Why Does God Demand Worship?

Watching a debate between a theologian and an atheist (Christopher Hitchens), once years ago, the latter claimed that God was an egotistical maniac because of how the former talked about God deserving to be worshipped and humanity having been made for His glory. The theologian stated something along the lines of a man having to worship God, praise Him, and adore Him, and the atheist said that God sounded like an attention-starved teenager—a divine narcissist; that He’s vain. 

I’d never thought of it in these terms. I believe humanity is naturally wired to worship and adore. However, what we cherish and value can be God Himself or an idol. No one bats an eye when sports fans, concert-goers, or political rally attendees hoot and holler praise and adore the one on the stage. They aren’t worthy of such, yet we give it to them anyway. We admire them in a way meant to be reserved to God alone. Even when the national anthem is played, we assume a specific posture, remove our hats, salute, or either put our hand on our heart in a manner of veneration. Humanity is made to worship. 

Our English term “worship” isn’t likely the best because it’s pretty much a catch-all word. Augustine depicts this reality in his work, The City of God.

For this is the worship which is due to the Divinity … and to express this worship in a single word as there does not occur to me any Latin term sufficiently exact, I shall avail myself, whenever necessary, of a Greek word. Latreia, whenever it occurs in Scripture, is rendered by the word service. But that service which is due to men, and in reference to which the apostle writes that servants must be subject to their own masters … is usually designated by another word in Greek, whereas service which is paid to God alone by worship, is always, or almost always, called latreia [cf. Matt. 4:10] in the usage of those who wrote from divine oracles. (10.1.2; c. 413–426 CE)   

Latreia is but one term used to denote worship of God and is often translated as “serve.” The word from John 4:23–24 is proskuneo—which usually indicates knee-bending or prostrating worship (Matt. 2:11; cf. Rev. 19:10). We might use the term “grovel” to best understand this word, and it would be out of adoration or even fear, but not with the negative connotation it often carries today. When we turn to Romans 12:1, the NKJV renders “reasonable service” for logiken latreian. Other translations might have “spiritual [rational] worship.” 

First, let’s establish one truth: God doesn’t need our worship (Acts 17:24–25). Unlike other deities in other ancient religions, God does not need our worship. If we worship Him, nothing is added to Him. If we fail to worship Him, nothing is taken away from Him. If either of those propositions were true, then He couldn’t be God. Second, the common objection is that the tyrants [e.g. Kim Jong Un] of the world demand adoration and praise, so God can be no different from them by His demand for such, right? Wrong! God is morally perfect, uniquely pure, and stands alone. Unlike tyrants and dictators, He did not come into being and will not cease to be as they do. Unlike them, he wishes nothing but the best for His creation rather than, like them, having their self-serving desires. Unlike them, he doesn’t do what He does to maintain power or conquer because the world is already His. He will not be demoted. He shall never be defeated. 

God created this world, and He made you and me. As a loving Father—which is how we often view Him—He considers the relationship between Him and us as akin to a marriage. He regarded Israel as His bride, and there’s no more explicit description of this reality than in the book of Hosea. He is the bridegroom of His bride, the church. Imagine if we are to be as a bride to Him love, adore, and stand in reverent awe of something created rather than Him. Put it another way, imagine if your spouse lavished praise and adoration, gave loving glances to another person than you. You and I are naturally moved to jealousy, and God is no different. He is a jealous God (Exod. 20:5). We’ve seen how we humans are natural beings that admire, praise, and worship, but God alone is worthy of it. God alone is deserving of it, and it’s to Him alone; we should give it.

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