Why Does God Want To Be Worshiped?

When I was a Christian, I loved praising God through worship songs. It was when I felt most spiritual, felt that movement of the Holy Spirit through my body. I felt connected to a higher power, to my community, drunk on that heady “in love” feeling. While I still get those same experiences as an atheist with secular music, meditation or actually being in love with someone, I hadn’t thought about praising God in a long time.

However, in the shower this morning, I found myself humming a familiar melody from my past. I searched the back of my mind for the words:

…Holy, holy are you Lord God Almighty

Worthy is the Lamb, worthy is the Lamb

You are holy, holy…

The lyrics are nothing particularly interesting, a standard sample from the contemporary church services I’d been to. I stopped, suddenly struck by a question I’d never even bothered to ask myself — as a Christian or as an atheist: Why does God want to be worshiped?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand why Christians feel the need to worship God, especially through song. It’s that addictive endorphin rush, the sense of community, the validation of a familiar incantation. Some paleontologists and neuroscientists even believe language evolved from singing, so it’s deep in our DNA to want to do so. That makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense to me is why God wants us to take significant time out of our lives to tell Him how great He is. Why do we give praise to others in our everyday lives? To encourage them, to offer emotional support, to reinforce good behavior. None of these seem applicable to a relationship with God, unless we think he’s some kind of Trumpian buffoon whose friendship can be bought for a simpering Tweet.

Usually when I ask these kinds of questions, I can imagine how I’d respond back when I was a Christian. I found that I didn’t have an answer for myself this time, and I’m wondering if anyone else does?

Here’s the problem. Aren’t we weak, flawed, limited, broken creatures who could not possibly comprehend the greatness of God? If so, how are we equipped in any way to evaluate what holiness is, let alone who qualifies as holy or worthy or great. Wouldn’t desiring our input on the subject be kind of useless on His end? Like Leonardo da Vinci getting his worth from a critique by five-year-old Harold and his purple crayon?

In fact, come to think of it, can you worship anything with any logical honesty? Because the second you are able to evaluate something as divine and determine it to be worship-able, you have effectively placed yourself above that thing. In other words, those things that are worshiped are only worshiped because they are outside of our comprehension in some infinite way; if we can comprehend it enough to make an accurate value judgement about it, we have transcended our need to worship it in the first place.

Now, another possibility here is that Christians just trust God’s claims that He is holy and worthy of being worshiped. But if that’s the case, and we are just parroting back a statement we don’t really understand, where is the value in that kind of interaction? We’d call bullshit on anyone who constantly complimented us on something they didn’t have any frame of reference or understanding for. We’d call them a suck up and get a little grossed out. We certainly wouldn’t demand it as a tenet of the relationship. If we did, we’d be pretty authoritarian and ego-maniacal.

The only other possibility I can think of here is a “clap your hands if you believe” type situation, where God is a metaphysical Tinkerbell who will die without His existence being applauded. Which I’d imagine would put a strain on the willing suspension of disbelief, even for Christians.

So what gives? Why worship something if you don’t understand it? Why worship something if you do? To me, the whole concept of worship (of anything, not just the Christian God) seems illogical and instinctive, like a fear of the dark: something that once served our ancestors well but something we don’t realize we have outgrown.

8 thoughts on “Why Does God Want To Be Worshiped?

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  1. It’s not for god’s sake that Christians do these rituals. If you repeat a phrase often enough, it becomes familiar. It doesn’t matter how absurd or whimsical. Keep repeating, eventually, it feels normal, familiar even. Keep going, repeating, every day.
    Eventually, the most absurd, fantastical idea will feel ‘true’ despite all reason to the contrary.

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    1. I agree with you, and so does science, (e.g. neuroplasticity). My goal with this post is to meet Christians where they are at and get them to ask a tough question that doesn’t have a pleasant logical answer. Thanks for commenting!

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  2. “if we can comprehend it enough to make an accurate value judgement about it, we have transcended our need to worship it in the first place.” Can you elaborate more on what you mean by this? I’m not sure how you came to this conclusion.

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    1. Thanks for asking! Let’s see if I can put it another way: In order to determine if something is really worthy of being worshiped, we would have to understand that thing, what holiness is, and how that thing surpasses everything else in holiness. If we can’t really understand these things, saying something is “holy” or “worthy of worship” means nothing.

      But if we COULD truly comprehend it enough to say “Yes, this thing is really worthy of worship,” wouldn’t that put us in a position above that thing? We are the ones assigning value to IT, after all.

      Ultimately, it seems like a weird dichotomy. As humans, we don’t worship things we completely understand (as we understand things, they stop being worshiped, which is why we no longer worship weather gods or the sun). But worshiping something WITHOUT understanding the criteria, just because we are told or feel like we should, to feels empty and useless. Does that make sense?

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  3. I saw an interesting program on YouTube once that addressed theories on the existence of intelligent life. One of the theories I found most interesting was that, if there is an intelligent life form capable of reaching our galaxy or any other galaxy, it is likely so intelligent that it is no longer “in” the universe but “of” it. In other words, this intelligent life form has become one with the universe and is so much a part of it it does not even notice us, let alone care about us. The relationship was compared to our relationship with the bacteria in our bodies. We know we have bacteria but it’s so small and insignificant we do not try to have a relationship with it. Why would we? In fact, it would be impossible. Perhaps, if there is a god, for it to have a relationship with us is fundamentally impossible. Therefore, it cannot possibly even matter whether we worship it. Anything that cares to be worshipped is not intelligent enough to design the entire universe.

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    1. Fascinating concept. That last line is perfection. I’ve often drawn the correlation between our existence and the existence of bacteria. Imagine the kind of religion our body’s bacteria would have if they were conscious of being a part of a larger whole? Every imbalance caused by a night of heavy drinking would be considered God’s righteous wrath and judgement on the sins of our gut bacteria…

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      1. Very true. Another thing I don’t get is prayer. Why pray when god’s will is already set? And to pray with the intention of changing god’s will seems irreverent. In fact, prayer with any kind of intention other than to praise a god that for some reason needs to be worshipped is irreverent.

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