Why talk about other “gods”? — Insight #4

This series gives an inside view on the structure of By This Name and how it breaks through confusion in our diverse society, bringing clarity to the message of the gospel.

“The God of the Bible is just like any another god. You worship your god as you wish and I’ll worship mine, my way.”

“I like Jesus. I will worship him together with my other gods.”

Many today believe that all gods are essentially the same. No one is better than the other. They are just different. Therefore, it is entirely up to a person’s preference whom they choose to worship. Everyone is free to create and adopt his or her own form of spirituality.

Additionally, others have no problem respecting and revering a number of gods. They find no paradox in worshipping a collection of gods. For some, they are “hedging their bets,” hoping that by venerating many gods, one or more will be of help to them in their lives.

In sharing the message of the gospel, how do we explain that the God of the Bible is not like any other god? How do we communicate that he is unique and he stands alone? And importantly, how do we do this in a respectful manner, without being confrontational, so that people holding to other beliefs will not turn away in anger mid-way through the message?

By This Name does not ignore the other “gods” that people worship. It addresses head-on the differences between the God of the Bible and other gods. However, the comparison is intentionally made between Yahweh and gods of ancient religions, not current ones. This defuses potential sensitivities while keeping the focus on the message of the Bible.

Specifically, the book draws on several biblical accounts to build a person’s understanding that the God of the Bible—Yahweh—is truly the unique Creator God of the universe. In doing so, it also establishes important truths.

Example 1: Yahweh compared to the Egyptian gods

In recounting the ten plagues that Yahweh brings upon the Egyptians (starting on page 147), it draws attention to the fact that parts of nature, whether the sun, moon, river or animals, are not gods. They are created objects, distinct from the Creator: Yahweh. Yahweh is not to be misunderstood as being part of what he made. He is above all his creation.

In the account of the plagues, readers will see Yahweh target the very things that the Egyptians worshipped as gods. You worship the Nile? All right, watch me turn it into a nasty river of blood. You revere Hequet, the frog-headed goddess of life and rebirth? If you insist on worshipping a frog, here is a big heap of them!

Pharoah illustration from By This Name

The Egyptians also had a sacred bull and a cow-goddess whom they venerated; God sent an epidemic that destroyed the cattle. And ultimately, Pharaoh, whom the Egyptians also worshipped as a god, was targeted when God took the life of his heir and firstborn son in the final plague. And no matter how Pharaoh raged, he and his gods were helpless to do anything in the face of so mighty a God as Yahweh.

Today, there are those who share aspects of the Egyptian belief: that nature is god or a form of god. Through this account, they will learn that Yahweh is not part of his creation, yet they will less likely be offended because this truth is made known using a now extinct religion.

Example 2: Yahweh compared to Dagon, the god of the Philistines

In the account of Dagon (starting on page 191), Yahweh makes clear that idols and handmade images are not gods. They are created objects and should not be worshipped as a deity. Yahweh is distinct and should in no way be seen in the same light as lifeless idols.

In 1 Samuel 5, when the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant during battle with the Israelites, it was taken to their temple where the statue of their god, Dagon, resided. The Ark served as a visual reminder of Yahweh.

Dagon illustration from By This Name

Over two days, the Philistines find their stone god toppled over, once and then once more, face down in front of the Ark. The utter helplessness and futility of Dagon is made clear when, in the second incident, both his head and hands are broken off. The question is broached: Does a real god fall apart? Should a real god have to be sent out for repairs and glued back together?

We live in a world where many faiths are focused on the worship of a man-made idol or image. Without reference to any of them, this account teaches that Yahweh is not an idol nor is he like any idol. He is one-of-a-kind, unlike any man-made god.

In addition, through this account, readers will also learn that Yahweh cannot be worshipped alongside idols. Yahweh is not just another god to be added to a collection of gods that a person worships. The book gently separates the biblical worldview from all others and lets the reader know in no uncertain terms that the Bible doesn’t allow for any mixing or blurring. Yahweh doesn’t leave the option open for a person to worship some other god(s) in addition to himself, or to bend and stretch the truth that he alone presents.

Ultimately, one of the goals of By This Name is to make clear that the God of the Bible is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. He will not share his glory with anyone else (Joshua 2:11, Isaiah 42:8).

By This Name Insight Series

#1: Why use the name Yahweh?
#2: Why focus on Egyptian religion?
#3: Using tables to contrast God’s way and man’s way
#4: Why talk about other “gods”?
#5: How to identify the Promised Deliverer?
#6: Why deal with syncretism when sharing the gospel?
#7: Why talk about prophecy when sharing the gospel?
#8: Why use the concept of a global classroom?

Author: David Cross

Curriculum development manager and staff writer at GoodSeed's International Office.