Worship, God, and Egomania

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“God must be an egomaniac to command all humanity to worship Him and then send anyone to hell who doesn’t worship him enough, right?”

Perhaps you haven’t heard the issue raised quite like that, but this objection is common and forceful. Surely God doesn’t need us to worship him, yet he demands it and punishes us if we don’t. Why can’t God mind his own business and just let people be happy. Or, so the logic goes. Phrased like this, God sure sounds like an egomaniac. There is an issue worth addressing here, so let’s put the question more respectfully and extract some of the presumptions to keep us from getting sidetracked by loaded lingo.

Let’s try this, “Why Worship God if he actually exists?”

This question is a classic and important issue, for it seeks direction at the crossroad between idle theologizing and the religious relationship of faith. Where does “knowing about God” become “Knowing God?” Where do thoughts about God become thoughts towards God? One of the strongest possibilities is that our speculative “God” becomes a personal savior precisely at the point of worship. And so, we are left wondering “Why choose the road of religious worship when we can safely theologize without commitment?”

First, we should remember that worship is worth-ship, it is attributing worth to something. If God is who the Bible says he is, then he is the most perfect, holy, good, necessary (etc.) being in existence. If anyone deserves worship it is God. If that is who God is then our worship of him is kind of like recognizing that gravity pulls us to the ground, the sun is bright, 1 + 1 = 2, sunsets can be colorful, and babies cry when they are uncomfortable. This is just how things are. We can fight reality, or we can submit to the truth where we find it. God is the most worthy being, so we are right to recognize his worth in worship.

Second, worship is not for God’s sake. Again, if God is who the Bible says he is, then he doesn’t need anything from us, especially not worship. He doesn’t need “a few good men,” or “a willing heart,” or “the prayers of men.” He just doesn’t need at all. Of course, he may choose to work in all sorts of relational and cooperative ways, and his worthiness may be demonstrated in all of it. But there is nothing that can add to God’s greatness for he’s already infinitely great. Nor can anything fill a gap in God since a perfect God has no gaps or lacking whatsoever. Worship does not satisfy any longing or need in God.

Third, all human activity is towards God. In the Psalms, King David says “Against you alone have I sinned” (Ps. 51:4) even though he’d sinned against Bathsheba, Uriah, and all Israel. Ultimately, he knew that his sins were against God more than anyone else. Later, Jesus forgave people of sins committed against other people, which the Pharisees interpreted as a claim to divinity saying, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mk. 2:7). Elsewhere we see instructions to love and worship God in everything we think, say, do, believe, etc (Deut. 6:4-6; Matt. 22:37; Mk 12:30; Col. 3:17). The cumulative witness of Scripture is that everything we do is towards God. The only question is whether it’s for or against God, whether it’s worship or blasphemy.

Fourth, worship is for our own sake. Yet again, if God is who the Bible says he is, then he is the most perfect and infinitely beautiful being in existence. But if beauty is as Thomas Aquinas defines it, “that which perceived pleases” then God is pleasing to perceive. God, of course, is not seen with mortal eyes, but, Aquinas was not talking merely about looking but also contemplation. We can “perceive” God by recognizing Him, thinking about Him, and, in short, worshipping God. And since God is not just beautiful, but infinitely and perfectly beautiful, then there is no limit to how much pleasure can be had by getting lost in his beauty.

So, we are seeing that worship is about God’s worth, but it’s for our benefit. We can top this off with Augustine’s famous, and perennial quote, “our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee” (Confessions 1.1). Our desperate want of joy (eudamonia), the joy for which everyone seeks, cannot be satisfied with the short-lived pleasures of this world. The good and decent pleasures of this world, at best, are appetizers to whet our desire for the one true God who alone satisfies our souls through worship.

True, we are commanded to worship God alone (Exod. 20:3), but this is the practical equivalent of having a healthy diet of filet mignon and cheesecake, or getting a seven-figure salary for doing light chores around the house, or having to come home to a perfectly beautiful, rich, and loving spouse. The command to worship God alone is a command to be happily fulfilled. Settle for nothing less than God. We are instructed to seek the greatest satisfaction our hearts can handle. All the “no’s” and “thou shalt not’s” in Scripture are  to preserve our deepest capacity and fulfillment in the worship of God alone. Worship is not so much our duty as it is our pleasure.

Returning to the original question, “why worship God if he actually exists?” Worship doesn’t have to be the static recitation of qualities and facts about God but can be a deliberate and personal relationship with God–and a relationship is naturally more appealing than mandating formalities. On a lesser scale, I can compare it to praising my wife. Talking about how great she is is nice, and its moderately pleasing for both of us. But, it is profoundly more satisfying to speak, even sing, my praises to her. Why talk about her when I can talk with her? Why settle for merely acknowledging the truth, when I can live it interactively? Worship is most naturally relational, it should be the personal and relational recognition of God’s unique glory. And it can be done in everything properly ordered to glorify the creator. I testify to God’s generous provision by drinking my morning orange juice. I testify to his marvelous creative order when by body heals from a cut. I witness to his gracious love when I forgive other people as He has forgiven me. Understanding worship like this, it only makes sense to worship God. Why worship God?!!! Why wouldn’t I!

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