One of my favorite units in English class back when I was in school was mythology. The focus was always on Greek and Roman, but it often sent me down a rabbit hole where I would read anything I could find on the topic. I would be engrossed in the stories of the Norse gods, or the myths that surrounded the various native tribes, or the ancient stories from China, taking whatever books our school library had and just losing myself in them.
The one thing that always struck me about the Greek and Roman gods was just how human they were. In some senses they were more human than the people that they were said to govern over. They were deeply flawed individuals prone to the full depravity of human nature when left unchecked. Unaccountable to anyone, they allowed for their passions, and vices, rage, and selfishness run wild.
When man is given the opportunity to create his own god this is what happens though. Not only do these gods begin to take on the traits of humanity, they tend to take them on in exaggerated form. They become hyperbolic, accentuating our worst possible traits. Why? I suppose, in no small part it’s part of human nature. There is a part of us that likes our idols to affirm whatever base urge or instinct we may have. We worship them because they allow for us to be whomever we desire to be, without having to justify ourselves within a deeper moral framework. They are powerful, and vengeful, but so long as we give them their due reverence, they will allow for us to act and behave however we so choose.
This isn’t limited to the ancient Greeks though. In fact, we see it frequently today, particularly in some places within Christianity. It isn’t so much that they create a god. Rather, God Himself is deconstructed, and then re-molded. To paraphrase the old adage: God created man in His image, and man, in his hubris, decided to return the favor and recreate God in his image. Taking on the form of man, this idol in the form of the Christian God does not exemplify the best of humanity. Rather, he is there for no other reason to affirm humanity regardless of anything else, used as nothing more than a tool by which we are capable of justifying ourselves.
This is important for us to recognize, and to guard ourselves against. After all, as A.W. Tozer would write in the opening words, his classic Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God.”
The question then becomes how do we recognize this idol we have created out of the Holy God? How do we counter this idol that we have created?
The Lesser God
We live in a society that has become overwhelmed by subjective morality. What we find is that the concept of “The Truth” is spoken about less and less. Rather, what everything is centered around “his truth” or “her truth” and this concept of “lived experience” perhaps best expressed in Louis Althusser’s structuralist Marxist perspective. It’s reflected in this notion that everything in our society is fluid. Stability, even in those concepts once agreed upon universally, is quickly abandoned as we argue nothing is settled.
This runs contrary to God. As we are reminded in Scripture we are not to be carried away by strange teachings. Christ is, after all, the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Heb. 13:8-9) He is the great high priest who never fails, understanding our temptations, having been tempted himself, but who never stumbled himself. (Heb. 4:15) We are called to consistency, away from diverse doctrine and teachings, because he is utterly consistent in who he is. God does not change (Num. 23:19; Mal. 3:6) and His Word stands forever. (Is. 40:8)
These two concepts run contrary to each other. They are diametrically opposed to each other. There is no construct where “his truth” or “her truth” can fit within a faith system where we understand God to be “the Truth”, where we understand Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, the only path to the Father. (Jn. 14:6) As the fourth century theologian Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers, would express, “He who is the way does not lead us into by-paths or trackless wastes. He who is the truth does not mock us with lies. He who is the life does not betray us into delusions, which are death.”
When this occurs, this tension, this rift, a society has two choices. The first is to bring itself in line with objective truth, to abandon its hubris, and to humble itself in the face of its creator. The second is to tear down God, to bring Him down to our level, and remold Him, refashion Him in our image, to create something which accepts, and affirms all that our society accepts and affirms amidst the cultural zeitgeist.
We have seen, time and time again, that it was the second of these two options that our society has opted for. Rather than submitting itself to God, and His Word, it has, in its vanity and pride, sought to change who He was. In the belief that our ability to reason, our ability to discern is greater than that of God, we slowly pick apart Scriptures, taking what we want, and leaving the rest as nothing more than a relic of a bygone era. Carefully, ensuring it fits into the mold of what we need it to be, we then reframe it to fit our purposes and our meaning, recklessly abandoning who He is so that He may become who we claim He needs to be.
The fundamental problem here is that, though it perhaps does not start this way, by abandoning the idea of the majesty of God, the holiness of God, the transcendent nature of Him, what we end up with is something lesser than ourselves. Not only does this new image of God become a reflection of our own base, corrupt human nature, it becomes a dark reflection of who we are. Essentially God is transformed into a lesser god, one who’s only consistent attribute is his inconsistency. Once something falls out of vogue or fashion, he must change again. Like those ancient pagan gods his love and his wrath, his justice and his mercy, are subject not to some higher, or deeper sense of truth. Rather they are the product of human passions and lusts.
The New Pantheon
This, in turn, leads to the creation of a new pantheon of gods, one’s which reflect the cultural values and priorities of our society. Though they may not have their own names, they are reflected in a bizarre new sacramental worship, with their own distinct temples and liturgical demands, their adherents demanding blind devotion and reverence to the values in which they stand for.
