Wednesday, May 06, 2015

No other gods...

The god of the Bible, the god that Jesus claimed he was sent from, was unusual in the Pantheon of the ancient world. In the ancient world (and in some ways, in our modern world as well) there were gods aplenty. Each city had a local deity who needed to be appeased, and each deity came with a collection of shrines and temples and festivals and, of course, statues. It didn't really matter where you went- Rome or Greece, Egypt or India, African jungles or North American plains-you would always find a collection of worship-enticing beings. And the convenient thing was, you could generally interchange them. When in Rome, after all, do as the Romans do and pay tribute to Jupiter (or perhaps Caesar himself). Alexander the Great didn't hesitate to make sacrifices to the local gods whose cities he'd conquered, at least when he wasn't too busy trying to become one of them.

But the Hebrew God was different. The Hebrew prayer, the one that defined them as a people and oriented their entire universe, went like this: "Hear oh Israel, Yahweh is God. Yahweh is one." No mixing would be tolerated here. This god who claimed a special relationship with Abraham's descendents was not to be depicted in stone and put on the mantle with Amon and Shiva. This God claimed he created all things, that he stood apart from his creation and yet manifested himself in the middle of it.

To believe in such a god is to say that everything else in all the universe inhibits a different place than him. That all our goals and dreams, loves and joys, are contingent upon him, the one and only. That in the end, in one sense, all other things will fade into the background and he alone shall remain.

It means that to the extent I love anything in the world, I love it because it springs forth from him. It means that anyplace I feel wronged or threatened, I entrust him to make it right. It means to the extent to which the future feels scary and uncertain, I trust him. My hope is not in the solution I expect god will provide to a problem, my hope is god himself.

God despises idols not because he is petty, but because he is passionate about human destiny. To love creation in place of the creator, to trust in something less than he himself to delight us or protect us or vindicate us, is to fall short of what we were made for. It is to love the wedding ring more than the lover who extends it, or the Christmas gift in place of the father who purchased it.

And so we must raise our vision above all created things. We must lift our eyes to the heavens, where our help comes from. We must not fear what the created world can do to us, for that too is idolatry. We must come face to face with the only one who actually matters. That is the beauty of God the father of Jesus, isn't it? Though he spins the universe into being with a word, he promises to hear us when we cry to him, to be as close to us as our breath.

"I dwell in a high and lofty place, but also with those whose hearts are broken-I hear the cry of the broken-hearted."