Why Worship?

Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Volume I: Greece and Rome (Westminster: Newman, 1959) 331.

For is it probable that Aristotle, having described God as the Unmoved Mover Whose causal activity is one of attraction–as Finis–and as knowing only Himself, should go on, in another book, to depict God as immanent in man in such a way as actually to impart knowledge to him?

According to Copleston, Aristotle’s God was self-centered: he thought only about himself, excluding the possibility of his involvement in the world (314-315). Aristotle’s writings contain some exceptions to this view, such as his statement that God is like a captain who brings order. Aristotle’s God is also a prime mover, not in the sense that he caused everything to exist through creation (since Aristotle believed the cosmos was eternal), but in the sense that he sustains the existence of all things. A professor of mine once compared Aristotle’s “prime mover” to electricity, which is responsible for the lights being on. For Aristotle, the lights (representing the universe) have always been on, with electricity (representing the prime mover) eternally powering them, figuratively speaking.

I don’t know how Aristotle reconciles all of his ideas about God: God is self-absorbed, yet he sustains the universe; God does not intervene in human affairs, yet dreams and prophecies are signs of his existence (see God and the Occult). But maybe this all fits together somehow in Aristotle’s theology.

I also wonder what Aristotle’s God thinks about when he contemplates himself. “Look at me, I’m the prime mover, which makes me the most powerful being out there!”? I much prefer Plato’s idea that God meditates on the forms (e.g., virtue, order, etc.), as well as the corresponding rabbinic notion that God studies the Torah. But how can Aristotle’s God care about virtue, if he doesn’t even practice it, since he isolates himself from the affairs of humans and the world?

At DePauw, I once asked a professor why we should worship God. “Do we do so because God is morally superior?”, I asked. “No, we don’t worship God because he is morally superior, but because he is ontologically supreme,” my professor replied. Reading about Aristotle’s God made me think about that interaction, for this God’s primary claim-to-fame is being ontologically superior to the rest of us, as the one who upholds the cosmos.

The Bible offers all sorts of reasons for humans to worship God: his eternity (Psalm 106:48), his righteousness (Psalm 88:13; 103:6; 119:137), his goodness (Psalm 118), his past works in human history (Psalm 136), his creation (Revelation 14:7). I suppose ontology has something to do with it, but that’s not the only reason to worship God, in my opinion.

I once heard John MacArthur emphasize in a sermon that “Christ died for God.” As far as MacArthur was concerned, sure, Christ died to pay the penalty for our sin, but he also did so as an act of obedience to his Father, for God’s glory, as a demonstration of God’s righteousness (see here). MacArthur probably saw a need to counteract evangelical Christian narcissism: Christ died for me, as if I’m the center of the universe.

Among Puritans in general, there was a tendency to downplay self in the divine-human relationship, or at least that is my impression. Jonathan Edwards emphasized repeatedly that we worship God for his own sake, out of a love for his righteousness, not because he’s given us goodies. And there were Calvinist thinkers who said that the true believer would be willing to be damned in hell for the glory of God.

I bring this up because Aristotle’s self-absorbed God reminded me of it, even though there are clear differences between Aristotle’s God and that of Calvinists. The latter believed in divine providence, after all!

So what is my conclusion to this meandering musing? I worship God for a variety of reasons: for his goodness to me, for his own sake, and because he is supreme, morally and ontologically. I, by contrast, am flawed, vulnerable, and temporal.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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