Friday, May 26, 2017

Lesser Gods

Recently, I was reading an article in a Bible-related periodical, and the author indicated something to the effect that it was always in God's plan to give the non-Israel nations in the Old Testament over to lesser gods, with the intention of pulling them back into Himself later. That way, they would know the supremacy of His deity. 

It sounds good on paper, but theologically, there's a lot here to make us cringe.

Specifically, it should strike us right away that God never claims to be the greatest God; He claims to be the only God. So the idea that God would have been planning to utilize "lesser gods" from the beginning, that He has them in His employ for His purposes, is very troubling.

This is complicated a bit because throughout the Old Testament, God never seems to question the legitimacy of other gods. He questions their power. He calls them worthless. He says they're idols. He says they're not very good gods, but He never quite says they are not gods at all. So neither can we quite say that these other gods are not gods.

But it gets to the heart of this whole thing: what is a god?

We can't say that these other gods are gods in the same way that God is God. That, as we just introduced, creates a theological problem. It offers a pantheon of gods where our God says He is the only. It creates sub-gods interrelated with the Triune Godhead, and that doesn't work with the testimony of the Scriptures. It doesn't make sense with what God says about Himself very clearly.

What we can say is that there is a very clear paradigm for referring to things as gods that are not gods, but only because we have made them so. We do this all the time, particularly in the church. We talk about how easy it is for the idol of money to become our god. Or television. Or beauty. Or social standing. Or whatever it is. We call these things gods, but we would never think that up in the heavens, in the grand expanse of the cosmos, sits God, our God, money, television, beauty, social standing, etc. running the world. That's insane.

When we talk about other "gods," I think this is what we're talking about - we're talking about ideas and image and idols that the nations have set up for themselves and called them gods. God, our God, points out that they are worthless, but He doesn't say they're not gods. To the people, they are very much gods, and it's in God's interest to acknowledge them as such.

That seems strange. Why should God acknowledge as gods things that are clearly not? Because what He's actually doing is acknowledging the peoples' God-hunger. Their God-longing. If He dismisses their gods out-of-hand, He risks alienating them from that thing inside of themselves that's actually searching for Him. But if He acknowledges what they're doing, He says, essentially, yes! Yes, you are looking for gods because you are a God-hungry people.

Then He can step in and say, "But here's where those gods of yours fail you. And where I never will."

Going back to the original article that prompted this discussion, I think it's true that God always planned to use the peoples' God-hunger to bring them back to Himself, even those outside of the nation of Israel. All men were created in the image of God, and there's something in every soul that is searching for Him.

But I think that the way that the article put it says something very, very different from this to the average reader - it suggests a legitimacy to the gods that God never gives them. It suggests some kind of elevated status that God doesn't actually affirm. God does not employ "lesser gods" in His work. He can't, for He repeatedly says unequivocally that He is the only God. We must be very careful not to suggest anything otherwise. 

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting. Never thought of it as our hunger for God, but have always thought of those other "gods" as idols or man made images.