The Absence of God

Worship in the absence of God: a re-mapping

The Collapse

There has been the collapse of a reality. The old models of God do not work for many people. They find they are like the person lost in the bush... alone, scared, and with no idea where to go.

A person may have met a Bishop Spong in their life, or come to their own conclusions. However it happens, God and church lose the authenticity of reality. We are talking here of that paradigmatic shift where God no longer has reality. Where the old model of God holds no sense. It is not about an adjustment of some theological issues; the whole world view suddenly or gradually ceases to function.

 I am not concerned here for the person who wanted no God, but for we who still feel that there is, or must be, something Divine, but are left with nothing to say. God seems unknowable. Perhaps God is a desire, but is not.

Neither am I writing for the one who wants or needs God as a crutch, but the one who sees that there may indeed be no God, and if that is so, that's how life and reality is. The one who will be prepared to accept that reality if that is Reality, but who feels drawn to worship or who experiences something they can only call Divine, even if they have no words to express it.


Worship is what we do when we give something the status of ultimate worth. We need something to live for, or some rule to live by. It may be that we are a very relaxed personality type who takes life as it comes, and be less driven to worship than the type of personality who needs order and understanding as a priority. But we all worship. We all give something the ultimacy in our lives.

Christian theology has always understood that worship is something beyond an idea. It is about "living out" a reality, not claiming a belief that does not issue in action. Worship, properly understood, cannot simply be some theoretical notions which are an existential crutch to prop us up. Worship demands action of us.

Idolatry is the giving of worship to the "Not-God." It is to worship something which is not worthy of worship, something less than ultimate in our reality.

Idolatry may seem an outdated concept in today's world. However, we give credit to the notion of idolatry by our use of the phrase "to idolise." We use it of the teenage fan of a pop group, for instance. In that idolising we recognise that there is a worth given to the object or person which is not quite proper. They are not quite worthy of our attention in this way. There are occasions where we deliberately use the word "idolise" instead of words like "respect" or "esteem." We talk of "discipling" ourselves sometimes, or of using a person as a "mentor figure" or "life symbol." These are all different to what we mean when we say "idolise."

Society offers we men a number of well tried idolatrous opportunities.

Work is the classic idol. We are invited to give our life to our work. When we say someone "lives for his work" we saying theologically that he "worships" his job. This is idolatry. Work is not worth it! It never was worth being only the extension of a company or job. Witness the alarming number of men who die relatively soon after retirement! Work today is even less worthy of worship. We live in the age of retrenchment, downsizing, and contract labour. Why worship something so transitory? There is nothing ultimate here.

October 21 2001



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