“Apocalypse” Part 2: “Worship for Believers in Exile”

“Apocalypse” Part 2: “Worship for Believers in Exile” March 2, 2022

If it’s been a long time since you were in church, you may ask yourself, “Does worship still matter?” Whether it’s due to COVID or because of your own religious deconstruction, you may tell yourself that it’s no longer important. You’ve gotten out of the habit and haven’t missed it. Today in this series on the apocalypse, we examine the theme of worship.

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

 

Is Worship Important?

If you’re questioning and deconstructing your faith, you may have concluded that worship is no longer important. If you’ve decided that God is not a grandfather in the sky who needs us to tell him how good he is, you’d be right. If you’ve learned that God isn’t an earthly king exalted to a heavenly throne, forcing subjects to grovel in dust and ashes, you’re ahead of many believers. God is not a savings account into which we make worship deposits so that one day we can make a cash withdrawal. Neither does the Universal Being need to be appeased by our sacrifice of praise.

 

Believers in Exile

After realizing all these things, you may feel like a believer in exile. You’re holding onto the remnants and scraps of faith but feel separated from the “regular Christians” either by physical distance or a chasm of changing belief. If this rings true, then John’s Apocalypse is for you. This was exactly the experience of the original audience of his Book of Revelation. Scattered believers with shattered dreams and visions, those ancient exiles didn’t know whether their faith would survive—yet something inside them couldn’t let go of the need for worship. Maybe it’s the same for you.

 

Worship is Organic

The book of Revelation depicts scenes of heavenly worship showing that the living God is no celestial grandfather, king, or ATM. God doesn’t need to be worshiped for God’s own benefit—but simply because it’s the awe-struck response of a grateful creation. My seminary professor Glen Hinson said it best when he prayed, “Lord, we open ourselves before you like flowers before the morning sun.” Worship in John’s Revelation isn’t organized, but organic—the awakening of God’s creatures to the Source of their being.

 

The Heavenly Throne

John watches angelic worship as the heavenly court celebrates the Lord. Revelation 4:8-11 NASB says:

 

And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say,

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”

And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

“Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”

 

Holy, Holy, Holy!

When we worship the Creator, we embrace mystery. The living creatures sing of God’s holiness. This word holy means “other” or “different.”  It means that God is not like us. Certainly, we are made in God’s image, but there is a divine mystery that we can never attain, no matter how sophisticated our theology. The word “holy” recognizes the numinous quality of God. It also reminds us to be humble, not creating God in our own image, to be exactly what we might expect. Believers in exile have rejected the doctrines they inherited from people who think they know it all. They have embraced God’s mystery and realized how little they actually know. This cry of “holy” is a similar acceptance of God’s unfathomable nature.

 

…Who Was and Is and Is to Come

Next, the angels sing about God’s eternal quality. God “was and is and is to come.” They declare that Divine Life is eternal, showing that God is dependable. The Almighty never changes but is the same now and forever. Believers in exile need to be reminded that we exist for a century or so on this planet—and even the millennia are a twinkle in the Divine eye. An unchanging eternal God offers stability in the face of shifting understandings. Though our notions of God continue to evolve, the Ground of all Being remains stable.

 

Glory to God

Then, we see that heavenly worship involves paying honor to God. No dollars get dropped into the plate, but instead, the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks. Is God somehow improved by these gifts, as if the Almighty gets more glorious or more powerful than God was before, simply because we declare glory and power? No—but worshipers grow spiritually when we relinquish our own glory and power and strength to God. By recognizing God as the Source of everything good in our lives, we take ourselves off the throne in our own minds.

 

Casting Crowns

The twenty-four elders cast their crowns before the throne. The church has too many peacock shows with people strutting around displaying their own glory. Whether it’s proudly parading fine clothes or flaunting gifts to the church or reminding people of lavish acts of service, Christian peacocks crown themselves. But heavenly crowns (John meant this metaphorically, not literally) are never for our benefit. They are the egos that we abandon at the feet of the Almighty.

 

Who God Is…Not Who God Isn’t

Finally in this chapter, the elders proclaim, “for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed and were created.”  Believers in exile remind themselves of the things that God has done. Deconstruction is a good thing because it cleanses our spiritual palate. But often we’re so focused on the things that God has not done (created Hell, demanded human sacrifice, declared war on unbelievers, etc.) that we lose track of what God has done. We ground ourselves when we set our minds on who God is, rather than on who God isn’t.

 

A Personal Apocalypse

Believers in exile need to experience a personal apocalypse. Apocalypse means unveiling. We must lift the veil of all the religious things we’ve learned so that we can see the Creator as God truly is. Rather than abandoning worship as a fruitless exercise for the spiritually immature, we can reimagine worship to embrace divine mystery and eternal qualities. When we honor God, we realize that instead of groveling, we merely set aside our own glory to practice humility. And when we tell stories of what the Spirit has done, we embrace the idea of a God who is still active in the universe.

 

Revelation for Believers in Exile

John’s Book of Revelation was written for believers in exile, just like you. Their world had changed, their faith had been stretched. Some had thrown up their hands and left the church altogether, while others held onto hope that it would all make sense one day. Worship was a challenge for them—as it can be for you. But I pray that you’ll return to worship, even if it’s beside others who don’t believe or practice the same as you. Because your worship isn’t about their belief or unbelief—it’s about yours. And because worship helps you to see through the dust of deconstructing religion, so that you can rebuild a relationship with God.

 

Next up… Apocalypse, Part 3: The Wrath of God

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