A reflection of our society is the fact that we have, in many senses become polytheistic without ever fully accepting its polytheism. We have, in synergistic vanity, sought to recreate Christianity amidst religious pluralism that merges it with our cultural values. The byproduct of this is that new gods are born, new deities are formed, becoming these spirits of our age which we worship, promising to us that we can, with their help, overcome nature and the natural order.
“Pride”, “Convenience”, “Identity”, “Deconstruction”, “Subjectivity”, “Progressivism”, “Affirmation”, these are but a few of the offspring of this newly constructed, blatantly human god. They demand total allegiance, total and complete commitment to the cause in which they are the patron of. What’s more is that ,much like their ancient counterparts, they adhere to no law, to no deeper rule, except that which they are willing to recognize at any given time. They are not bound by the generally accepted and agreed upon societal order. If this societal order stands in their way, that order must be changed to affirm their desires.
How though do we know them to be a god? How do we know that they are deities within our society? At this point, after all, it seems as if it is nothing more than hyperbolic, exaggerated language.
The simple answer to this is nature. We establish this pantheon above nature, above the natural order, establishing, and redefining the laws of nature. They have complete control over it. Through the Christian God that they have the creator figure, the one who asserts moral and spiritual authority over all. This authority is then delegated down to the appropriate patron, who becomes the highest power over this particular area. Nature can be changed, the natural order can be subverted, truth can be changed, as we accept the idea that the laws of nature are subject to their power, to their abilities, to their influence. We can see examples of this woven throughout the Western World today as this idolatry takes over and upheaval follows.
This is what the Christian must guard themselves against, recognizing that “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.” (Jnh. 2:8) In turning to this new pantheon amidst the recreated god of man’s liking, this mythical god that’s the stuff of legends and stories, they abandon the true and living God, they abandon Christ, the beloved Savior, and they abandon the Spirit, their helper and comforter who brings peace. They adopt idols, speaking for them, speaking for their gods because they have ears that cannot hear, eyes that cannot see, and ears that cannot hear, no different than the statues of silver and gold, except now pillars of vain ideology.
This does not mean that it will be simple or easy. It’s frightening to not only abandon the world, but to go against the dominant assumptions of one’s age, to forsake the idols and the idolatry of one’s society. There is a fear that goes with not bowing, not kneeling before the idols of this world, particularly as one considers the power which this new ideology, this new religion holds. To be declared a heretic or an enemy to the present gods of our society is to, really, put a target on ones back. To be considered a confessor in this world is to open oneself to scorn and ridicule, and perhaps worse.
Yet, God demands no other way. As the beloved disciple would remind us, after all, we cannot love the world or anything in it, because, if we do, the love of the Father is not within us. After all, what is in this world is the desires of our flesh, the desires of our eyes, it is a pride which comes not from our Lord, but, rather, from this world itself. (1 Jn. 2:15-16) Our loyalty, our allegiance is to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, alone.
This means that we must reject not only this re-created, re-structured god, this vain and selfish god of our making, but the pantheon of lesser gods which he creates. We must cling to foundational, objective truth, seeking the righteousness and holiness of God, turning away from the love of this world and the things that are of it. We must recognize the unchanging, inalterable nature of our God, realizing that any attempt to change, or to alter His divinely inspired Word sets us on a path away from Him, and towards the gods of our own making.
How though? The simple answer is by rejecting any compromise on objective truth. A significant reason for how we got to this place is because we were willing to compromise here, or there, told that if we simply allowed for this or that minor concession the line would be drawn there and their would be no crossing it. Recent history has exposed us to a different reality than that. Each compromise, each concession moves us further and further from Christ, and closer and closer to idolatry, until finally it eventually takes over. Suddenly, we lament the direction, wondering how such debauchery became accepted.
It became accepted because we slowly opened the door. Like Pandora we, ourselves, opened the box in our own naivety and let out a world of struggle and suffering, of wickedness and depravity. We may not be able to shut the door once it was open, now watching as our society kneels before the Baal and the Moloch, the Dionysus and Hermaphroditus and Zeus of our own making, but we can make our stand for biblical truth, refusing to allow for them to usurp our faith and recreate it for their own purposes and meaning. We can push back against the spiritual encroachments that occur, standing for the true love of Christ, a love which calls the sinner to righteousness amidst the sacrifice of the cross.
Christianity cannot co-exist with other religions, and it is not inclined towards religious pluralism. It cannot exist without a proper reverence of God, one that recognizes His majesty, His sovereignty and His authority, all of which exists above man, realizing that the created cannot recreate the creator without venturing into total and complete depravity. It cannot exist within a polytheistic framework where the spirit of our age produces these new deities which demands our praise and worship, creating with them new sacraments and ordinances to fit our world today.
God demands our loyalty, and, as He does, we are reminded that it is a choice between Him or the World. We can love one but we cannot love both, not without radically altering who God is, re-forming him to take on the image of a lesser god, one who is base and corrupt, who reflects the worst that humanity has to offer. Thus, in the words of Joshua in his farewell sermon:
“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Josh. 24:14-15)