Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Father seeks

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.
John 4:23

It is the ‘seeks’ in the verse that bothers me. It makes it seem as though God somehow needs our worship, like some kind of megalo-maniacal egotist of the universe. Rock stars seek fans. That's what makes them do some very wild things. That's how they grab people. But how does God grab us? What wild things does He do to catch our attention? The matter of God ‘seeking’ worshippers, has to be put into perspective somehow. I even checked the Greek to make sure the word was in fact ζητεi, and it was. Yes, He ‘seeks’ us, but this is how.

God is looking down from heaven
at the sons of men,
to see if a single one is wise,
if a single one is seeking God.

Psalm 53

When I think of His seeking us this way, it all makes sense. He already knows we want to worship. Why? Because He made us that way. In fact, as I wrote in a recent testimony, we are nothing but praise. That is an old teaching within Judaism and Christianity. ‘Face desired to look upon face,’ is how the Jews put it. Existence itself is the antithesis of what God is, beyond existence and its source. This is the deepest longing of mankind, even deeper than love, even deeper than erotic love which, as the Greek Church points out, is merely love of God as reflected in our physical natures.

The three loves, αγαπη, φιλια, ερος, agápi, phília, éros. Disinterested, brotherly love, the love between friends and comrades, and the love of the Beloved. It is very easy to see why idolatry from ancient times right up to the present always includes a dimension of sexual fantasy. Moderns don't call their idols ‘gods’ except in metaphor, but that's what they are. Yet worship is reserved to God alone. In Greek, it is λατρεια, latreía. So we see the source of the suffix added to so many false gods: idol-latry, biblio-latry, even Mario-latry. Worship, latreía, is reserved for God alone.

Strange, then, that when Christ reveals to the Samaritan woman the mystery of worship in spirit and truth, He doesn't use this word to refer to the worshippers. Instead, He calls them προσκυνουντες, proskynoúndes, ‘those who bend the knee in front of’. He could have called them λατρευοντες, latrévondes, ‘worshippers’, but He didn’t. Of course I understand that though Christ spoke Greek as well as Aramaic and Hebrew, He wouldn’t have been speaking Greek to the Samaritan woman, at least I don’t think so. It would’ve been Aramaic. John, however, who writes in very easy and basic Greek, was still careful to choose the right words.

The detail difference between latreía and prosk‎‎‏ýnisis may not be significant in this passage, may not be intended to show a contrast. I don’t think so, but that doesn’t mean I’m right. Prosk‎‎ýnisis, by the way, is the word usually translated ‘veneration’ but sometimes as ‘worship’, which greatly scandalises Protestants, especially when applied to our veneration of ikons and of the saints, especially Mary. Some Orthodox publications translate prosk‎‎‏ýnisis as ‘worship’. Alas! We Orthodox are just closet idolators as bad as the Roman Catholics to some people, even worse, according to a former best friend, because we ‘pretend’ to be evangelical.

But there are only two responses we can have to God, as human beings: either we worship Him, or we don’t. Worship means to ‘consider worthy’ and of anything or anyone we can come into contact with ever, God is, arguably, the Most Worthy. The question is, what does ‘worship’ look like? That is what I think the Lord was getting at in His talk with the Samaritan woman. Just because we appear to be worshipping God, even building great temples and shrines to glorify Him, what is it we are actually doing? Factually, yes, we go to church, we go through the motions of worship. But what is it we are actually doing? Christ tells us, ‘in spirit and in truth’, that’s the kind of venerators the Father is looking for. It is really all or nothing. This thought, if nothing else, should make us stand up in church.

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