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!