If God Demands Worship, Is He a Cosmic Bully?

If God sends people to hell for not worshiping him, then, some might say, he is no better than a cosmic bully. When he doesn’t get the respect that he deserves from you, then you suffer the severe consequences.

I think this is a good question when asked genuinely, because if we were to apply this sort of thinking to another person it would seem pretty obvious that this is a character flaw. But I have a couple of thoughts that I hope will help to explain why I think that it is God’s right to require worship. However, before I attempt to answer this question, we must do our best to be aware that especially as Americans (which I know some of you reading this post are not), we tend to struggle with this. We hold firm to our autonomy and equality, and this concept of God demanding worship brushes up against that. It is worth keeping this in mind, because not everyone wrestles with this in the same way that we might. Now this isn’t really an answer to the question, but it is healthy to remember this.

Now getting on to answer the question, I think that we must talk about anthropological teleology. By anthropological teleology, I simply mean the purpose, goal, or aim of human beings. Anthropology is the study of humanity, and teleology has to do with purpose or goals. When God creates a human being, he creates them for a purpose. And God being perfectly good, creates them for a good purpose. But God isn’t like the gods of the Mesopotamians or the Egyptians—he isn’t interested in creating slaves, but he is interested in creating worshipers. There is a difference. From my understanding, the key to Christian worship is the love of God. So you were designed to worship God by loving him. If your idea of worship is limited to singing songs, then your idea of worship is quite small. Worship is a way of life that bleeds into all areas of living. Worship has to do with proper affections, motivations, and purposes. But here is a crucial point: you cannot worship God without loving him, and, I would argue, you cannot love him without enjoying him. So the take away is this: when you worship God, the purpose and goal of your life is being fulfilled. The result is that you are granted happiness. So worship of God looks astonishingly like being happy in him. More could be said, but I simply want to make the point that God has designed worship to bring you happiness. (A couple of years ago, a video of Victoria Osteen [wife of Joel Osteen] circulated around the internet where she claimed that God wants your happiness through service. This made many people quite upset, but I think she was more right than wrong on this issue, even if she could have [and probably should have] said more. I replied here)

When we worship, we are fulfilling our purpose, and this should bring us joy in who God is. But also, if we worship anything else (and everyone worships something), we believe and live out a lie that isn’t beneficial for us or anyone else. Imagine that you fall in love with someone. They say all the right things, do all the right things, and everything about them seems perfect. But now imagine that everything that they do has been calculated and engineered by someone else who has simply told the person that you think you love how to act, what to say, and what to do in order to make you fall in love with them. If you knew this information, I imagine that you would quickly fall out of love with this person, because they aren’t who you thought they were. This is how it is when we worship things other than God. We fall in love with them, but only because we don’t realize that they cannot bring us ultimate happiness. If fact, the whole thing was a lie, and once we understand this (and we all eventually do), then we fall out of love with them because they can’t deliver what they promised, and we run towards other things. When we refuse to worship God, and instead worship what he has created, we fall in love with the wrong object, and sooner or later we discover this. Now, I understand that my analogy breaks down fairly quickly, but it serves to establish my point which is this: worshipping anything other than God will lead to our disappointment, because it isn’t as great as we think it is. We all worship something, and if we worship anything other than God, we set ourselves up for disappointment, and we fall for a lie that something else could bring us long lasting and true happiness.

Finally, we must understand that God does deserve our worship, and when we worship other things, not only have we missed out on happiness and believed a lie, but we’ve also robbed God of his due. Now I say “robbed” simply to say that we do owe God our affections. I want to be clear that God does not need our worship—as if he would lack something if we refused to give it to him. But we must remember that God is the only one worthy of our worship, and so to refuse to give it to him is to refuse to give him the respect and honor that he deserves.

Regarding the notion of whether or not it us just for God to send people to hell, I have dealt with some of those questions here. Let it suffice to say, that hell is essentially the separation from life, goodness, hope, love, peace, joy, and comfort. These things are all in God. If you are separated from God forever, then you are separated from these things. You can’t have God and not have God at the same time. He doesn’t coerce you, but he allows you to choose.

We need a balanced theology of worship. On the one hand, we understand that true worship is designed to bring us happiness, while on the other hand, it is something that God deserves. He doesn’t force us to worship him, but invites us to participate in his greatness. You could refuse to look out and behold the beauty of a sunset—but all the worse for you. We must learn to see that God is not simply looking to take, but to give. And in worship, we give him trust and adoration and he gives us himself.

