“Because here’s something else that’s true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshiping. Everybody worships.”
I recently saw the above quote posted on facebook by my friend and preaching colleague, Steve Wolfgang. It is from the late David Foster Wallace, an American writer and university instructor of creative writing. I was not familiar with Wallace’s works, although the L. A. Times called him “one of the most influential and innovative writers of the last 20 years.”
The quote is taken from a commencement speech he gave at Kenyon College in Ohio on May 21, 2005. Wallace’s observations on worship continue in this vein.
“The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.”
“If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you.”
“On one level,” Wallace supposes, “we all know this stuff already — it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.”
The entirety of the speech is a mixture of some truth, human wisdom, ironic humor, and the ranting of an intellectual trying to find his way, all couched in a very pessimistic view of life. In reflecting on the difficulties of daily life, Wallace opines that it is about “making it to 30, maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head.”
After reading the speech, I wondered who, or what, Wallace worshiped? I learned his parents were atheists. Twice he tried to join the Roman Catholic church, but flunked what they call “the period of inquiry.” At one point he attended a Mennonite church. Throughout his life, Wallace struggled with depression, various addictions, inappropriate sexual behavior with female students and suicidal tendencies. Finally, he took his own life at age 46.
All of this aside, Wallace’s point is valid. “Everyone worships.” And you get to choose.
Sadly, many today, like Wallace, are asking valid questions, yet failing to find the answers. All the time, not realizing that God has revealed them in His Word. The Bible says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Pet. 1:3).
From Jesus, we learn what Truth is. Find our way through the maze of life’s daily frustrations. And experience life in all its fullness (John 14:6; 10:10). He alone provides access to the Father. And offers us an example of how to really live.
The Sermon on the Mount is profound in its simplicity and practical in its application of meeting our emotional, relational and spiritual needs. (Matt 5-7). The ministry of Jesus teaches us about service. Humility. Forgiveness. Compassion. Kindness. Courage. And, yes, even worship.
Jesus spoke to the Truth to Samaritan woman, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
While it is sad that many, like Wallace, never come to know God, maybe more tragic are Christians, who in Wallace’s words, allow their worship to become just a part of their “natural hard-wired default setting.”
God doesn’t desire, or accept mindless worship. Meaningless rituals. Traditional acts of religious rites that become routine, rote and vainly repetitious.
The heart of worship is the heart. The mind. The soul. The spirit. It is both intellectual and emotional. It is purposeful. And it is directed by a pure conscience trained in godliness, righteousness, and Truth.
This worship issues in right living. It provides the power to leave a Sunday service, and meet the Monday morning challenges we face in our jobs, schools, communities, and homes. It is transformational. (Rom. 12:1-2)
Like Israel of old it is possible to grow up in God’s family, go to worship, and not really know God. To allow the idols of our day to pragmatically become what we worship. Success. Money. Power. Prestige. Passion. Pleasure. These have become the “gods” of choice for far too many. Both in and out of the church.
When the apostle John wanted to fall down at the feet of the angel who revealed the awe-inspiring scenes in Revelation, the heavenly messenger succinctly retorted: “Worship God” (Rev 19:10).
Who do you worship? Or what do you worship?
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman