Today's Christians prides itself on its embrace of other religions in the world, an idea we popularly call "tolerance" and that seems to dictate our lives in many arenas, not just religion. But we call ourselves brothers and sisters, all of us, regardless of the god we serve because, hey, God is God, right?
What I'm about to say is not popular, but I hope you'll hear me out as I work through some of these ideas. Let's start here:
This "tolerance" we speak of? It's no special thing.
The pagans have been really good at it for thousands of years. Since the beginning, really.
Yes, that's right. The pagans. The idol-worshippers. The peoples of other gods and the peoples with no gods at all have been quite tolerant of gods in general, and their stories are written throughout the pages of the Bible, even.
The Scriptures talk about the gods of the nations, the gods of the peoples that Israel will encounter as they work their way into the Promised Land. They talk about the poles of Asherah, the altars of Baal, the ritual human sacrifice for Molech. Even as far back as Abraham, we get a sense of this when Abram chooses to follow this particular God, as opposed to any of the others that may be competing for his loyalty.
And it works the other way around, too. In the early chapters of Ezra, we see the king issue a decree that the exiles of Jerusalem should be released to return to their city and rebuild the temple of their God, since He is the God of Jerusalem. Not because He is the God of Gods. Not because He is the Lord of Lords. But because He is the God of Jerusalem, and the God of the Jews, and all people, the king reasons, ought to have a place for their God. They ought to be able to worship their God as they see fit.
Nobody's worried about any of this. Nobody's concerned about what other gods have to offer or don't have to offer. Everybody's just content that everybody has their own god, and they're even willing to make provision for the worship of those gods because, hey, God is God, right?
In fact, there are only a handful of times in Scripture that even God's people are willing to speak out on this, only a few times that they go full-bore and start destroying the worship sites of other gods, or, in one dramatic scene, challenge the prophets of not-our-God on the mountain.
Yet here we are, thousands of years later, boasting that we're doing a new thing. Boasting in our tolerance of other religions. Holding out our arms and embracing the worshipers of other gods as "brothers and sisters." Confident and comfortable in doing so.
And I get it - I really do. The church has this terrible history of fire and brimstone, of preaching damnation to unbelievers, of holding our Bibles high and our fists higher without regard for the very real hearts, the very real souls, the very real lives that have been on the receiving end of our condemnation. We are trying to make up for the mistakes of our past by distancing ourselves to some degree from that message, by joining hands with the world to say that it's okay.
But is it okay?
God's been very clear on this point from day one. Not only is He the only God who legitimately has anything to offer, but He is the only God who actually offers it. He is the only God who can both promise and deliver. He is the way, the truth, and the life. These other religions, these other gods - maybe they have a way to live for now, but how about forever?
It's messy. I'll say that right up front. It's a tough line to walk - loving people and exposing their gods as worthless. And yes, both are possible. It doesn't have to be Mt. Carmel, where the people of the losing god are exposed and then destroyed. They can be exposed and embraced. But if we take our God seriously, we must be willing to expose them first.
Otherwise, I say, it's no new thing we're doing.
The pagans have always been good at this.