(Thoughts? Comments? Feel free to contact me at zacklocklear@outlook.com)

Why Theology Matters for Living Life

Parenting is difficult. My wife and I have a son who is only 9 months old, and already, from what little experience I have, I feel like I can say with confidence: parenting is difficult. Eventually, our son will be able to talk. And I’m sure he will express his curiosity about the world by repeatedly asking the grating “why?” question about everything, as children do. He will ask “why?” about mundane, and seemingly unimportant things, and he will ask “why?” about profound things—with depths of which neither he nor I fully understand. Humans are by nature curious and philosophical beings, even when they do not realize the depth or significance of the questions they raise. Here is how I imagine it: eventually, my wife and I will tire of answering our sons endless list of questions. What will happen is that his questions will be answered by “it just is that way,” or “because I said so.” For children, these answers are often sufficient. We do not need to provide any further explanation. If a child wonders why she cannot stick a fork into an electrical outlet, we do not need to explain how electricity functions. All we need to do at the time is to tell the child not to stick the fork in the outlet because it is dangerous and harmful to the child.

As children grow into adults, there becomes the need to explain things in greater detail. It gets to the point where the answer “because I said so” is no longer a sufficient answer. Sometimes, young people need to know why—not simply what to do or what not to do. A true explanation can lead to a greater understanding and appreciation for why regulations and safeguards are put in place to begin with. Why should I love people that are cruel to me? Why should I not sleep around? Why should I treat others fairly? Sure, the Bible says I should or should not do these things. But is God just trying to get me to jump through hoops? Or is there are deeper reason why, and can we learn it from studying the Scriptures?

My fear is that we, as Christians, are content to simply to give “because the Bible says so” answers to both other Christians and those who do not share our faith. There is a certain sense in which we can only understand so much, and when God does something or commands something, we simply do it without question. But that isn’t necessarily what I’m talking about. My fear is that we do not attempt to understand our faith—perhaps out of laziness—and therefore we understand our faith very little. We read something in a book, hear something on TV, see a quote on Facebook, and we accept it without any reflection. Our theology becomes a collection of things we’ve gathered here and there, and if we’re honest, we’ve never really taken it very seriously.

But we desperately need theology. Speaking practically, knowing theology matters is because it influences the way in which we live our lives (or so it should). Having taught Sunday school and small groups for several years now (and having been involved in these things for as long as I remember), I have found that we often teach each other ethics (what you should do, or how you should live), without much of a theological basis. The truth of the matter is that you cannot have a firm ethical system without theological roots. In other words, once you take God out of the equation, you lose any hope you have of a stable foundation. Your ethical system becomes relative to your own opinion. You need roots. Without theology you lack roots. Many of the ethical principles that I was taught in the church were rootless. It was simply “Do not do this because the Bible says so.” And I believe that this attributed much to my rejection of Christianity as a high school and college student, and paved the way for my agnosticism. It was rootless. It was simply “don’t do this,” without any explanation of why it matters, or why God might not want us to do these things.

Here is what I think happens. So much of our Christian teaching is just pureed vegetables. It’s great for children. We tell them that God loves them and that Jesus came down from heaven for them and that they should love one another and tell one another about Jesus and share their toys. This is good. But I get the feeling that sometimes this is as far as we go in our understanding as adults. We’re content with pureed vegetables. Probably because that is all we’ve ever known.

But I think that if we are going to make disciples (as is the point of the Great Commission in Matt. 28), then we need to move beyond pureed vegetables. We need to be serious students of the Bible—not simply to know more information, but because the information matters, and we need to be able to understand the roots and the foundation of this information. It should change the way we view God, ourselves, and each other. It should change the way that we live and think. It should change the way we handle worry and stress and whatever difficulties life throws our way. Notice of course that I say that it “should.” It is one thing to know something, and another thing to apply that knowledge. Let me admit that this is one of—if not my biggest—struggles. But the point remains that you cannot effectively make the correct changes in your thinking and in your life if you do not have the correct knowledge. Furthermore, you will not even know how to defend your faith when it is under attack (as it will be, if not already), if you do not even understand the faith that you have. We want to be able to understand our faith because it changes the way that we do life. Instead of having someone puree our faith and spoon feed it to us, we need to know how to grow our own vegetables, and we need to know how to teach others to grow their own vegetables. This is a communal effort, but it is an effort nonetheless.

Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself:

Am I making an attempt to understand God and the Scriptures?

Do I care about understanding my faith?

Do I want to know more?

Does my theology have a foundation and a root system, or am I living off of pureed vegetables? Am I okay with this? How can I change this?

Is my life aligning with my theology?

(Thoughts? Comments? Feel free to contact me at zacklocklear@outlook.com)