Yesterday, I talked about what defines us – what it is that makes each of us “us.” I meant for the post to not only suggest that our individuality is greater than the physical, material sum of us parts, that the soul not only exists, but defines us. But what about the essence of God?
The reason that this question is important is because there is a view that says that the defining characteristic of God is His omnipotence. After all, the first difference we notice between us and God is that He’s in charge. He runs everything, we (hopefully) follow Him. But viewing God primarily as Sovereign or Omnipotent is problematic. Springboarding off of the C.S. Lewis discussion from earlier, the problem is primarily this: if the devil were more powerful than God, worship premised upon power would suggest that we worship the devil, instead of worshiping God. The solution to this is to suggest that goodness is more important than power. So a powerless Christ who preserved His goodness is worthy of worship, while a mighty and evil Huitzilopochtli is not. This isn’t just some ivory tower hypothetical. Christ tells us that Satan is prince of this world (see John 14:30), and that the whole world is his fiefdom (1 John 5:19). Certainly, we know, as Christians, that the good guys win in the end. But if our reason for worshiping God is because He’s sovereign, we might as well say, “we’ll back whichever horse crosses the finish line,” and there’s no merit in that.
But there’s a second part to this, too. Not only is the notion of omnipotence-worship just an exaggerated form of dangerous power-worship, the notion of power as being central to the identity of God is contrary to Scripture. Take Philippians 2:5-11:
- Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
- Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
- Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance,
- he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
- Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
- that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
- and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
So Christ Jesus is able to detach Himself from His power, leaving Him totally dependent upon God the Father for His miraculous powers (John 3:2). His life on Earth is full of rock-bottom moments. He’s born in a stable, He dies amongst criminals on a Cross, and in between, we see things like Mark 6:5, where He’s unable to perform miracles due to the people’s lack of faith… in His own hometown. Isaiah 53:2’s Christological prophesy reads:
He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, One of those from whom men hide their faces, spurned, and we held him in no esteem.
If our worship of Him is based upon His power, He’d be an unlikely candidate. In fact, He would have “emptied Himself” of His Deity (which would, in turn, render the Incarnation false, since it’s premised upon Jesus being both fully God and fully Man).
In contrast, the above passage from Philippians suggests that God the Father exults Christ because of His humility. Or, more to the point, the Holy Trinity is worthy of our worship for two interrelated reasons: (1) the Trinity is the source of all love; and (2) the Trinity is the epitome of Love. 1 John 4:16 captures it best in the succinct statement, “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.” This may seem like some poetic flourish, but it’s not. It’s foundational for the entire Judeo-Christian system. Obeying power isn’t a particular merit: it’s doing what you’re forced to do. But pursuing the Good even when evil rules the world is meritorious. So the only reason to ever worship God is because of His love. Most concretely, He died for you on a Cross, but even prior to this, He was worthy of (and received) worship.
This is a different way of looking at God than perhaps we’re used to, but it’s absolutely fundamental to understanding anything else (like why an all-powerful God would choose the course of Redemption which He did).