This article originally appeared in the September 2005 issue of Worship Leader Magazine.
Many of you know that I have been struggling with the issue of me-oriented worship. Those of you who have walked this path with me—some agreeing, others disagreeing—are probably saying “Oh no, not another article on the same subject!” Well, yes, but with a completely different question for you to explore. The issue is this: In your worship planning do you view God as the object of your worship or the subject of worship?
The Right Question
It has been said that we don’t have answers to our problems because we do not ask the right question. In my years of struggle with narcissistic worship the question of God as the object or the subject of worship has never surfaced until recently. Maybe it has been articulated in your mind and you have settled the question. But for me the surfacing of the issue has clarified the fundamental dis-ease I’ve had with I-Me-My worship. I invite you to explore with me the difference between God as the object of our worship and God as the subject of worship.
God as the Object of Worship
I grew up with a three layered understanding of the universe. God is “out there” or “up there,” the earth is here and below it all is Hell. Most Christians probably function with a visual world view with God seated on the throne in God’s heavens and down below is the earth where people dwell, and in the center of the earth or somewhere below the earth there is a raging fire where those who refuse to believe in God are consigned to eternal death and separation from God.
The three tiered view of the world is not only a spatial configuration in our minds, it is also a visual picture expressed in countless works of art. We have all seen depiction of heaven as that place “out there” where God is seated on his throne surrounded by the cherubim, the seraphim, the angels, and archangels and the countless saints who have gone before worshiping in eternal perpetuity.
This spatial and visual view of God results in a human language that expresses worship to God as the object of praise. I am the subject who worships God. God is the recipient of my efforts on his behalf.
God as the Subject of Worship
The concept of God as an object, an essence who, so to speak, “sits out there” is a Greek idea, not a biblical understanding of God.
The biblical God is the God who acts. He creates, becomes involved with his creation, calls Israel into existence to be his own people, makes himself known to them in Law, present to them in the Tabernacle and leads them into the future. In their history he gives types and shadows of his forthcoming involvement in history to redeem the world. He becomes incarnate in Jesus, dies for us, is resurrected for us, ascends into heaven where he intercedes for us, will return to complete his redemption of the world in the New Heavens and the New Earth.
If we are going to use the subject/object distinction, the scenario of God’s story clearly envisions God as the subject and the world as the object. God creates the world, loves the world, cherishes the world, and saves the world with his own “two hands”, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The incredible and radical story of God is that he loves the world so much that he enters into the suffering of the world so that through his death, sin is defeated, death is overcome, hell is conquered. And in his resurrection, life, the true life of the Spirit is recovered and man and the world is made new. Is this good news or what? In all these actions, God is not an object, but the subject who is at work in the world, redeeming it and restoring it to himself.
What, then, is Worship?
If God is the subject of worship, how then should we worship? Several things are clear:
- We do not enthrone God or seat him in the heavenly places. He is not an object who needs us to add anything to his glory. He is most glorious in himself.
- Worship remembers, enacts, and lives out the story of God. We sing, preach and enact at the Table the wonders of the God who as subject creates, redeems and makes all things new. This worship involves the mind, evokes the emotions, engages the body and all the senses.
- Doing God’s story impacts us, the objects of God’s actions. Our true worship then, is to tell and enact how God the subject rescues the world, the object of his love. In worship, God the subject, shapes us the object, into the image of his Son so that we offer our lives to God by living into his death (dying to sin) and living into his resurrection (rising to the new life in the Spirit).
Now, for the question: How would your worship change if we once again saw God as the subject and ourselves as the objects of his love. Plan a worship service like this and let me know the difference it makes.