Do Other Gods Exist?

The First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods,” seems to imply that other gods are real and that one can have a relationship with them. One may rightly ask, is this true?

The Bible consistently speaks against the idea that the figures of idols are true gods. Perhaps the best example of this is the prophet Isaiah’s satire of a person carving an idol from a block of wood (Isaiah 44:9–20) and then using the wood trimming to warm his room and bake his bread—an excellent example of humor in the Bible!

But seriously, those who worship idols usually regard them as representations or manifestations of spiritual realities. In fact, archaeologists now believe that a bull calf idol of the ancient Near East actually represented the mount or throne for the god (typically Baal) who stood upon it. So, the idolaters were really directing their devotion beyond the wood, stone, gold, or silver that stood in front of them. The idol was a way to reach beyond and to “have” a connection to the god it represented. Modern religions that use idols have a similar understanding.

The apostle Paul strongly warns against idolatry and sacrifices to idols when he writes: “I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons” (1 Corinthians 10:20; cf also Revelation 9:20). The biblical view then is that there are indeed spiritual realities—demons/false gods—standing behind idolatrous and false worship. So false worship can in no way honor the one true God.

In the First Commandment God is delivering something like an ultimatum to us: you will have Me as God or you will have some other god, you can’t have both. To this He attaches a warning and a promise: (1) as the only true God, He will punish those who hate Him (Exodus 20:5) but (2) He will likewise show steadfast love to those who love Him and heed His word (20:6).

Divided Faith Versus Singularity of Heart

The greatest form of idolatry today is not that people will bow down to a statue but that people will cling to someone or something other than the one true God. (As I’ve noted in an earlier post, even atheists have a god: whatever they trust.)

True faith teaches a singularity of heart, to have one’s confession of faith, one’s life, and one’s actions focused upon and giving honor to The One. Because our lives are so hectic, it becomes more and more difficult to have this singularity of heart. Mere busyness delivers us from idleness but pushes us toward idolatry as we struggle to meet all our commitments. The One—the true God—becomes for us a face in the crowd rather than the object of our devotion, set apart and consecrated above all things.

In the end, true faith calls for more than a different belief but a different way of life that expresses that belief. Life with God and living for God go hand in hand. We see this most clearly in the person and work of Jesus. The balance in His life is truly remarkable. He had great gifts of teaching and healing so that crowds sought Him and huddled about Him, to the point where He was jostled and pushed and overwhelmed by them. Mark 1 records:

That evening at sundown they brought to [Jesus] all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”

Even when everyone around Jesus demanded His attention—and deservedly so—He slipped away to pray to His Father, to commune with Him but also to intercede for His disciples and those who came to Him with all their needs. This singularity of heart, focused on the Lord and His calling, helped Jesus with the day to day struggles as well as His ultimate commitment: His calling from the Father. As a man, Jesus was overrun with demands yet He remained singularly devoted to His Father and entrusted all His cares and burdens to the Father for the sake of those who would listen to Him.

Theology. A Cut-Away Life

I enjoy paging through a great book, The Art of National Geographic: A Century of Illustration.

On pp. 121-122, there are illustrations by Ned M. Seidler, “Unseen Life of a Mountain Stream” and “Teeming Life of a Pond.” I love these “cut-away” views of life below the surface with diving frogs, wriggling invertebrates, and swaying weeds.

There’s a cut-away in the Christian life, too. When we confess our sins, we also reveal a cut-away: many of our sins of thought, word, and deed are unseen or unheard. We reveal the complex: complications of what it is to be a human being and a Christian struggling against sin like nature struggling against tin cans, worn out tires, and heavy metals.

Again, when we confess our faith in Christ to others, we show a cut-away of life below the surface. People can’t see our faith and how it changes us unless we let them in. When we confess Christ, we show how He takes away our sins and brings forth new life in all its diving, wriggling, swaying splendor. People see us as we are: a sinner who is yet a saint, what theologians call simul justus et peccator (“Righteous and sinner at the same time”).