Though the theology is interesting, what concerns me more is the direction, or rather the two very different directions you can go in, depending on your response to the question.
To me, the direction of the Bible is clear, and unanimous. However you describe the journey of faith, the end-goal is union between the believer and God, and when we come to Him, we worship Him.
This is expressed in a number of ways. Ezekiel, for example, concludes his oracle by renaming the city where the people of God dwell “The LORD is there” (Ez 48:35).
In Revelation, John expands this idea. Not only is the city the place where God’s people dwell in intimate union with Him (Rev 22:3-4); it is presented as His bride (Rev 21:2). Just as the intimate, exclusive, loving relationship between bride and groom is the end-goal of their courtship, so the end-goal of the journey of faith is the consummation of the relationship between Christ and His Church. God’s desire is to dwell with His people, and their desire is to dwell with Him. That is why one calls out to the other, “come” (Rev 22:17).
If the union of the believer with God is the ultimate objective, then that union is characterized by the worship of God. It is not simply patting God on the back and saying “good job”; it is the total acknowledgement of God as He fully is, for example;
They lay their crowns before the throne and say: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Rev 4:10b-11)
Note that this worship focuses on God as the creator of all things , not just the tangible and visible, as Paul explains;
For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. (Col 1:16)
Within this perspective, it is quite legitimate to consider the law as one of the “powers and authorities” in the “all things” that were created, whether it be the law of Moses or the law of gravity. The law, then, is created by God and has its being in Him, not the other way around.
I wonder if the theologians, who arranged the books of the Bible in their current order, deliberately placed the book of Psalms in the centre, so that that the centre of our theology will always be characterized by an outpouring of worship to God.
This also gives us a useful diagnostic; if your doctrines, principles and ordinances do not lead you to the kind worship of God that you see in Rev 4:10b-11 (and elsewhere in scripture), then they do not align with the Biblical perspective of God.
Following The Law That Governs God
In order to explore this idea, we need to move into terrain that is totally alien to the Biblical landscape.
Firstly, the subordination of the law to God is reversed, such that God is governed by something that is greater than Himself. God is no longer free, in an absolute sense, but is compelled to do things by some greater, external force.
In Christian circles, this concept creeps in under the guise of “God has to answer my prayers”, or “God has to forgive my sins”, as if there were something obligating God to do these things.
The idea that God is subordinate to a law is endemic in Mormonism. For example;
We accept the fact that God is the Supreme Intelligent Being in the universe. He has the greatest knowledge, the most perfect will, and the most infinite power of any person within the realm of our understanding. . . . Yet, if we accept the great law of eternal progression, we must accept the fact that there was a time when Deity was much less powerful than He is today. Then how did He become glorified and exalted and attain His present status of Godhood? In the first place, aeons ago, God undoubtedly took advantage of every opportunity to learn the laws of truth and as He became acquainted with each new verity He righteously obeyed it. From day to day He exerted His will vigorously, and as a result became thoroughly acquainted with the forces lying about Him. As he gained more knowledge through persistent effort and continuous industry, as well as through absolute obedience, His understanding of the universal laws continued to become more complete. Thus He grew in experience and continued to grow until He attained the status of Godhood. In other words, He became God by absolute obedience to all the eternal laws of the Gospel–by conforming His actions to all truth, and thereby became the author of eternal truth. Therefore, the road that the Eternal Father followed to Godhood was one of living at all times a dynamic, industrious, and completely righteous life. There is no other way to exaltation. Milton R Hunter.
According to Milton R Hunter, God begins his “progression” by understanding the universe in which he finds himself, then by his own efforts and obedience to the “eternal laws of the gospel”, worked his way up into glory. There’s plenty in Milton R Hunter’s statement that I profoundly disagree with (not least, the complete absence of a savior), but it is clear that God does not set the rules of the game. They are set for him by something greater than him – the “eternal laws of the gospel”.
What are these eternal laws, and where do we find them? Maybe they are written on some golden plates and buried under a hill in upstate New York? That would make a fascinating plot line for a film or a book.
Let’s say we find these “eternal laws”, and invoke them. Would we then be saying the Words of Creation? Can we master these words and then throw off our dependence on the God of the Judaeo-Christian tradition? However ineffective its methods for doing so, this is the end-goal of occultism.
Who determines what these “eternal laws” are? Are they kept secret such that they can only be revealed to the initiated few? Would it be in God’s interests to disclose them, given that his authority might depend on the fact that we can’t access them? If knowledge is power, then God’s power might only be effective as long as we remain ignorant. Who knows what would happen if we started to understand and assert our rights under these “eternal laws of the gospel”?
How does this affect our relationship with the God of the Bible? When He says, “I am the first and the last, apart from me there is no God” (Isaiah 44:6), do we just nod and smile while inwardly thinking, “for now, yes, but just you wait”. Even if our attitude to God is not so intolerant, the search for something beyond God betrays a desire to be independent of Him.
How does this affect our worship? If we cannot say, absolutely, “for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being” (Rev 4:11), what can we say? Are we limited to something like “You did the best you could, and we just hope that all your good efforts don’t get overturned by forces beyond your control”? Or perhaps we simply focus on ourselves with a kind of “You did the right thing. I’m going to do the right thing. I hope the right people notice, and I hope it works out OK”. These sentiments bear no resemblance to the magisterial expressions of worship found in the Bible.
Ultimately, though, if there is something greater than God, why bother with worshipping Him at all? To borrow an idiom from a London-based cop show; why deal with the monkey when you could be dealing with the organ-grinder?
The attempt to follow the law that governs God leads you on a path towards independence from God. You may be promised “all the Kingdoms of the world and their splendor” (Matt 4:8), or even the chance to rule entire planetary systems as if you were God. However these places will not be filled with God-worship and God will not be found in them.
If you follow God, then you have Him, and you need nothing else.
Thou art my portion, O LORD: I have said that I would keep thy words. (Psalm 119:57).
Which direction are you traveling in?
I wrote this article soon after the Haitian earthquake. Skeptics and believers have mused about how a loving God could have allowed such a disaster to happen (e.g. the BBC article here). In reading a Christianity Today editorial I was struck by another aspect of the Alpha and Omega whom we casually refer to as God (Isaiah 44:6, Rev 1:8, Rev 22:13). It is this; God is there in the beginning, before even the laws were set in motion that culminated in the Haitian tragedy. This present evil, though real enough, will end, and after all things have ended, including the processes that yield human suffering, God is still there.