Why I Love and Worship God
Often I’m tempted to think one of the most basic differences between me and some fellow Christians is why we love and worship God.
I love and worship God because of Jesus.
Pietist leader Nicholas Ludwig Count von Zinzendorf once said that if it weren’t for Jesus he wouldn’t believe in God. I wouldn’t go quite that far. I think there is enough evidence for a supreme being, an intelligent designer and creator of the universe, that I would believe in God even if I did not know Jesus.
However, if I did not know Jesus, I would not love or worship God.
Is that somehow wrong? Blasphemous? Heretical? Evidence of putting something or someone “above God?” That seems impossible if Jesus is God.
A basic item of Christian orthodoxy is that Jesus is God. To be sure, Jesus is not “all” of God in the sense of there being no persons of God other than Jesus. However, to posit a God who is unlike Jesus would seem to me to verge on heresy—at least.
Even very conservative evangelical theologians have said that saints of God before Jesus loved and worshiped Yahweh because of the promise of a Savior—the Suffering Servant God would sent to redeem them. Even then, through the prophets, they had an intimation of Jesus. God’s “steadfast love” was their rock for loving and worshiping him.
If you ask me whether I would love and worship God if I had never heard of Jesus I can’t answer you. Can you answer such a question? The reality is, I have known God through Jesus my entire life. I have never known God apart from knowing Jesus. When I think of God I have always thought of Jesus’ character, his love for me, his humiliation, his self-sacrificing death and glorious resurrection. Do I have a relationship with the Father and Holy Spirit? Yes, of course, but not apart from Jesus.
“If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” (John 14)
So when someone asks me “Would you still love and worship God if it were revealed to you in a way you couldn’t deny that God is not at all like Jesus?” I interpret the question as asking “What if Jesus is not the revelation of the character of God?” Of course, first, I say “That’s impossible.” But to make my point about God being Jesus-like and no other, I play along with the purely hypothetical game and say “No.” That’s not at all the same as implying it’s possible and to say so is to reveal confusion about logic. A hypothetical answer to a hypothetical question never implies that one things it’s possible.
Am I then putting Jesus over God? Hardly. God is the one who put forward Jesus as the perfect revelation of himself. To suggest that one would continue loving and worshiping God if he were not like Jesus is to suggest a “hidden God” behind Jesus who is unlike him. Then what’s Jesus for?
Then, of course, we come to the question “What was Jesus like?” Ah, there’s another difference. I cannot read about Jesus in the New Testament and the earliest church fathers (who knew men who knew Jesus) and have a personal relationship with him and even begin to imagine that he only loved some of the people he encountered and only died for some people. That is not the Jesus I know.
So, I embrace my Calvinist brothers and sisters while grieving for their profound confusion and distorted images of God and Jesus. Of course, they (at best) do the same with me. This is no minor matter to be papered over with “Let’s just not talk about it and love one another.” Love one another—yes. Not talk about it? How can that be? “Speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) isn’t just about correcting heresy or confronting gross immorality. If I think what I believe is true and what a fellow Christian believes is in error, even if I think he or she is saved and a true disciple of Jesus Christ such that we can worship together and cooperate in all kinds of endeavors, how can I be silent about his or her error—especially if he or she brings up the subject?
Surely, if Jesus only mission was to die on the cross for our sins, the Son of God could have become incarnate as a thirty-three year old man (or whatever age) and been crucified. That he chose to be born and grow up and spend three years (we think) living among people and teaching and healing and casting out demons, that is, loving people in action, demonstrates that his life had a purpose, not only his death. What purpose? Well, in part at least, to demonstrate the heart of God. Obviously, then, God considered that people before Jesus, however, faith-filled they may have been, just didn’t “get it” when it came to understanding God truly. He had to come among them as one of them to show his character and will for human life.
It seems to me that people verge on heresy when they posit a God “behind Jesus,” a “hidden God” unlike Jesus. Or suggest that it is possible to know God truly apart from Jesus. (By “know God truly” I don’t mean “savingly.” I mean know his character truly.)