Worship Is Not Just Wonder; It Is Thankfulness

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
— Psalm 8

One of the most obvious testimonies to God in the natural world is the sheer size of it all. Both the land and the sky stretch farther than the eye can see. We live in the midst of something indescribably great, and greatness is a palpable mark of God. Immanuel Kant, who rejected the traditional theistic proofs, nevertheless expressed awe at the “starry heavens above” and “the moral law within.”

When we think of our achievements from a cosmic perspective, it is very difficult to isolate what we do from what has been done for us. We are alive because of a vast causal nexus above and below us. The same is true of our abilities, and, therefore, our achievements. Beethoven could write symphonies because he came from a vast family tree, and because all his ancestors breathed the earth’s air and received food and drink from its seeds, rain, and sunshine. He had the right genes, education, and experience. At any moment of his life, he might have been destroyed by a falling tree or a tiny virus. Or one of his ancestors might have been destroyed, preventing Beethoven’s family line from bringing him to life. He wrote the symphonies; nobody else did, and nobody can take those away from him. But his achievements are dependent on something vastly larger than he.

Given the greatness of the universe and our own frailty, is it not wondrous that any of us survive, and even more wondrous that any of us accomplish what we do? That wonder at the sheer greatness of it all is one of the roots of religion. Is it even slightly surprising that since before the beginning of written history, human beings have been religious?

But worship is not just wonder; it is thankfulness. Given the vastness of the world, would it make any sense at all for people to take sole credit for their sustenance and their accomplishments? The good things of our lives (and the sufferings as well, to be sure) come from the Greatness.

Most human beings through all time have accepted the responsibility of acknowledging the Greatness to some extent. But these acknowledgments have been mixed with pride. We want to take credit for the blessings of life, and as a result, we feel entitled to look down on fellow human beings who have not been so blessed. To that extent, we fail in our appreciation of the Greatness. We don’t understand how truly great it is.

So the tendency of human worship is to diminish the Greatness, to bring it down to our level. The Athenians of Paul’s day thought that “the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man” (Acts 17:29). Thus is worship turned from what it ought to be (an acknowledgment of the Greatness) to a distortion, a self-glorification.

If we worship the Greatness, and only the Greatness, we are certainly worshiping the God of the Bible, for none is as great as he is (Pss 47:2; 86:10; 95:3; 135:5). But there is much more to learn about how he is great.

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This excerpt is adapted from John M. Frame’s book, Nature’s Case for God: A Brief Biblical Argument.