Paganism has been a recurring subject in my readings this summer. Of course, I’ve been reading a lot of Bart Ehrman and N.T. Wright who both attempt to understand the New Testament in its correct context: A Greco-Roman pagan world. What’s fascinating to me, though, is how common it was back then to believe in multiple – perhaps even countless – gods. It’s much easier for us to believe in one God since we’ve been raised in a predominantly “Christian” nation. But in the time that the NT was produced, it was ridiculous to think that there was just one.
Most of you may know that the word “Christian” was originally used as a derogatory term towards those idiotic Jesus freaks because they believed in one God. I don’t know why it’s so striking to me, but it is. And, actually, I think it simplifies the whole process. Instead of waking up and making a sacrifice to the mini-fridge god who keeps my food cold during the night and then going out into the world to make more sacrifices to more local gods to appease them so that things might go well for me, I just pray to Jesus. It really narrows down the email directory.
I’ve been thinking about it some more, though, and I’ve been wondering what other kinds of gods we’ve created in our world, even though we claim to be of a monotheistic faith? Well, as I discovered today, there’s the god of TV, the god gambling, the god alcohol, the god of movies, the god of Facebook, the god of Twitter, the god of WordPress… and on and on they go. In the ancient pagan world, we could justify all these different “gods” by adding some kind of ritual to them and giving some kind of reason as to why we must sacrifice to them (i.e. I must check Facebook 20 times a day so that I can get 20 more friends each week). But what Christians appear to have said in those days is that each of these must be de-deified. There is one true God whom we must all worship above any other.
I don’t think that the ancient pagans would worship random objects around the house; I think there was a little more to it than that. But my point is clear: We could very easily create a whole new set of gods within our own rooms that distract us from seeking the one God who we believe was responsible for raising Jesus from the grave. And it may not even be something you spend most of your time with, either; it could be something that you long for more than you long for God. Personally speaking, I think I have often exalted the idea of marriage. I’ve often craved a wife more than I’ve craved God. No, finding a wife isn’t a bad thing, but it could easily become a bad thing if I want one more than I want a relationship with God.
Modern idolatry appears to be much more subtle than we care to acknowledge. It’s not idolatry to watch TV for six hours of the day or play video games all through the night, we might say. But when you look at the idolatry in the NT – or in the Bible as a whole – there is one key similarity that cannot be ignored: Instead of our hearts being rendered to God, we render them to created things.
It’s tough to break these idols, too. Israel clearly had a problem with it in the OT. But there’s yet another benefiting to believing in one God (beyond a shorter contact list): No matter what you’re doing or where you’re at, God is there with you. It’s the same God who was with you when you woke up, when you ate breakfast, when you honked your horn at the old lady driving the opposite way on a one-way, when you got to work, when you went to the store, and when you opened a bottle beer to watch TV with your friends or family. Why is it a big deal that it’s one God who’s with us everywhere we go? Because no matter what or where, we know that it’s something God put together for us to enjoy. We know that it may not always be there, so we can thank God for the act of giving it to us. We can worship this one God, Yahweh, in every small detail of our lives.
I think that’s something worth being crazy about.