January 3, 2017

What We Worship

I've been thinking about what we worship lately.

I've been reading Larry Hurtado's Destroyer of the Gods. In it, he explores the distinctive between early Christian practice, belief and those of everyone else in the Roman world. The nature of Christian worship was one of those practices that the rest of the culture found odd.

Hurtado reminds us that Christians retained (or adopted if you were a Gentile) the Jewish conviction and practice of monotheism. This means they worshiped one God, not many. This was really strange in Roman culture. Romans acknowledged all sorts of gods for all different purposes.

Not only did Romans find it strange that Christians (and Jews) acknowledged only one God, they found their relationship to God weird. The affection that Christians articulated between God (through Jesus) and humanity was distinctly different than the more utilitarian nature between Romans and their many gods. You needed something? You said a prayer, offered a sacrifice. Done.

Early Christians were drawing on a distinctly Jewish understanding of God. The opening chapters of Genesis were not intended to solve a debate about Darwin's theory of evolution. This story was about what we worship. The story of God's creation conveyed to its early listeners that there was a God that created all things that we might fashion into gods.

Sun, moon, stars, mountains, oceans, and creatures of many types. You could worship these as gods but you were being beckoned to worship the God that created it all. These Christians understood Jesus as he who was reconciling all things back to the right relationship established between maker and made in Genesis.

Neil Gaiman's novel American Gods tells a story about the struggle between gods for the affection and adoration of humans. The book explores what we find worthy of reverence and how we go about offering worship to whatever that is. It's a thought-provoking, beautifully imaginative tale. (And this year it's being brought to television!)

Gaiman illustrates what we do, most often subconsciously: we make our gods. As David Foster Wallace once said, "There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship."

We make gods out of many things in our culture. We kneel before the altars of power, sex, page views, "like" counts, retweets, liberal politics, conservative politics, me being correct and you being wrong, our bodies, our phones, our guns, our rights ...

I think this year, I am going to work on getting clear about what I give myself to worship. I do not want to worship gods made by my own hands.