God. Is He from fiction, or from reality? Is He for the intellectually curious, or the gullible? Did He make man, or did man make Him? Is it His uniqueness that has kept Him relevant, or is it that somehow He’s still relevant, which is His only unique quality? Is Yahweh just an ancient myth, like the other gods of the polytheist’s imagination, that got lucky in being remembered? Or is there something different, categorically different, that demands interest and reverence for Him and His nature? Many have tried to discredit the Christian God by saying He is just another fable, like the Greek and Egyptian legends, and that for some reason we haven’t been able to shake ourselves of His irrationality yet. But those who want to reject God on this basis, only deny a caricature, a shadow, a false image of the true God. This is a god that not even the Christians don’t believe in, and would reject and deny as well. For those who want to say no to God, that’s your right, but just make sure you know who you are saying no to. Don’t let it be a lesser, half-baked version of God. No, if you are going to deny Him, at least have the honesty and courage to disregard Him in His fullest form and clearest revelation. At least recognize that the God of the Jews never did, and never has resembled any of the other gods in the ancient world. And He dramatically differed from them in key ways and concepts.
The first and most obvious difference between and God and the other deities of antiquity is God’s claim to be the one and only. Yahweh’s claim to be the only god, the only being with the nature He possess, the claim to be being/existence itself, is unmatched and unparalleled. The staunch claim that there is one and only one God that exists is radically different from most ancient societies and those around the Jews. Without getting into some of the complications, or supposed complications of the Trinity, this is the claim that is held by Christianity as well. This leads into the next divergence of quality between God and ancient deities. As the only divine being, God claims to have dominion over the whole earth and isn’t confined to only one geographical spot or one people. Now this can sometimes be a little muddled and hard to see in the Old Testament at times, but there are plenty of references in the Old Testament of God and the Jews proclaiming Him as the God of all the universe and all the people of the earth. A common thought in the ancient cultures however, was that gods were location specific and people specific. So, it wasn’t an issue to hear of, or worship other gods because those gods had dominion and power over different geographic areas and different people groups. Also, as the only god, God has all power. He has control over the wind, the grass, the trees, the birds, the lions, the seas, the rivers. Anything that exists, God claims reign over it. With other gods in antiquity, many of them just controlled one aspect of nature. One controlled the sea, while one controlled the earth, another the air, another fire, another the sun, another the moon, another the seas, and so on. Within the pantheon, each god had their area of expertise and reign, but no one did it all, and this resulted in many wars and jockeying for control over the divine realm. With the Jewish God, there was no divine opposition or enemy to the Lord’s throne that posed any threat of over throwing Him. The only account we have of anything like that is with Satan, who was an angel and not a god, and was immediately banished and put in his place when he started to desire to rule over God. God has also always been thought of as eternal. Most other gods were thought to have a beginning in some sort of primordial cosmic soup that birthed them. God’s eternality means He possess no beginning or end. He didn’t have a birth from a primordial soup but has always existed since He is existence itself, and he won’t die as many gods in the pantheons were thought to do. The immortality of ancient gods is not as secure as that of Yahweh, and many had their existence extinguished. God also differs drastically in His appearance. The Old Testament is very clear that God is invisible, genderless, has no physical needs similar to humans, has glory too overwhelming to be seen with human eyes. In contrast, most gods of antiquity clearly had genders and not just metaphorically like God, seemed to need to exercise and fulfill physical needs similar to human needs, and weren’t thought of as invisible in principle but having some sort of innate physical or seeable body.
