Thursday 24 July 2014

*Why* worship God? (And is 'worship' the best word?)


We might worship God (one God) because of His power, greater far than the power of any other entity - greater far than any 'other god' (as it gets phrased in the Old Testament); indeed, so much greater as to be immeasurably and greater.

This worship may be based upon fear of such power, and the hope that worship will be understood as a submission and a propitiation.

This sees the primary reality as legalistic - in other words, the universe is structured by relationships - and the relevant type of relationships are those which pertain in a 'state' - the relationships between a monarch and his subjects, and the relationships between subjects (of various ranks and roles).

To disbelieve in this concept of God is an act of rebellion against the legitimate monarch; and an anti-social act. 


We might worship God because he created everything - including the other gods - which is perhaps an extension of worshipping God because of His power.

However, if we were to worship God because he created everything out of nothing, this potentially induces a different flavour to worship. Worship may then be akin to a recognition of fact. The recognition that everything is from-God, part-of God, sustained-by-God.

This is perhaps analogous to recognising and acknowledging that we are inside God. 
So 'worship' may get a more scientific ('physics'-like) flavour - of stating, swearing-to and living-by quasi-scientific propositions that represent this reality.

To disbelieve in this physics-like concept of God is seen as a factual or logical error, due to ignorance or insanity or a lie: a denial of what actually IS. Its harm comes from its dysfunctionality.


The idea of God as Love is qualitatively different from the above - because it implies that we should love God because He loves us. But why love Him, and why Him above others and as God? What makes love of God different from love of a specific Man?

The answer comes from Him being our Father and us His children,and the value attributed to this primary fact - so, by this 'argument', family relationships take on and replace the 'structural' role which used-to come from God's creation of everything from nothing, or the relationships of monarch and subjects in a state.

To disbelieve in such a God - God as Loving father - is therefore primarily to exclude oneself from God's family - an act of self-exile - a decision to 'go it alone'.


Whereas a God who is creator of everything from nothing 'ought' to be worshipped as an acknowledgement of the reality that everything depends on Him and everything is inside of Him; and God as legal monarch 'ought' to be worshipped as a matter of good order and proper deference; God as loving Father 'ought' to be worshipped as an acknowledgement of the reality that derives from relationships.

In other words, when God is (primarily) Love; the universe is conceptualized as structured by family relationships. These family relationships become the primary reality and the reason for doing things.

For Christians who regard God as Loving Father, it is relationships which provide the 'ought' that used to be provided by power or status.


All metaphysical reasoning involves a decision or choice, whether that decision recognized and explicit or unconscious and implicit. the choice is to put some assumption at the root of things: and that fundamental assumption cannot be analyzed or critiqued exactly because it is the primary assumption, and everything else is secondary to it.

When it comes to understanding and conceptualizing God, we are in the realms of metaphysics; and the advent of the Christian revelations of God as Love led to a metaphysical revolution - with the transformation of God as Power, or God as Monarch into God as Father.

And the ultimate rules of this new Christian universe were not physics-like structures, nor were they like laws - but they were like the relationships in a family. 


So, the primary, bottom line understanding of the structure of reality for a Christian is now family-relational, rather than quasi-scientific or national-legal. 

And the 'worship' of God naturally takes on a different primary flavour - because the proper attitude to God who is primarily understood as our loving Father, is different from the proper attitude to a monarch, or to an infinite power.



Adam G. said...

Bruce C.,
the distinction you are making doesn't obtain, in my opinion. Monarchy was often thought of as fatherhood writ large. See Filmer, for instance. More importantly, the power of the Father and therefore the fear of the Father may be what distinguishes fatherhood from motherhood. It certainly is a role that most families fall into (though not all, of course). "Wait till your father comes home!" However, I think the roots of this are probably pretty deep in infancy, maybe biologically based. It seems to me that babies are attuned to be pick up on differences between male voices and female voices and to be warier of male voices. When my little ones were very little, they preferred their mother to me and they preferred me when I talked in a softer, higher voice. Male voices are intrinsically deeper. And maybe intrinsically louder? In my experience even quite young babies are attuned to the difference between male appearance and female appearance too. Women are softer, rounder--there are basic visual cues that suggest that men are more dangerous--so my son, for instance, when he was a few months old, would start flirting when women walked into the room, he'd make googly eyes and coo and smile, but when men walked in he'd quiet down and be watchful.

It's a concept I've been exploring here--
and in other posts with the love-and-glory tag

There is something very significant in being loved by a powerful and masterful being.

ajb said...

Some important points in this post.

I think a better 'word' than 'worship' could be something like 'love+reverance+awe' - which to a significant extent is what worship means, anyway, but makes it more fresh and relevant to a typical, contemporary English speaker's ear.

Etymologically, 'worship' seems to come from OE 'condition of being worthy', so to worship God is to recognize something of value.

Bruce Charlton said...

@GG Said:

"If we can't love God, I think submission to God will eventualy and necessarily triumph over the present hatred of God."

I agree, that is the default of natural religion (paganism of the various types) as well as Christianity's most formidable rival.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Adam - Well, sometimes monarchy was - with greater or lesser accuracy - modeled on Fatherhood write large - this was the explicit ideal of Eastern Orthodox monarchy.

However it was not so common in the West - where the Pope was spiritual Father.

But other times the monarch ruled by terror, other times by legal process - for example a divinely-ordained hierarchy and order.

However, the point is that a loving Father seems to be intended as the primary concept of God for Christians; and not some other kind of Father.

However, there are various other more or less contrasting images and metaphors scattered through the Bible - so there has been uncertainty and confusion.

The loving Father is what comes through most strongly in the Gospels (and the Mormon scriptures).

Also, I am talking from an assumed 'God's eye view' here, and different human 'children' will view their Father in different ways from their various perspectives - some may deny that He is loving at all.

Adam G. said...

Oh, I don't disagree, Bruce C. My point is this: the distinguishing characteristics of fatherhood is not simply love. It is love + something else. The defining concepts of Fatherhood are Love + A Will for the Growth and Development of the Beloved + Power and Authority. for Power and Authority you could read Manhood. So power/kingship and fatherhood aren't entirely contrasting things. The one is a component of the other.

Another way of making my point is to say that those who think of God the Father solely in terms of power and authority have a crippled view of Fatherhood. But the same is true of those who think of God the Father solely in terms of love. And the same is true of those who think of God the Father solely in terms of love and power and authority without recognizing that fatherhood means willing the growth and development of the child.

Mercurius Aulicus said...

From The Presbyterian Way of Life by John Mackay (1960): "''Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.' To be a true man, to give expression to the inmost essence of human nature, to fufill one's destiny, is to 'glorify God'. To 'glorify' is a Biblical word which means to 'unveil the splendour'. For a man to 'glorify God' is to make manifest in his own personality and behaviour the character of God. He at the same time fits his life into God's great scheme of things, so that God can carry out his purposes through him. A human personality is truest to himself when he is most loyal to God. Then he 'enjoys' God. It is when we lose ourselves in self-forgetfulness by our obedience to God that we find ourselves again in holy, rapturous communion with God."