Thursday, February 08, 2007

Coercing the Gods

An idea popped into my head today, and I wanted to blog about it to see if I can express it in a coherent fashion.

There is a sense in which the sins of the world continue to repeat themselves. "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man" -I Corinthians 10:13. We certainly have a different worldview, and an extremely different culture from what would have been prevalent in the ancient near east. But I think we could agree that many of the sins--the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life--all remain the same.

I spotted another one today that really took me off guard. A few weeks ago I was reading in Nahum Sarna's book Understanding Genesis, where he talked about the role of magic in pagan religion that was strikingly absent in Israel's worship of God.

For pagan religions, the gods are not uncreated beings. If you go back far enough, even the gods have birth stories, therefore there had to be some force beyond the gods that could bring them into existence. Here is Sarna's observation:
Since, according to pagan concepts, man's destiny is controlled by two separate forces, the gods and the powers beyond the gods, it was inevitable that magic became an integral part of pagan religion. Man had to be able to devise the means of activating those forces superior even to the gods. Religion, as a consequence, became increasingly concerned with the elaboration of ritual designed to propitiate the numerous unpredictable powers that be. (Page 11)

In contrast, Israel felt that God was the Creator. He was without a superior, and there were no higher forces to whom one could appeal.

What got me thinking was a conversation I had with a dear friend of mine who is working on his PhD at a prominent divinity school in the northern USA. I've found it a bit odd that the majority of divinity students at this point and time are female. It's not a vast majority; kind of a 55/45, but it seems to be an increasing majority. (I'm not saying it's good or bad; it's just interesting to me) But some of these students are not just females who want to know the Bible better and live as good Christians. My friend is in school with numerous agenda-pushing homosexuals, and several trans-gender people ("women" who used to be men and vice versa). It isn't totally uncommon for divinity schools to contain more atheists than any other branch of a university.

Without getting too much into that can of worms, I wonder if I can make a connection between our culture and the ANE culture when we consider how people currently understand God's origin. Why are people whose lives are so diametrically opposed to Biblical teaching so drawn to study theology? If the gods are born of higher powers, and you find a way to control the higher powers (magic), then you can coerce the gods to do as you please.

Many of these people today are pushing their own moral and political agendas. They study divinity under the assumption that after "the beginning", it was Man who made God by writing these holy books. Even if we can't get people to change the books, maybe we can change how these books are understood. If we can change the way people understand the holy books, then we can change the way they view God. The end result? We are trying to appeal to forces beyond God to make Him into what we desire, so that our own wishes are granted.

Is scholarship the new higher power to whom we appeal when we want to force God into our mold?

What do you think?


  1. I do believe that people think they can manipulate God, or the gods. Even if it's just on a subconscious level. I think some in C/c-hurches of Christ are so concerned with worship style & substance not just because they are afraid of the consequences of if they don't. Rather, "if we perform in worship JUST the right way, we can MAKE God love us!" I sincerely believe that is the rationale for some folks. And that probably also involves a whole host of other unresolved mommy & daddy acceptance issues for those folks which we won't get into here.

    As for your proposition & those folks in divinity school, I think you're on to something. If those folks can find an intellectual ground to say that there is no God, then they get to throw out the rule book & do whatever they want to without the guilt of what the Bible says hanging over them.

    To them, religion has cast a spell over throngs of people. It even got our last President elected. If they can manipulate that religion, then they have power.

    I think that there may be something to that...

  2. I think that some have been mislead in the fact that God is the most accepting God IN THAT they think that you can just learn of God and be accepted no matter what your circumstances (which is true) BUT with no changes in order (which is false). Their devotion to the study of the word might be just the fact that they want to tip the scales in their direction somehow..."Look at all of this study I've put into your word God! I understand God and therefore, he understands me."

    This is just my mere speculation of the topic at hand. I guess I'm coming from the other side where they accept God, but also think that God accepts them also, without any change to their lifestyle(s). Even still, this is definately manipulation of God and/or complete misunderstanding of his word.

    I knew a guy that was self-proclaimed gay and he was also self-proclaimed atheist, but studied buddism, hinduism, etc. I always thought it was just a way to find acceptance in his lifestyle from a "higher" power.

    I never and will never understand this oddity.

  3. Great thoughts from both of you guys!

    III: Interesting application. I'm afraid you're right. Some of us do try and achieve our righteousness by legalistic means, therefore demanding that God save us. We have to watch out for that.

    Heath: Good point of view! We certainly don't want to turn anyone away, because in Christ all can be saved. You're also correct that we must come to God on God's terms, not on our own.

    God is who he is, not necessarily who we desire him to be. I have always liked C.S. Lewis' thoughts about Aslan the lion. He's not a tame lion, but he's a good lion.

  4. I'm working at a state University now and I think you've hit the nail on the head. Scholarship is definitely viewed, on occasion, as a power that can shape God, or at least the believers. Kind of scary.