No matter who you are, you’re going to worship something. You may reject every notion of a supreme being or life after death or even universal moral principles. Nevertheless, you’re going to worship something. You’re going to tap into something that makes your life worth living.
The twentieth century theologian Paul Tillich called the object of our worship our Ultimate Concern and the Ground of our Being. Twelve steppers call it their Higher Power. Whatever name you give it, there is something that you stake your life on and guide your decisions by.
You may stake your life on a spiritual being, a social cause, a set of principles, attaining celebrity status, or the pursuit of pleasure. Whatever it is, that’s your god (or God).
Part of what makes humans, well, human is our freedom to choose what we will worship. But our freedom is not limitless. We cannot make the object of our worship genuinely worthy of our worship. Some gods don’t reliably deliver on their promise to make life worth living.
I’m reminded of Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous phrase: God is dead. As it turns out, some gods can die. They will cease to give your life meaning before your own biological clock stops ticking. So when choosing what you’ll worship, it’s wise to choose a god who will not die before you do.
Even though they may claim to be Christians (or Jews or Muslims or Spiritual but not Religious), some people actually worship wealth and power. They believe that money and stuff or status and influence will make their lives feel significant. Make them comfortable in their own skin. Keep them secure in the darkest of nights.
In a commencement address at Kenyon College, David Foster Wallace told the bracing truth about these counterfeit gods:
“If you worship money and things—if they are where you tap real meaning in life—then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough…. Worship power—you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay.” (See David Brooks, The Second Mountain, p. 199)
In other words, gods like money and power will die before you do. They will leave you in what psychoanalyst and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl called a crisis of meaning. The symptoms of such a crisis should sound familiar to anyone who follows the news: violence, addiction, and anxiety.
There are mass shootings in the US almost every day, and these killings do not count the gun violence on our streets. The success of celebrities like Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade did not prevent them from taking their own lives. In their own eyes, their lives were apparently no longer worth living. Over a hundred people die from opioid overdoses every day. Because we view them as a threat, we arrested scores of undocumented, otherwise law-abiding immigrants at their chicken-plant workplace in Mississippi. Their unsuspecting children were left to come home from school to an empty house.
Somebody’s God is dead, or at least in ICU. That’s because they have chosen to worship the wrong god. Money. Power. Status. That god leaves them insecure, and their anxiety leads them to self-destruction and cruelty.
This is an old story, really. It’s not just the United States of the 21st century. Jesus warned about counterfeit gods two thousand years ago. He said, “Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12: 33b, 34) Worship the God who will never die. The God who will nurture you and sustain you regardless of your circumstances.
In essence, worship is the deepest form of love. And as the Ancient Greek philosophers like Plato were fond of saying, you become like what you love. As it turns out, Jesus is urging us to love the God who is Love itself. The God who already loves us.
When we worship this God—love this God—we become icons and vessels of love on this planet for as a long as we live. That’s what Jesus means when he tells his followers not to worry. That it is God’s “good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” (Luke 12:32b)
Jesus does not promise that, in our lifetimes, our love will eliminate all hate and cruelty, all injustice and oppression. Instead, in his own life he exemplifies how love is a form of holy resistance. Love counters greed, indifference, and violence. Prevents the world from collapsing into a toxic stew of selfishness. Love is the Kingdom at work here and now.
We’re going to worship something. And if what we’re worshipping doesn’t make us more loving, then it’s not worthy of our worship.
Questions for Reflection
1. What in your life would you find hardest to give up, to give away, or to lose?
2. What would break your heart? What is breaking your heart right now?
3. What is keeping you going today? What is motivating you?
4. What encourages you? What discourages you? What makes you anxious?
5. What do you want more than anything?
Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section of this blog, to share them with a friend, or simply ponder them for yourself. Thanks for reading!
This reflection is incredibly appropriate for the times in which we find ourselves. Thank you!
Thanks, Bret! We do live in trying times.
Love is a form of holy resistance is a most encouraging thought in these divisive times. While it might not feel like love always wins, it’s still the only way. Good to have you and your words back Bishop Jake.
Thanks, Angie! It’s good to be back.
I learned this lesson as I also learned how the heart indeed is deceptive above all else. I made family & friends “gods” & in the process asked them to be and bear what they could not.
No human is able to be all that we need – the12 disciples show us that by their failures
I also realized I was secretly justifying myself by “collecting” high achieving friends. I was saying “God, I must be ok or else they wouldn’t like me, right?” Letting go wasn’t easy – but necessary.
What a valuable lesson you’ve learned and now pass along
Thank you Bishop Jake and I fully agree with the above comments…this is much needed now more than ever. At the same time of reading this, I watched a great sermon from Pastor Carl Lentz named “This is Us” which sums up “our role” as followers of Jesus and how we will win the war, win the world…through and with Love
1 Corinthians 13
Thanks Janet! I’ll Google that sermon
I lost my son to suicide another vet. My heart is broke. What sustains me is imagining Jesus greeting him at the door, telling him he is enough all is forgiving and the welcoming hug I’ll get when we meet again. What scares me is every eighty minutes another vet can’t face another day, bear the pain and ops out of this life. Leaving family behind carrying their pain wondering what one could have done differently said to help. We never could fight his dragons.
Oh Carole. I’m so sorry for your loss. My heart aches for you and I share that same hope with you. The suicide rate among our veterans haunts me as well. Thank you for sharing these tender words.
Sometmes, Jake, these ‘seekers after false gods’ are our country’s leaders; leading us into a society obesessed with isolationism – rather than the broader understanding of each being ‘our brothers’ keeper’ – a Gospel precept.
God hekp us all!
Ron I couldn’t agree more.
What we are living through in this country are times I never thought we’d see again. Growing up in Vicksburg during the 1950-60s, there was plenty of hate and fear of “the other”. Now, rather than fighting against fear and hate, the current leader of the federal government, stokes it up.
I’m afraid that for them Cruelty and Fear are the point which they wish to make. Even today, the leader is happy with what he’s done in Mississippi because “it will be a great deterrent”. Words fail me. Dear God, help us!! 🙏
I struggle to resist in a way that is both effective and consistent with the way of love.
I’ve thought a lot about ‘words’ recently and their power, especially THE ‘Word’ from John 1. And, “the effectual, fervant prayer of a righteous man availeth much”. The Word in us, our words shared with the Father, the words we receive back. I’m going to work on developing my prayer life..to listen, to understand. I’ll pray that you’re granted further insights into “resisting” – I think I understand how this must be a ‘struggle’, especially in your position of leadership. BTW on 01 Aug I reblogged part of “Have we no decency?” from Washington Cathedral: https://exploringcolour.wordpress.com/2019/08/01/words-matter/
I prayed the call of Levi (Mark 2:13-17) at the Jesuit Spiritual Center last weekend. My spiritual director asked me who I saw as the attendees in today’s world. It was easy to identify the “disciples” and the “sinners” but to my dismay I saw the tax collectors as those of us in church pews on Sunday who confine our religion to Sunday morning. It broke my heart to realize that we as Christians have such a long way to go in practicing The Way of Love. But we, the church, are slowly growing and that gives me hope. Holy resistance is a phrase I will use in the future to describe our growth!
The Church—in other words, each of us individually and corporately—are always a work in progress. And we will always live in a world in which Empire stands in tension with Kingdom. I’m glad “holy resistance” resonates with you. I believe that it describes our vocation as followers of Jesus.
Reblogged this on Pastor Michael Moore's Blog and commented:
Powerful food for thought, Jake!