The concept of the ‘god complex’ was first described by British psychoanalyst Ernest Jones. He argued that some people had such an inflated and delusional view of their own importance and their own ‘rightness’ that they basically believed themselves to be God (or at least a god). Now, you might be thinking of someone you know right now (hopefully you’re not thinking of me!) – someone who seems to have an unshakeable conviction that they are right and that others are wrong; someone who can’t admit to weakness or fallibility; someone who acts as if the universe revolved around them. Thankfully there are very few people, in my experience at least, who genuinely fit that description, but the reality is that we all have a degree of the ‘god complex’, at least at times. Some of us are just better at hiding it than others! Ever since Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the snake, we’ve had a problem owning up to our own sinfulness. Ever since the fallen couple clasped at leaves to cover their nakedness, we’ve tried to cover up rather than show our real selves to the world. Sometimes our projections of our own goodness and wisdom are a defence against our feelings of inferiority, sometimes a genuine reflection (often slipping out when we let our guard of pretended humility down) of our own inflated opinion of self.
In Psalm 9, David confronts the ‘god complex’ that plagues humankind. The psalm ends with a prayer that God would arise and judge the nations, striking them with terror so that they would realise that “they are but men” (verses 19-20). As far as David can see the nations and the people who comprise them, especially his own enemies, have a delusion of their own grandeur. They have forgotten who is really God (verse 17). It’s not everyone, of course, who is guilty of this cardinal sin – in fact, the replacement of God with man (whether oneself or some other saviour figure) on the throne is the heart of all sin – some are needy because they are afflicted by those who do (verse 18).
It is because of the suffering of this small number, among whom he presumably counts himself, that David cries out for God to act. He calls on God to reveal to the worshippers of self the reality that David can see – that despite appearances, there is only one true king over all, only one God, who is both the judge of all people and the refuge of those who know Him and trust in Him (verses 7-10). David knows that those who make themselves gods are digging a trap for themselves (verse 15) – in fact, self-worship an self-service always leads to horrible ensnaring in addictions and under satanic power – we are simply incapable of ruling ourselves effectively. More significantly, God will act in judgement eventually and no one will be able to retain a god complex when He reveals Himself. When the real God stands up, all pretenders must not only sit down, but bow down and acknowledge Him.
The only problem is that this isn’t visible just now! How are God’s people to live in the present, when god complexes abound (often dressed up in language of niceness)? The answer is found in verses 1 and 2 and again in verse 11. We are to live for the praise of God. We are to sing praise to Him and gladly rejoice in Him with our whole hearts. It must be our whole heart, of course, because so often within us (well, within me at least) lurks the remnant of a god complex, the vestige of rebellion, a smidgen of pride. We praise God and are glad in Him – glad that He is God and we are not; rejoicing that He knows how to sort out this messed up world where we can’t even begin to think righteously about it; thankful that He has redeemed us and made us His own despite our own sinfulness.
Our response doesn’t end there, though. We don’t simply praise God in prayer and song on our own, or even in the community of God’s people, hidden in some corner, placating ourselves with words of His glory. No, we also “tell of all your wonders” (verse 1) – we tell the true story of a world in which God is sovereign and of the God who showed His power and glory through the abandonment of recognition and praise for ignominy and shame. The God who took on himself a ‘human complex’ through the incarnation – who became a servant so that we might be saved from the sin that cursed us. Tell that story at every opportunity. Give God the glory and let your own god complex, and perhaps those of others, shrivel and die in the light of it.