Richard Rohr said two things that are worth repeating: “Many American congregations [are] in effect paying their ministers to protect them from the real God” and that “religion is one of the safest places to hide from God.”
Could it be that in much of our singing, shouting, revivaling, dancing, and praising we are really hiding from the real God? Could it be that the god we seek in worship is NOT the God of the Bible, but one we have created and fashioned out of our own vanities and desires?
A god who blesses us without requiring anything from us; who grants us friendship without followship; who loves us even as we hate our neighbors; who blesses us with prosperity while we crush the poor?
To paraphrase John G. Stackhouse, many evangelicals, lie, cheat, exploit, marginalize, and overlook others in an “already-forgiven bliss with an attitude of ‘I’m-cool-cause-Jesus-loves-me-so-I-don’t-owe-you-a-thing.’”
Ours is a god of our own making: One who is always for us and never against us.
Indeed, in far too many of our churches, worship is more about us than God. More about making us feel safe in the divine presence than shaping and molding us into God’s image of justice, love and mercy.
Instead of challenging us to give up things in our lives that do not look like Christ, our worship seeks to shower God with praise and adoration as if flattery will make God overlook the fact that our churches are more capitalism than social justice, more respectability than Black Lives Matter, and more status quo than liberating change. Our worship doesn’t seek to exalt God, it tries to manage and bend God to our will.
But God is not fooled.
Biblical history teaches us that trying to sway God with empty praise is never fruitful. God told the rebellious nation Israel that the noise of their prayers and the melody of their music would no longer be heard until they learned to love justice. “Away with the noise of your songs!” the prophet warned. “I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream (Amos 5:23,24).”
God always prefers righteousness to ritual. Hear the prophet Isaiah: “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke (58:6)?”
Of course, worship is desirable, but it is worship that is done in the splendor of holiness as the Psalmist declared (Ps. 96:9). And what is holiness if not the totality of God’s character, which includes love, justice and mercy? Worshiping God in the splendor of holiness means separating ourselves from the worldly inclinations of greed, competition, exploitation and hatred. It is knocking down barriers that curtail love, freedom and human flourishing.
In this way, worship is not an escape strategy, a flight from reality or a means of spiritualizing suffering out of history. Genuine worship helps us sit in the tension of life with all of its ugliness, oppression and pain and, in turn, lights our imagination about ways to bring about healing, wholeness and social renewal.
Sojourners founder Jim Wallis said it best: “Spiritual activity doesn’t get to be called revival until it changes something in society.” You’ve have not been revived if you don’t have a bigger heart for mercy, a greater disdain for injustice and stronger desire fight for those who are suffering the most.
No, radical worship is not just showering God with praise, it is mimicking God’s character on the earth. Anything less is not worship, it’s manipulation.
The Rev. Fredrick D. Robinson is a Baptist preacher and just graduated with a master’s degree in Christian thought at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina. He is also a 2014 Fellow of the Black Theology and Leadership Institute at Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, NJ.
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