Tiago Arrais, PhD, is a district pastor in Santa Fe, NM, USA.


If I had to sum up the structure of what worship is, I would say that to worship is to acknowledge the reality of God. This simple definition highlights a subjective element in worship, namely, the individual who acknowledges this reality through different ways (music, prayer, thanksgiving, etc.), as well as an objective element, namely, the reality of God. 

If that which I seek as a worshipper of the true God is to worship Him in Spirit and truth, then, I must go to the Bible not only looking for what was done right, but to reflect on that which was also done wrong. But to understand the theological foundations of counterfeit worship, I must begin with a brief introduction into the biblical portrayal of “discernment.”

At the center of Hebrew faith and religion is the ability of the human being to “understand” (the Hebrew word binah). Proverbs 9:10 and Daniel 1:20, for example, use the word “understanding” interchangeably with “wisdom.” In other words, to be wise is to understand. Interestingly, binah (“to understand”) comes from the Hebrew word bein or “between.” The idea behind “understanding” in the Bible is that the one who is wise, the one who understands, is the one who has ability to discern “between” good and evil, between real and unreal, between original and fake. 

This ability to “understand” or to “be wise” by discernment is a crucial element of worship. If we are, as worshippers, to acknowledge the reality of God, part of this task is to have the ability to discern His real presence in our midst. We might fall into a common temptation in worship and spirituality today which ends up worshipping an “idea of God” rather than the “reality of God” Himself. For this reason, to worship is, in many ways, to discern.

The first time the idea of discernment appears in Scripture is in Genesis 3:5, “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” From the mouth of the Serpent comes the idea that to discern good from evil is something to be achieved. It is a Divine prerogative concealed from creation and only available to God Himself. Genesis 3:22 apparently testifies that the Serpent was telling the truth since God declares: “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.” Was the Serpent telling the truth? According to modern translations—yes. Yet a close look at the simple Hebrew grammar of the text indicates a completely different reading. A faithful portrayal of the Hebrew text reads: “man was like one of Us, knowing good and evil.” The idea of “becoming like God by eating” is nowhere to be found in the Hebrew text, and the idea that remains is that man “was” like God, and had the ability to discern, before he ate. This Divine prerogative of discernment was always available to mankind for only before eating they could tell the difference between what was good and evil. After eating the fruit the text does not support a new birth of insight and wisdom in connection to man, but confusion and despair. Instead of achieving discernment, man blames woman, woman blames serpent, and sin entered into the world. 

It is the lost ability to discern that creates the need for Divine revelation. Throughout Scripture Divine revelation is commonly seen prototypically embodied in Jesus Christ— the living Word in both Old and New Testaments. Today, He is at our disposal through the presence of His Spirit and the written Word. How crucial is the written Word, then, in worship! To worship Christ apart from Scripture is to worship a silent Christ, and a silent Christ is not the Christ of Scripture. That which was true in the past remains true today—man cannot know good from evil unless God reveals Himself to man, and gives Him the orientation needed to “understand.” So in the past God began this revelatory initiative by giving Torah to man, which means “instruction” or “teaching,” or even “the way.” Notice how God attempts to develop discernment in the book of Deuteronomy:

Deuteronomy 12:8 – “You shall not do at all what we are doing here today, every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes.”

Deuteronomy 30:20 – “by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”

To think according to “our own eyes,” or to love, hear, and hold fast to God, is the tension presented in Deuteronomy concerning man’s need for revelation in order to be able to discern. It is the lack of discernment, and disregard toward Divine revelation, that provide the foundation for counterfeit worship as presented by Scripture. To worship, first and foremost, is to develop the ability to discern between good and evil, and this ability, comes from nowhere else except Divine revelation.

Tiago Arrais is a Ph.D. student in Old Testament and Christian Philosophy at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary (Andrews University), in Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA. 


The state of the dead is one of Seventh-day Adventists’ most important contributions to Christian theology, but it can be a dark theme. I used to approach it from the direction of correcting the erroneous doctrine held by others. The way I preach it now gives it a sweeter and more encouraging face.

The common view of death as the doorway to heaven is correct from the point of view of the person who dies. In the experience of the person dying, death is trivial. Blink your eyes closed in this world and blink them open in the next. An instant. A twinkling of an eye. No big deal—for the person who dies. But for those who are left alive, death is a devastating loss, a sometimes decades-long grief.

The Adventist doctrine of death addresses this reality, the pain of those who live. 

In the conventional view of death as the doorway to heaven, when someone dies, God delightedly welcomes his child home. Meanwhile, back on earth, humans grieve. In this view, human grief is the cost of divine pleasure. But Adventists see a deeper truth, one that brings God close to those facing life in a world touched by death. Our grief is, in fact, a reflection of the grief of our Maker. God participates fully with us in the pain of separation. God, too, is grieved. Just as our communion with our beloved has been interrupted, so, too, with God. God no longer hears their voices in prayer and worship. He no longer experiences the joy of cooperating in ministry, of sharing together in the beauty and wonder of Creation. Human grief is a mirror of divine grief. Grief is the cost of love. So God, the greatest Lover, bears the sharpest grief. He genuinely keeps company with us in our loss. 

When we understand God’s grief, our own grief becomes a severe mercy, a piercing testimony to the love of God. Like a mother whose grief is undiminished by time, so God’s grief never goes away. It remains a perpetual longing for the reunion of resurrection, God’s own reason to hasten the day when love again will be awake and alive. The day when God’s grief over the sleep of his children is swallowed up in the joy of eternal morning.

This was originally published in “Best Practices,” a free email newsletter from the North American Division Resource Center.