Our Worship Is Too Rational

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rationalGod is transcendent, both unknown and unknowable. He is beyond, above, other than and distinct from all.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”[1]

Consequently, a faith such as ours rooted in this infinite cannot be contained in our finite understanding.

The paradox, however, is that this transcendent, unknown and unknowable God is constantly revealing Himself to us and seeking our worship. The unknown seeks to be known and acknowledged. There is nothing rational about that.

Isaiah responded to God’s transcendence with “woe is me.”[2]

Moses responded by taking off his sandals and hiding his face.[3]

David responded by dancing right out of his clothes.[4]

The Samaritan woman responded by setting aside her embarrassment and even livelihood in order to tell her community about an encounter with Jesus.[5]

But our church culture has responded by demanding the reduction of God’s mystery to the explicable. We have transformed the awe, mystery and transcendence of God and our response to His otherness into a scheduled event that is explainable and rational. As a result, God’s grace and our response to that grace through our acts of worship have been cheapened.

The main culprit may be worshipers who say they believe in Jesus but are no longer astonished and amazed by him.[6] When we take surprise out of worship we are left with dry and dead religion; when we take away mystery we are left with frozen or petrified dogma; when we script awe we are left with an impotent deity; and when we abandon astonishment we are left with meaningless piety.[7]

So if God’s transcendence can be contained in and explained through our finite understanding, then he is a god who does not deserve our worship.

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen”[8]


[1] Isaiah 55:8-9.

[2] Isaiah 6:5.

[3] Exodus 3:5-6.

[4] 2 Samuel 6:14-16.

[5] John 4.

[6] Michael Yaconelli, Dangerous Wonder: The Adventure of Childlike Faith (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1998), 23.

[7] Ibid., 28. Adapted to the topic of this article.

[8] Romans 11:33-36.

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4 Responses to “Our Worship Is Too Rational”

  • David Manner Says:

    Good response, Steve. I changed the image since that might be contributing to the confusion and irrationality is not the intent.

  • Steve Tice Says:

    Responding to Cody,

    I don’t think David was promoting irrationality here. (Though I’m not sure what the point of the picture is. Maybe you could speak to that David.) In my understanding the problem comes when we try to reduce God to what our rational mind can understand. I think it’s accurate to say that God is supra-rational, He goes beyond what our rational mind can grasp with reason alone. Therefore worship that relies solely or primarily in the rational domain will likely fall short of experiencing the fulness of God. Though we’ll never be able to fully experience God, our best attempts will seek to incorporate the full extent of our human personality. Mark 12:30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

  • Pamela Haddix Says:

    Oh yes. It’s so easy to limit God in our imaginations – to try to turn Him into something we can understand or even more like us. And of course, we also limit how we’re willing to respond to Him in worship. We need to be asking God to open our eyes to the greater mysteries of Himself so we can be awestruck more often by His unsearchable-ness and unfathomable-ness – and so we can worship Him more fully as He deserves.

    It’s the otherness of God that makes Him both perfectly rational and completely beyond understanding at the same time. It seems completely irrational to the mind that won’t embrace all that He is and utterly knee-dropping amazing to those who will. He alone is worthy!

    Pamela Haddix
    author, “Worship and the Word”
    http://pamelahaddix.com/

  • Cody Libolt Says:

    Do you mean to say that God is irrational and that our worship of him must be irrational? Or less rational than it is right now? That would give a bad name both to God and to the concept of rationality. God is perfectly rational. We do not know all his ways. But that need not mean his ways are irrational. You seem to be arguing that we should have a greater desire for God and amazement in him. True enough. But such appropriate feelings must spring from whatever level of understanding of himself God chooses to give to us by his words. His words are rational. He always gives us reasons to believe in his power and to obey him. If you are interested in this line of thought, please check out my blog: ifwewilllive.com

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