This is #25 in Crossing the Threshold series.
A Response to a Revelation
So let’s begin with what worship is. “Worship means literally, acknowledging the worth of something or someone. It means recognizing and saying that something or someone is far superior to oneself.” A key phrase in this definition by N.T.Wright is far superior to oneself. Worship is a response to a revelation of a wholly other; to one far superior in power, being and reality.
Let me illustrate this definition for you by using a scene from The Two Towers, the second book in J.R.R.Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas are in pursuit of their friends Merry and Pippin when they enter the ancient woodland known as Fangorn Forest. They come upon a shrouded figure who they presume to be the evil wizard Saruman and are about to attack him when suddenly….
“The old man was too quick for him. He sprang to his feet and leaped to the top of a large rock. There he stood, grown suddenly tall, towering above them. His hood and grey rags were flung away. His white garments shone. He lifted up his staff, and Gimli’s axe leaped from his grasp and fell ringing on the ground. The sword of Aragorn, stiff in his motionless hand, blazed with a sudden fire. Legolas gave a great shout and shot an arrow high into the air, it vanished in a flash of flame…..”
All three are totally disarmed by a power, being, and reality far superior to their own.
“They all gazed at him. His hair was white like snow in the sunshine, and gleaming white was his robe; the eyes under the deep brows were bright, piercing as the rays of the sun, power was in his hand. Between wonder, joy, and fear they stood and found no words to say.”
The revelation of the wholly other Gandalf now returned from the dead produces an instinctive response in the man, the dwarf, and the elf. They are simply undone and caught up in a state of wonder, joy and fear. They are caught up in worship.
Tolkien was a devout Christian, and there is no doubt that in writing this scene he had other moments of “Eucatastrophe”*, the in breaking of Joy, in his mind.
“And six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and brought them up to a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light.” Matthew 17:1-2
“And I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across the breast with a golden girdle.. And His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire; and His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been caused to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. And in His right hand He held seven stars; and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as a dead man. And He laid His right hand upon me, saying ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and Hades.” Revelation 1:12-18
You see one of the great tragedies of the Post Modern World is that we have no one greater than ourselves to worship. We have diminished God. He is not the Holy other, He is not even the wholly other. The secular realm has done more than diminish Him. They have dismissed Him as entirely irrelevant; the old man in the sky sort of thing. The religious folk have not dismissed him as much as they have reduced Him, brought Him down to a manageable size, and created Him in their own image. Simon Chan writes of this diminished god “he is nice, accommodating, friendly and always expected to meet my needs; solve my problems.” A diminished god evokes diminished worship; a caricature of the real thing. Diminished worship produces diminished human beings. Diminished human beings are the tragic lives we meet everyday.