I’ve mainly been comparing the nature of God to that of the other gods of old to show the stark differences between them. There’s more to be said about the actions of the two different parties after this paragraph, but this point I’m about to make needs its room to fully be worked out. There’s one last obvious difference between the nature of the eternal God of the Hebrews, and the fallible gods of other cultures. This difference lies in the bold claim that from before time began, to after time has run out and forever more, Yahweh has been and will always be perfect. He will be the standard of holiness and will never fall below that standard. His nature holds the reference for all judgements, and will never confer a wrong judgement. This cannot be said about the innumerable deities of history. We have story upon story of the Greeks, or Romans, or Egyptians, or Persians, or almost any other pantheon of gods indulging in acts only to be seen as immoral. Many gods were incredibly humanistic and had characteristics that resembled human pride, lust, greed, deceit, abuse, treachery, injustice, and the list could go on and name all categories of sin; and the gods of the past have been victim to them all. They are strikingly imperfect and hardly stand as a moral standard for humanity. In fact, their rule was built on demanding the people to worship and sacrifice to them, and in return the gods would not destroy them or make life unbearably cruel. It was a demand motivated by power. The gods were not requiring worship and praise because of their goodness and love for the people, but rather because if they didn’t receive their due honor, the gods would destroy them. This is a startling departure from how the God of Israel ruled and why He ruled the way He did. Now, there isn’t time to address the certain objections that will come from the old testament about how it seems God rules over Jerusalem in these exact ways. We see anger, threats, and destruction in the relationship between the Israelites and their God. There are solid answers to these legitimate and daunting questions, which hold together the integrity of who God says He is, and also keeps intact the picture of God I want to paint. To give a small direction to how I would answer those objections, I would just start off by saying we need to understand the horror of sin and that before Jesus, God dealt with sin in a very different way. This gives some relief to these oppositions. The God of the Hebrews however, has never had a moral failing, he doesn’t mess up or make mistakes. He also doesn’t rule in tyranny by the staff of raw power. His rule has always been and will always be deeper than that. He commands allegiance from His people for a few reasons. One reason is the fact that He is the creator of all, and is the holy of holies. If there is anything that would deserve worship, it would be Him. Nothing else can compare or stack up to Him in any domain. He commands worship for the simple fact that He deserves it. Next, God requires absolute obedience because He is a jealous God. He has given Himself fully to us and only wants the same in return. He has created us for the purpose of enjoying life with Him, and yet we choose to conjure up our own purpose. It is out of a deep sense of love He pursues our affection and love. We are the object of creation and He wants and deserves us all to Himself, since He is the one who created us. But it’s still even deeper than that. God’s command for us to worship Him is ultimately a selfless reason, unlike the egoistic and power-hungry gods of the ancients. He wants us to worship Him for our own sake. He has created us to have our ultimate fulfillment and satisfaction when in communion with Him. This is because He is the source life, so if He is to create life, that life will only find the fullness of life when it is connected to Him. He knows that when we are in sync with Him and His design for life, things can’t get any better for us. And His love for us drives His desire to see us fulfilled. This will only happen when He is the supreme object of our desire. That’s why nothing else can be worshiped or preferred to Him. God’s ultimate intent of ruling isn’t meant to be seen in sacrifices or chants, he could careless for slaughtered animals or wealth pledged to Him. He wants to show the world that His throne is meant to be seated in our hearts, and His rule and reign will be seen in the way we follow Him and live by His words.
I want to close this post with possibly the grandest difference between God, and all other conceptions of gods and religions we know. The difference is unavoidable and must be recognized by all who want to criticize The Lord. We see a categorically different means of salvation from the God of the heavens than what we see in any other conception of a deity and salvation. God’s means of salvation is through the grace of forgiveness, while all others operate off works. This inversion of the most important idea to all humanity cannot be understated in its bewilderment to any ancient hearer. No works, no good deeds, no good thoughts, no good writing, no sacrifices earn your way into heaven. Just a heart willing to ask the Lord for forgiveness and let Jesus be the ruler of their life is all requested for salvation. While all other religions demanded works and deeds and prayers and sacrifices, God says just repent and let my law and spirit rule your heart and you will be with me in eternity. The amazing thing about this is that we don’t deserve this forgiveness or gift of eternity either, but God is willing to give us all that we don’t deserve if we are only willing just to give Him our heart, which He does deserve. The magnificence of who Jesus is and what He did sometimes is so overwhelming, it makes it hard for me to imagine that someone, or some group of people, could make up a story so gloriously beautiful. God went to extreme lengths to bring reconciliation to us. He displayed an unfathomable amount of humility, motivated by love, to leave his throne in heaven and come down as a human to let us measly humans torture, mock, and kill Him, so he could save us and reconcile us to Himself. He did all this without the guarantee that everyone would appreciate this act. Muslims literally don’t believe God would ever stoop that low to become a human, and the Greeks didn’t even expect their imperfect gods to intentionally pursue and initiate reconciliation with humans like the Jewish God did. Nowhere have I heard of a being, let alone a god who’s under no obligation or compulsion to act in a certain way, to be so intrinsically sacrificial and selfless. This may not convince skeptics of the reality of God, but I hope it at least correctly informs them of who they are choosing to turn away from.