I was particularly interested in the arguments of the atheist Jamie Kilstein (with whom I had greater sympathy than my ostensibly Christian brother). Jamie seemed to be genuinely humble and open. At one point in the short exchange he admitted, “If the ceiling came crashing in and someone was like ‘I’m God!’…I’d be like, ‘I apologize’. But if I get up to heaven and there is a God, and He’s like, ‘You were wrong! How did you live your life?’ And I’m like, ‘I tried to help people, I tried to give to charity. I didn’t know if You were real, there was no evidence’, and He’s like, ‘Well, you didn’t worship Me everyday!’, then I’d be like, ‘Fine. Send me to wherever’s as far away from You as possible, cause You’re a sociopath!” Jamie’s objection seems to be not to the idea of God’s existence per se, but to the idea that God would damn a good person who was trying his best simply because that person did not worship God. If all God cared about was whether or not He was worshipped, and that He would damn people regardless of how they lived, it would seem to Jamie that God was an egotist. Or, to used Jamie’s term, a sociopath.
So, what’s the deal? Is God a crazed egotist? Does He demand to be worshipped simply because He enjoys the attention? Is our religious worship and praise all He cares about? The idea was examined by C.S. Lewis over half a century ago in his book Reflections on the Psalms where he talks about the Scriptural exhortations to praise the Lord. In his chapter “A Word about Praising”, Lewis writes, “All enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless shyness is deliberately brought into it…The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside…Praise seems to be inner health made audible.” His point that we are made in such a way that when we are spiritually healthy, we naturally praise things that our beautiful. Praise is essential to our enjoyment of something. Scripture exhorts us to praise God because we were made to enjoy Him, and to behold His ravishing beauty forever. Our praise is the overflow of that enjoyment. The Westminster Catechism teaches that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”. In fact, these two are the same thing, for to fully enjoy is to glorify.
The human spirit was created to live on God in the same way that the body lives on food, or to vary the metaphor, in the same way that cars run on gasoline. One can pour lemonade into the gas-tank in a valiant attempt to save money, but the car will not run on lemonade. Unless one feeds gasoline to the vehicle, it will not move. And unless one feeds food to the human body, it will not grow or live long. One can try other things. During famines one hears of people trying to eat grass. But man cannot live on grass alone. Only food can sustain human bodily life.
In the same way, only the presence and beauty of God can sustain the human spirit. God does not ask that we worship Him because He wants the attention. Indeed, a God who left the adoration of the heavenly angels to become a human being and suffer rejection, scourging, mockery, and crucifixion is clearly not a God who cares much about His own ego or His own rights. God wants us to worship Him because He loves us, and because feeding our spirits on His divine beauty is the only way we can truly live. When a father tells his children at the supper table to eat their food, he does so because he wants them to grow up big and strong, not because he wants them to praise his culinary skill. It is the same with our heavenly Father. He also wants us to live, and grow, and become strong. We can, like sulky children at the supper table, refuse to eat the food that alone can nourish us, and still expect to thrive. We can refuse to worship Him and still expect to live forever. But who is the crazy one then?