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~ The Folly of Gods and Goddesses ~
Here’s an interesting opening in one of thousands of web sites on Wicca: “One of the joys of being Pagan is the wide spectrum of pantheons and deities to chose from. Not all Gods or Goddesses are the same. Do your research before calling on any of them.” I write “interesting” because the wiccan tradition gives us a menu of hundreds of thousands of deities and, like at a restaurant, we get to pick what suits us. Like a past slogan of a fast-food chain chanted, “Have it your way!” For many people, this is indeed one of many “joys” since we like to control everything, including the gods. “Not all Gods or Goddesses are the same” is a great understatement. “Do your research before calling on any of them” is a warning. These numerous, vastly differing gods and goddesses can be nasty, moody, inconsistent, unpredictable and very human.
Those of you old enough to have had a “classical” education in elementary and high school studied the pantheon of the Greeks and Romans. You may have even learned about the deities of the more primitive cultures. You’ll recall how people did not just worship them but feared their whims and went to great lengths to win their favor, placating them with sacrifices, gifts, rituals and deeds that catered to the individual egos of these gods and goddesses. If the gods liked you, you were safe, at least until you offended them. Then you needed to solicit the favor of a rival god for protection.
There were so many gods that the Greeks, afraid of offending one by overlooking it, erected an altar in Athens with the inscription: “To An Unknown God.” The apostle Paul took that as an opportunity to point out to the Athenians that they indeed missed one, the One, Yahweh Himself. (See Acts 17:23.)
You probably had some Egyptian history and heard of the gods with whom Moses was very familiar as a member of pharaoh’s household. Amun started as an agricultural god in charge of crop production and rose to become patron of the pharaohs. As such, Amun had a link to the great god, Ra, since royalty and the sun were connected. He became known as Amun-Ra. But his popularity dropped a lot until the seating of the child-king, Tut-ankh-aten. That pharaoh liked Amun, so he changed his name to Tut-ankh-amun and the god rose back into power. Even if you don’t remember much of Egyptian history, almost everyone heard of King Tut and his great pyramid and treasures.
The ancient Canaanite and Phoenician societies were depraved, marked by practices such as sexual slavery, child sacrifice, and violent, vicious torture techniques. So their gods were made in their image, as violent and perverted as they. Because of the prophet Elijah’s challenge, we know that among them was the famous Baal.
By the 18th Dynasty of Egypt, Baal was the god of the sky and of storms from Syria into Egypt. Other localities adopted him, being known as Baal-Hazor in Palestine and Baal-Sidon in Lebanon. In the Middle East region, Baal was killed in a fight with the god, Mot (of death), and went to the underworld, later to be restored to this world by his sister-lover, Anat, who took fatal vengeance on Baal’s killer.
Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel in a public demonstration of the power and responsiveness of Yahweh compared to Baal. “Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. ‘O Baal, answer us!’ they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made. At noon Elijah began to taunt them. ‘Shout louder!’ he said. ‘Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.’ So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention” (1 Kings 18:26b-29, NIV).
There is much to realize and affirm from this tiny snapshot of the pagan pantheon. Foremost: “Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God?” (Psalm 77:13). Our God is Yahweh, the “I Am” and there is no other, except for the ones we create. His character and nature are consistent, eternal and to be counted upon. He didn’t command us to “put no other gods before Me” because He is jealous in a human, egotistical sense. Our God has no ego. He is pure Being. All that He does for and commands of us is motivated by pure love, as the perfect Father and Creator. He doesn’t need us to worship Him or to placate or adore Him. He has no needs. He wants for nothing. He is All. Prayer, worship, adoration and reverence is for our good, not His.
Unlike the millions of gods humans have created, Yahweh wants to adopt us as His children, into His kingdom, into His very Self. Inexplicable love! To do this, He “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:7-8). Indeed, “What god is so great as our God?”
About Yahweh it was written: “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place...The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:6, 17). Our God doesn’t want our great works, our fasts, our self-affliction in penance. He asks for our broken spirits, our wounded hearts. Ineffable love! Indeed, “What god is so great as our God?”
The pagan gods are whimsical and capricious. But “If we are faithless, [our God] will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). Indeed, “What god is so great as our God?”
Our God doesn’t play favorites. “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45b). “[God] wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Indeed, “What god is so great as our God?”
“God bless America” is a historical prayer and invocation of the United States. It is one that can be profaned if we raise nationalism to the level of idolatry. Blessings of our God, unlike the pagan pantheon, are graces bestowed upon a people who need the kiss of our Lord. All nations need this. “Blessings” are not rewards for good deeds. “Blessings” are not earned by virtue of any nation’s constitution, proclamation of faith or history. Twenty percent of our web site visitors are from outside the US. We pray that God blesses their nations as well, and we know He will and does for our God is not a local deity like that of the pagans. God blesses all people in all lands. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
There is a popular TV show in the US called “The American Idol.” Americans can use that term without shame, unfortunately. Some of our sports and media celebrities merit admiration. In the parlance pop-psychology, they are “good role models”. The majority doesn’t merit such a title. But none of them merit the reverence we give them, the kind of reverence that must be held only for the sacred and holy. The local and regional pagan gods would be sports and celebrity fans of their localities. But our God doesn’t favor one sports team or celebrity over another and will not be enticed to do so despite the prayers of misdirected and spiritually confused people. He won’t even favor your son’s Little League team over that of your neighbor’s. To act and pray as though He does is to paganize Yahweh, the Almighty and Creator of all.
The ways of our distant pagan ancestors still seem to intrude into our spiritual practices today. We must divorce ourselves from them by not treating God (and there is no other) like He was one of the millions of pagan gods...thinking we can manipulate, make deals, negotiate, make financial offerings or other material sacrifices, inundate with repetitive prayers or make pious promises to win His favor. The Scriptures declare those who do will become like the idols: deaf, blind and mute. “You are my witnesses; Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one. All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless...Let them all come together and take their stand; they will be brought down to terror and infamy” (Isaiah 44:9, 11b, NIV).
How sad, anxiety-ridden and fearful are those who worship such idols.
How terrible it would be for us if these gods and goddesses really reigned
over human affairs. How wondrous it is and fortunate we are that our God
is Yahweh, our Father!
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
~ Education, Research and Advocacy
in the Christian Faith ~
Spiritual Resource Services © January 23, 2004
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