This is part of the series How Worship Contributes to Resiliency.
Opening the Door to the Transcendent
I close by returning the point at which I began: God is the focus of Christian worship. In the first post, I said that God works in worship to achieve his own purposes. I end by noting something that should be obvious: those who participate in Christian worship believe they are encountering God.
I look to Biblical forebears like Isaiah and John the Seer to understand what happens in worship. The prophet Isaiah had visions of the Lord seated in the temple.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Isaiah 6:1-7
Fire and smoke were common occurrences in temple worship, rising from both the sacrificial fires and the altar of incense. Carvings of winged celestial beings covered the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. Isaiah’s vision, then, takes place in the context of ordinary worship in the temple but the prophet “sees” what is actually happening behind the scenes. The human eye sees only burning sacrifices, chanting priests and buildings of stone. Isaiah sees the Lord in his heavenly temple. God himself is present in Israel’s sacrifices.
Similarly, John the Seer was “in the Spirit” on “the Lord’s day,” the day of the Christians’ assembly. He, too, sees that there is more at work here than meets the eye. John has visions of angelic beings, heavenly furnishings and worship at the very throne of God.
When the church gathers to worship, the doors of heaven open. We join our voices “with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven” to sing the hymn of the seraphim. To the human eye, everything looks very mundane. Scriptures are read. Prayers are prayed. Songs are sung. Some things appear silly. Other things appear mundane. Very little of it looks heavenly. Yet, in the midst of it all, I believe that I am standing at the very throne of God.
For me, this is more an affirmation of faith than it is a mystical experience. It matters not whether I feel enraptured or whether I have a transcendent experience. I believe Christ’s promise that he is present when people gather in his name. By faith, I am united to the one who sits at the right hand of God the Father. I bow down before the lamb at the center of the throne.
An outsider might look at me and say, “He has the delusion that he experiences a divine presence when he meets with other Christians on Sundays.” Even if the outsider thinks that I am deluded in my beliefs, it would be hard to deny that such a belief would have a powerful effect on a person.
An older generation of psychologists did, in fact, regard religious belief itself as a delusion and religious experience tantamount to mental illness. The psychological literature was filled anecdotes of patients whose pathology exhibited itself in religious dimensions. Without going into an extended review of the history of psychology, suffice it to say that the contemporary generation of psychologists has a more balanced and less biased appraisal of religious belief.
For me, my belief that I encounter the God of the universe in the religious worship of Jesus Christ has been overwhelmingly positive. It made me stronger and more healthy. I am not alone in that estimation. In the last decade, psychological research has shown this to be true for a large number of people.
And, of course, I don’t think it’s a delusion.