During the last season of “The Voice”, a friend would come to our home on Monday, and sometimes Tuesday, nights to watch the T.V. show. I had my favorite singer who was in the final three but not the winner. There was a glitch in the Itunes voting for another contestant, and all the Itunes votes were cancelled to ‘make it fair’ for everyone. I found myself muttering about ‘hanging chads’. But I started thinking for the last week, not so much about the contest, but about how pleasant the experience can be to admire the skills, talents and even personal qualities of talented people. For me this is often of musicians, since I am a musician myself. The pictures above are of two artists you may not know, but that I follow: Ash Soular in New Mexico and Sarah Brendel in Germany. However, I also give sudden expressions of thanks to God throughout the day for the authors I read and the thinkers that stimulate or help me. I admire non-human creation also: like my dog, Jack Lewis, that he wags his tail apparently involuntarily, that dogs’ paws are so perfectly made, that Jack is completely black, that he loves to play. It seems that the ability to admire and appreciate, which can be very similar to worship, is important to human flourishing. Being a habitual critic ‘goes a long way’, as we say. St. Paul recommends appreciation and praise, and not only of God, to the Philippians: “…[W]hatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil. 4:8, NRSV)
What are humans basically? I contend that we are created to be worshipers. The basic designation of humans, that you learned in middle school, is: Homo sapiens, Man the Wise, the thinking animal. For Karl Marx we are: Homo faber, Man the Worker. For John Calvin, the 16th century French Reformer, humans are almost perpetual idol factories. I take that to be because if we refuse to worship our Creator, the true and living God, we will worship substitute gods, idols, because we are created to be worshipers. St. Paul described this human tendency: “…[T]hough they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or four-footed animals or reptiles.” (Rom. 1:21-23, NRSV) Our tendency to worship something (family, country, possessions, an ideology, our abilities, our lover, etc.), if we will not worship the true God, shows that, for good or ill, we are inveterate worshipers. So, I want to suggest that we are Homo adorans, Man the Worshiper. Our capacities to admire, appreciate, adore, follow and enjoy are necessary abilities for engaging in the activity of worship, for which we were made.
There is a supremely important feature of worship. If you miss this, you will not be understandable to yourself. You tend to become like what or who you worship. Israel’s critique of idolatry makes this point memorably. The Psalmist explains in Psalm 115 (but check out Isaiah 44:12-20 too; it’s hilarious!):
“Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
they make no sound in their throats.
Those who make them are like them;
so are all who trust in them.
O Israel, trust in the LORD!
He is their help and their shield.”
(Psalm 115:4-9, NRSV)
I told the congregation, where I was a guest preacher last week, that an idol is anything or anyone that takes the place of God in our lives. Other people cannot bear the weight of us placing them in the place of God; you cannot be the meaning of life for your lover – you will crack! Worship of anything else, except for the Living God, is to worship something less than yourself, and therefore to become like it, and so, less human. As the Psalmist has it, one becomes deaf, dumb and blind. Or as St. Paul has it, one’s mind is “darkened”, and if one persists in idol worship, a depressing list of sins (Rom. 1:28-31) are the result. Alternately, to worship the true God, who is more personal and alive than us, is to become more human and alive. I trust that you can come up with many examples of this phenomenon. We could do that together if we sat down and spoke together.
Also, if we sat down over our favorite espresso beverages, with many added ‘shots’, we could enjoy together some of the wonders of God, his great love for us, his forgiving grace, all that he has done for and in and through us, the amazing creatures he has made and the beauty and truth he has placed in our world for us to discover. Oops the sentence is getting long! Let’s not forget to discuss our favorite artists, Christian, non-Christian and unclassifiable whose abilities and visions God has given to amaze us and to blow our minds! When I ran a music venue/coffee house for a couple of years, I especially liked one particular expression. If a band gave a particularly awesome show, they were said to “melt your face off”. I want that more than you know.