness. In our effort to live quietly and in our desire for peace, we are setting ourselves up as God as if we have the right to excuse what God has said is not excusable.
2. When we become our main advocate.
We live in a culture that tells us that we must, at all costs, stick up for ourselves. To fight for our own rights. To ensure we get what we are entitled to, and if we don’t, to keep running the issue up flagpole after flagpole until we find someone who can make it right. But consider this – when we become our own chief advocate, we are once again taking the place of God. Because advocating for us is actually not our job; it’s Jesus’s job:
“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1).
“Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Heb. 7:25).
The place of advocate has already been taken on our behalf, and it has been taken by Jesus. When we try and assume that role, we are making the claim that we would do a better job advocating for ourselves than Jesus is doing. Once again, we put ourselves in the place of God.
3. When we try and fix others.
Many of us are geared this way – we see a problem, and we immediately try and jump in and fix it. Because we do, we find ourselves constantly over our heads in other people’s issues, invading places we really ought not to be going because we are not qualified to “fix” anybody else.
We can tell them the truth; we can listen to their perspective; we can point them to God’s Word and help them lean on God’s grace; but we cannot “fix” them. We can’t, but God can. Indeed, this is what He is presently doing in all those who have been called Christians:
“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).
When we take on the burden of fixing other people, we take on a burden we were never meant to carry. God is already bearing it, and though the process is slow and painful, He is moving us all to reflect the image of Jesus. In this way, He is indeed “fixing” us.
Even if we don’t suffer from delusions of grandeur, we might in these ways try and remove God from His throne by doing the things that only He is meant to do. Let us be careful in doing so, and let us also remember the good news that God is doing the job of God just fine on His own.