Posted by Brenton Brown on 28 November 2013

We honor the dead, the fallen, but we hardly ever honor the living. Why?

I grew up in South Africa just as apartheid was ending. It gave me a colorful, privileged childhood, but it also left me with a lasting suspicion of authority figures. I’d heard so many adults argue that apartheid was valid, and a whole generation seemed unable to see what was so glaringly obvious to the rest of the world - and increasingly so to me.

You don't have to be a South African to share these feelings towards authority. We have witnessed the repeated moral collapse of those in the highest positions of authority. From presidents to priests, schoolteachers to police officers, not a month goes by without someone failing in a spectacularly public fashion.

And so we have become suspicious of leadership. And because of this mistrust the practice of honoring our elders has fallen into disuse. Practically the only time we honor people is when they’re dead, and even then it is almost exclusively the practice of official institutions – schools, colleges, government, military: the very institutions we regard with some of the fiercest distrust.

This is what makes the act of worship such a subversive and revolutionary act. It doesn’t come naturally to honor someone, so to honor God the way we do - not simply with words and ceremonies, but with the kind of exuberant praise and singing we normally reserve for sports events and entertainment - goes deeply against the grain.

It’s so counter cultural for this generation that we’re out of practice. We feel embarrassed: who does this kind of thing anymore? Or we grow bored, just like we do at prize-givings and graduation ceremonies. Or we start to doubt the very praises we heap up, wondering whether this guy really is as cool as we’re making him out to be.

But as we begin to praise and fight against the resistance in ourselves and in our culture, as we obey the injunctions of scripture and ascribe worth to God and we start to catch glimpses of who He really is, something happens.

We start to realize that a celebration of God is a celebration of life itself - that everything good we’ve ever celebrated was in some small measure a glimpse of God Himself. We start to see that any person we’ve ever honored correctly was a reflection of the Lord Himself. Every honored soldier who has given his or her life for a nation reflects the God who offered up His life for sinners. Every Presidential victory celebration reflects the kind of hope we have in a King who will never disappoint us, who makes good on every promise simply because He can.

With this honoring of God comes the desire to honor others. Our eyes are opened to goodness, our minds acknowledge life and what is worth honoring. Our appetite for honoring increases. But in the end it is God alone who is good. It is God alone who is the light that casts no shadow. And it is He alone who is worthy of our highest praise.

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