During lunchtime the other day, I gave a white board talk to our kids. We talked about definitions and differences between theology, religion, and worldview.
In the course of discussion, I wanted to emphasize to my oldest sons especially that an important distinction between the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the deities of other religions is that our God is infinite and incomprehensible.
Zeus, Odin, and Osiris were not that way and they still aren’t. None of them was ever either infinite or eternal, nor would there be much to recommend a kind of Theology centered around puzzling out their attributes.
In Greek mythology, Zeus has numerous children by affairs with goddesses and women alike. Meanwhile, he feuds and schemes and plots and maneuvers. He’s even afraid sometimes of the other gods and goddesses. He is something like the projection of an insecure middle-aged macho man skirt-chaser. He’s not as hard to comprehend as we might wish, particularly if we’ve ever known a man like him.
Meanwhile, in Norse mythology, Odin sacrifices one of his eyes to be able to see all that happens in the world. He can’t have it all. He has to make trades and sacrifices to gain things not otherwise in his possession. Thus Odin is a kind of magician and sorcerer, and more dependent on magic than the source of it; more a wizard than the one whom the wizard’s incantations necessarily harken and implore.
Osiris in Egyptian mythology has parents and siblings and a consort and children. Moreover, he is murdered by his jealous brother before becoming the god of the underworld and afterlife. It comes as a kind of surprise, but the ancients shrug. Such things sometimes happen to the best of us, after all. They even happen apparently to the gods.
But the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the Creator God. He is eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, and simple. That is, He is simple in the sense that He is not made up of parts. And one of the ways in which Christianity is enigmatic is that the Messiah is this same God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This God is said by the Scriptures and therefore all true Christians to be ‘Trinitarian’ – “God in three persons.”
Yet our God is not three Gods, He is one God, as the Athanasian Creed explains. And that is very mysterious and foreign to humankind in comparison with the gods of the nations who are familiar because they are very much like us, just stronger and with magical powers.
Another eccentric quality, if you will, to the Christian faith is that we believe that Jesus Christ was and is and forever will be fully God, and we also believe that the incarnation meant that Christ was and is fully man. He is no less one or the other, but wholly both at the same time in one person. And yet he is one Christ.
In truth the Psalmist sings,
“Yahweh is high above all nations,
and his glory above the heavens!
Who is like Yahweh our God,
who is seated on high,
who looks far down
on the heavens and the earth?”
It’s important to mark the difference between Religion and Theology in light of this passage. That is to say you would be hard-pressed to find anything resembling either the subject we call Christian Theology or our approach to it in the ancient cults of the Greeks, Norse, and Egyptians, among others.
What you do find instead are ruined temples and rituals and festivals and stories told around campfires. Besides this, a little bit at a certain point, cautiously yet nevertheless – especially in Greece – we find philosophers skeptically questioning whether the gods ever lived, or whether they really were gods who should be worshiped.
But the way these gods of other nations are related to is markedly different from the start because of the truth of what the Psalmist writes; that is, the question of “Who is like Yahweh our God” is a rhetorical one because the answer is “No one.” And this is critically important for us to remember and keep in mind, because it carries with it Earth-shaking and life-altering implications for worldview and what Christians call “dominion,” as well as what we regard as legitimate worship of God.
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