Reading: Psalm 29
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.
Is God a narcissist? Why does he want everyone to bow down to him, to worship him? Why are we supposed to focus ourselves on him at all times and make him the center of our lives? Does he have some sort of a complex?
These are questions that I have wrestled with over the course of my Christian life. Sometimes, it feels like God just wants a bunch of begging miscreants. “Please don’t consume me with fire!” It’s often felt to me like God wants to make me less than human, like he wants me to feel like I’m some sort of worm. Why does God want to take away my dignity by making me gravel?
Famed atheist Christopher Hitchens called the first of the ten commandments the most abhorrent of laws. How can you force someone to love you and punish them for not? Love (let alone worship) was supposed to be something which is freely given and freely received. This was surely proof that the God of the Bible really was evil. I sympathize with Hitchens. Doesn’t forcing me to love someone diminish my humanity?
Repentance is not the cause of forgiveness. I don’t earn forgiveness through repenting, and I’m not more forgiven the better I repent. Forgiveness is an act of mercy bestowed upon a contrite heart. It is grace extended to the unworthy. In fact, that’s really the heart of the gospel. In Jesus we find God extending us his personal grace even though we are unworthy to receive it. You could even go so far as to say, our relationship with God is grace-based. Or more generally—it’s all of grace.
And if it’s all of grace, that means it can’t be earned or merited or deserved. It can only be freely given and freely received. Worshiping God, then, is in fact a free exchange.
But it’s not a free exchange between equals. God is the God of the universe. He builds and tears down with a mere word from his mouth. He speaks and it is so. Heaven is his throne and the earth his footstool. And we, by our very creation are the beneficiaries of his powerful creative acts. He did not need us to worship him; he was perfectly happy before we existed! Instead, he created us as a gift, to share in his love.
But if I know this stuff is true, why do I still resist the commandment? I know God deserves worship because of who he is and what he’s done; and I know that God deserves my gratitude and love for what he has done for me, personally. Why, then does the command to love and worship God incite resentment?
The reality is, we wouldn’t need it to have a commandment if everything was going ok inside our hearts. Love and worship would arise naturally from us; that’s how God created us in the first place. But the law exposes how we’ve missed the mark and reveals what’s in our hearts. Paul even goes so far as to say the law provokes us to sin (see Romans 7:7-8). In short, I resist the command to worship God, not because of a lack of knowledge, but because of my pride. The law is a master at revealing sin.
So really the “questions” I’ve wrestled with are not really questions at all, but accusations leveled in the form of questions. They are a way to pull God down and to puff me up. The irony is, though, that doesn’t dignify me; it only reveals the ugliness that was inside of me, for my ego is out of proportion with the truth of who and what I am as compared to God. Real dignity actually comes from acknowledging the truth: that the glory of worship is his due.
But I cannot force myself to love him as I should. I cannot see the pride in my heart and simply stop. The law reveals my sin, but cannot correct it; and it thereby reveals my need for grace. It's when I look at Jesus on the cross that I find that grace. It's in the forgiveness of the sin of pride that my soul is humbled. When I repent, when acknowledge how misshapen my sense of self really is and reject it in favor of the truth--that's when my dignity is restored to me; that's when a sense of peace with God prevails; that's when I can freely begin to worship. Even my love for him is a gracious gift of his to me.
Father, have mercy on us. Reveal to us our sin through the law and show us where we are misshapen. Teach us to repent and restore to us our dignity in worship.