Saturday, August 5, 2006

No Other God

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” (Exo.20:3)

There are millions of Godless individuals living today, but none are truly godless, in the strict sense of the word. Some will honestly give their gods a name (Buddha, Mohammed, etc.), but others simply render the elements of worship to unnamed entities that they have chosen to put on the pedestal of their hearts. When God wrote these words, Israel was surrounded by nations with multiple gods (polytheism). Their pagan worship was easy to spot. But although visible images may or may not be a part of our devotion, the fact remains, anyone we love, surrender our wills to, and strive to emulate, is our god; and anything we trust to satisfy, sustain, and motivate us to service, is our god.

Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13 come to mind immediately, do they not? “Ye cannot serve God and mammon [Aramaic word for ‘riches.’”] The desire for wealth, and the power that comes with it, is a natural candidate for deification. In fact, as far as 16th Century martyr, Hugh Latimer was concerned, it was the god of this world: “Thys wicked Mammon, the goodes of thys worlde, whiche is their God…” We all know, or have heard of, people who, it could be said, have “sold their souls” for financial gain. By the way, this does not only include the wealthy among us. It is not money that is the root of all evil, but the love of money (1 Tim.6:10). You don’t have to have a lot of it to love it, right?

And what of those “whose god is their belly” (Philip.3:19)? I would offer as a companion verse to this, 2 Timothy 3:4. “…lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.” Anyone who indulges in a hedonistic lifestyle, caring only for the gratification of the senses, and the satisfying of physical appetites, has made a of god of his or her “belly.” If it is possible for one god to be less worthy than all others, perhaps it would be this.

In addition, besides the obvious cult leader or demagogue, religious or otherwise, there are other, less ominous individuals we might be in danger of enthroning in God’s room. (There is a good reason that one of today’s most popular TV shows is American Idol.) But even closer to home, I would remind us that our Lord said it is possible to love a mother, father, son or daughter more than Him (Matt.10:37). Elaborating on this first commandment in Mark 12:30, He says, “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength…” To siphon any of this degree of devotion from God and lavish it on someone else is to put that person before God. And if that individual happens to be a physical extension of me—either backward or forward—selfishness is added to idolatry.

Finally, I would add something that Paul refers to in Colossians 2:23 as “will worship.” The whole chapter is a warning against letting others set the rules for our lives, instead of God; and, to me, will worship is saying, “You will not tell me how to live…but neither will God.” To put my will in place of God’s is to deify Me. After all, that is what a god does; he makes the rules. Paul says of such self-worship that it is a “shew of wisdom.” No doubt, that is why it is admired by this superficial world: it looks good. (“I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul,” blah, blah, blah.) In reality, this is perhaps the most impotent of all gods, because there is no objectivity. One is left to flounder in a sea of personal whims and impulses. Even our Lord, who possessed a perfect will, refused to allow it to supplant the Father’s (Lk.22: 42).

When God said, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” He told us there would be other pretenders to the throne. But like the Philistine’s god, Dagon, who was forced to fall on his face before the ark of the Lord (1 Sam.5), none of these have legitimate claim. On the other hand, of God we read, “…I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me” (Isa.43:10); “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else” (Isa.45:22). All other deities are liars, hacks, charlatans, and fakes, whether they stand in the corner of a house, church or temple…or simply call the plays in our hearts and lives. And mark it well: the true God of Heaven and earth will not share His glory for one moment with any of them. He rules the world. Does He rule in your heart?

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