March 11, 2012

No Other Gods

Passage: Exodus 20:2-3

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

Most of us have had those phone calls where we think we know who we are talking to but not quite sure.  Then somewhere in the conversation it clicks and we know who it is.  We spend the rest of the conversation re-playing the first part over in our minds to see if there are any misconceptions we think we might need to clear up before the call ends.  Of course, we are loathe to admit that we were ever unsure of the identity of the caller.

When I read the Bible stories like this one of God speaking his commandments to Israel there is no sense that the Israelite is unsure of who it is that is speaking.  There is a logic imbedded in God’s conversation with Israel and the good news of Jesus that not only does God speak but he also makes it know to hearers that it is he who is speaking.

It is so unlike how the idea of God is used in say a pollsters question—do you believe in God?  So often when the idea of God is spoken of in this way it is expected that you will supply the content for what the word “God” means.  It is true, given human limitations of thought, that God is beyond full description; this is not the same as saying any definition will do.

When I read in the Bible, “I am the Lord your God”,  I get no sense that the Israelite hearing this is confused about who it is that is speaking.  It is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; it the God who freed the children of Israel from slavery.  “You shall have no other gods before me” implies a very particular “me”.

1.  Why does God insist we have no other gods besides or before him?  Is God insecure about his relationship with his people?  The Bible teaches us that God is self-sufficient needing no human or human worship to render his being complete.

God forbids us to worship, adore, love, or finally entrust with our heart anyone or anything except him.  But he insists on this not because he is a self-important tyrant who has to be flattered.  He insists on it for our sake.  He insists that we acknowledge him to be God alone for our blessing.  God knows that if you and I don’t honour, love, obey and trust him, we only bring dissolution upon ourselves.

It is, among other things, a mistake in understanding to affirm something or someone to be God other than God who makes himself known to us.  When you go to a dinner party at the home of a friend and enjoy a wonderful meal you will no doubt thank the host who made the meal.  Would it not be a terrible mistake, bordering on foolish if not insane, to instead thank the stove or refrigerator in your host’s home for the meal?  Would we not have heaped insults on the host in so doing?  God who made himself known in speaking these commands to Israel is the God who sustains life in the world; it is not a colossal mistake to thank some inanimate object like “mother nature” for keeping the universe on course?  Is it not a grandiose error to presume ourselves to be god?

2.  Everyone worships—that is to say that everyone places highest value on something or someone.  What you worship shapes your life and to worship anyone less that the God who made us and loves us without reserve is to bring diminishment and dissolution upon ourselves.  If, for example, we worship money or wealth above all else then everything and everyone is reduced to dollar valuation, including ourselves.  You know people like this whose relationships with everyone revolve around their own economic advantage.  Such worship destroys many friendships.

I was noting the sign for a new housing development— It is a sign of our postmodern times that so many things have the first person pronoun “my” attached to it.  You will also hear this by the constant use of the second person pronoun; the weather forecaster tells you about “your” weather on “your” Sunday.   The impression given is that the whole world revolves around you.  “You” are the god that ought to be worshiped because there is nothing greater than you!  What many people find is that they don’t like themselves very much which leads to all sorts of self-destructive behaviour.  People end up grabbing on to anything that will, at least a moment, relieve them of the emptiness they feel from always having to be somebody; always having to be “me”.

“You shall have no other gods before me.” God insists on this acknowledgement for our own good.  God’s love for us is fathomless love; obeying this command keeps us from giving our heart away to what isn’t fathomless love.  Give your worship to the One who will holds nothing back for you; the cross of Jesus Christ is God giving his all for us.

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; (who gave his life for you on the cross); you shall have no other gods before me.