What then is worship-love? What kind of love is the love humans give to their gods?
The problem is, the Bible never defines worship for us; it expects us to already know. Thankfully, we already have a clue in those words of Deuteronomy: all your heart, all your soul, all your strength. The way you relate to a god is not with half-hearted, double-minded, ambivalent affections. The way you relate to a god is with an ultimate kind of love.
Gods represent ultimate things. Human beings regard their gods as the ultimate cause of events. Gods are looked to as ultimate explanations of good and bad experiences. God are petitioned and thanked. In other words, the love of worship sees its god at the very end of a chain of trust or love or devotion. When you praise or thank or rejoice in a god, you are not using it for something else. You are loving it for itself.
Picture a man who loves a certain car polish car polish. Does he love car polish as a means or as an end? He loves it as a means. It will lead to a shiny car. Does he love his shiny car as an end in itself? No. He loves what it does. He loves it instrumentally. It attracts stares, glances, and admiration from other people. Does he love stares as ends in themselves? No, he loves what those stares mean. You could say he loves that attention because of what it says about his status. What is the end point of his loves? In the case of an idolatrous love, we would say that the man love his status ultimately. He loves his name as an end in itself. He does not go further than that. If you asked him, “Why do you love your status?”, he would not say, “Because it is a means to something else.” He would probably just shrug and say, “Because I do.” His status is an ultimate love to him. It is his god.
Many people make a god out of a relationship – a boyfriend, girlfriend, wife, or husband. Many people make gods out of their children. Some make gods of having more money. Some make a god out of a car or a piece of jewellery or a computer, or a sport. Some make gods out of succeeding, some make gods out of sexual pleasure, some make gods out of drunkenness or drugs. Some make gods out of their appearance, or their intelligence. Some make gods out of digital games, their gardens, their holiday homes, their prize collection. These things or people or goals become things they live for. If such things are treated as ends, and not means, they have usurped the place that Yahweh claims for himself. They have become idols.
The human heart is an idol factory, said Calvin. Our sinful natures may seize upon anything, and say, “This, this by itself, will fill the void! I will give myself for this, and live for this, and it will bring me satisfaction. I will pursue this and live for this!” In fact, one of the ways to test if something has become a god to us is to watch our reaction when that thing is threatened. Typically, people lash out when their gods are threatened.
In contrast to all these created things, God is the self-existent, eternal, all-powerful Creator of the universe. This is God’s defence of loving him ultimately: no other God is a real god! No other god exists in reality. There is only one member of the class God, and it is Yahweh. In fact, God’s name even suggests this idea. Yahweh, “I AM THAT I AM” suggests God’s existence is not contingent. God’s name says, “I am the only one in the universe who is not simply an instrument or a means for someone or something else. I am not someone who is explained as an agent or means for something beyond me.” No, God is simply, I AM.
Sadly, it is possible to treat God Himself as merely another means to our own ends. This is the fundamental error that sends us over the cliff into inordinate love. God gives me health, and I love God. God gives me a job and enough money, I love God. God gives me healthy children, and I love God. God protects me and my loved ones, and I love God. God gives me a certain quality of life, and I love God. And if God takes any or all of those things away, then what?
We need not search hard to see that around us. Some want God to be their cosmic cash cow. Some want God to be their prescription-free anti-depressant pill. Some want God to be their good luck charm. Christian bookshelves are groaning under the weight of books that make man the consumer, and God the supplier. The Christian life is sold as the means to fix up your marriage, help with your finances, help you budget your time, help you achieve financial freedom, give you peace and happiness, or make you a successful person. The songs and hymns are filled with declarations about ourselves, our sincerity, our intention to worship, our deep experiences, with God as the agent of our intense religious emotions. Should this experience be less than thrilling, the average person comments after corporate worship,“I didn’t get much out of that service.” God is a means, and we are the end.
“If we love not God because he is what he is, but only because he is profitable to us, in truth we love him not at all”, said Jonathan Edwards.1 The love of worship is loving God for Himself. To love God as the only God is to not seek to use God for some other end beyond Himself.
Christianity broken down to its first principle is this: only one God exists, and he is not you. He is not a means to your own ends. You have been created to know and love him for who he is. If you are to love God as he is, you must deny yourself. You must recognise that your life does not revolve around you. You orbit the sun that is God, not the other way around. You must turn from trying to use God, or manipulate God, and come to him to love him as your only God. You must settle on the fact that there will be only one ultimate love in your life, and it will be God.
Francois Fenelon commented on this:
Men have a great repugnance to this truth, and consider it to be a very hard saying, because they are lovers of self from self-interest. They understand, in a general and superficial way, that they must love God more than all his creatures, but they have no conception of loving God more than themselves, and loving themselves only for Him. They can utter these great words without difficulty, because they do not enter into their meaning, but they shudder when it is explained to them, that God and his glory are to be preferred before ourselves and everything else to such a degree that we must love his glory more than our own happiness, and must refer the latter to the former, as a subordinate means to an end.2
An ancient Latin hymn puts it this way:
My God, I love Thee; not because
I hope for heaven thereby,
Nor yet for fear that loving not
I might forever die
But for that Thou didst all mankind
Upon the cross embrace;
For us didst bear the nails and spear,
And manifold disgrace.
Not with the hope of gaining aught,
Not seeking a reward,
But as Thyself hast lovèd me,
O everlasting Lord!
E’en so I love Thee, and will love,
And in Thy praise will sing,
Solely because Thou art my God,
And my eternal King.
Loving God is not simply taking your love for other things, increasing it by degree, and then aiming it at God. Loving God means loving him ultimately. That’s the meaning of love with all your heart, soul and might.