to walk worthily of the Lord, pleasing him in all respects

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Is God vain for expecting me to worship him?

With the release of the Avengers film, my sons have gone into geek overdrive. There was of course the obligatory four days of watching Marvel films leading up to our going to see the feature. I’ve even gotten involved (though usually immune to geekishness), especially since the film’s director, Joss Whedon, holds my allegiance since Buffy the Vampire Slayer days. Part of the boys’ geek routine apparently is researching information about the stars, often through IMDB and Wikipedia. The boys’ attention is drawn (oddly ) to the religious views expressed therein by the actors and crew of their favorite films. So they know that Joss Whedon styles himself an “angry atheist” or that Robert Downy, Jr. supposedly self-identifies with some combination of Zen-Buddhism and Jewish. Last night they told me that Stellan Skarsgård, who plays scientist Erik Selvig in both Thor and Avengers, is an atheist who “considersthe notion of God absurd and that if a real God were actually so vain as toconstantly demand worship, then he would not be worth it.”
When telling me about Skarsgård’s view, Samuel asked me whether I thought the Bible said that God demanded our worship. The injunction from no less than the 10 Commandments came to mind, “You shall not make for yourself an idol . . . you shall not bow down to them or worship them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of their parents, to the third and fourth generations of those who reject me” (Exod 20:4-5, NRSV). Jealousy is not far from vanity and so Skarsgård might seem to have a point.
However, I don’t accept Skarsgård’s understanding of God’s motive. I told the boys that I think that to the extent that God commands us to worship him it is not born out of any need that God has. He created us freely and sustains us freely; we have nothing that he has not given us. We are nothing except what he makes us. (This is why Kalistos Ware says “For it is only through thanksgiving that I can become myself.”) Furthermore, God does not demand of us what he hasn’t already given. I think worship is best understood as a pouring ourselves out to God; if so, then it is response to what God has already done; God pours himself out in creating the universe and in creating us. And especially in Christ, God gives himself fully to us. Deep calls to deep, says the Psalmist, and God’s outpouring evokes (or should evoke) our outpouring. God’s call for us to worship him is not a cry for attention; rather, it is a command in the same way that Jesus speaks to Lazarus at the latter’s tomb. “Lazarus, come forth!” Should Jesus have said please? Should he have let Lazarus decide to come forth of his own? Should Jesus have deferred to death? No; it is a command to depart death and to live. And to the extent God commands us to worship him, it is precisely of the same order as Jesus’ call to Lazarus. God calls us forth, from nothingness and then again from sin, nothingness’ reprisal, into life, which is to say, into relationship with him. He calls us to give our all to him (“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might,” Deut 6:5), and he does so because that’s how he himself engages in relationship - he loves us entirely.
So in short, I am OK with God demanding my worship. His demand is generated by a jealousy for me, he would love me fully. But how could I receive that love if I hold on to myself or to a myriad of other false gods. No, I must let go of all such and receive his love. True vanity would be to begrudge him, he who is my creator and savior, the Lord and my father, this expectation to follow his lead.


Catherine said...

What a great post!

As I think about getting married next summer, I think about how weird it would be if my fiance and I didn't feel jealous for one another's love. I know it will be best for me to forsake all others for him, and best for him to forsake all others for me. We are asked to worship solely out of love, not out of anger.

I've been grappling with God's "vanity" in Julian of Norwich this semester - she says God doesn't forgive us for our sins because he doesn't care enough about them. In her words, sin is nothing. She feels anxiety about this (and so do I!) because she knows soteriology goes deeper than Abelard's reading that Jesus' death was solely meant to move us to greater love for him. But there is something difficult about picturing a God who demanded payment for the sins of man where the only proper payment was the death of his son.

Until we remember that his son was also himself, and then this equation becomes wonderful. If giving himself is the best thing he can give, then his instructions to us to seek him through worship is more like giving us a map to our greatest happiness.

That said, I thought the Avengers was completely awesome and I am going to see it for a second time tonight.

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