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Thursday, July 09, 2009

The First Commandment and practical paganism

"In yer FACE!"

Does that sound familiar? Not so long ago in a galaxy, well, right here, we used to hear this term used in derogatory ways, “in yer face!” The phrase connotes a retaliatory “same to you and more of it” kind of attitude. Now it is more commonly heard as trash-talk in the venues of sports and games. It’s a prideful insult, “getting’ all up in it [the face].”

Doing Hebrew studies a few years back I learned that Exodus 20:3 (commonly translated as “You shall have no other gods before me”) really reads in a surprisingly contemporary manner. From the Hebrew we read, “No there will be or become from you gods of another kind [according to, on account of, on behalf of, concerning, beside, in addition to, together with, beyond, above, over, by, on to, towards, to, against upon above, over from upon, from over] my face.” In other words, “You will have no other god in my face.”

Will it suffice to say we are to simply have no other gods besides the one true God? No. We are to raise up nothing as deity to His face! Anything but God is “in yer face” to God. There is one God and only one God and beside Him there is no other. Since there is only one God, there is only “one” in terms of those things that pertain to God. He is the sole source of our satisfaction, the conversant in prayer, creator and sustainer of all things. He makes heaven what it is, not a place outside Himself where He dwells.

The issue of getting up in God’s face is seen in the emphasis on the sanctity of worship and the condemnation of polytheism. At its ground level and most basic meaning, God intends that nothing be erected in the sanctuary. Understanding that, there is no need for any other deity (whether they exist or not—and no other deity exists, so don’t try to make one . . . that’s in the second commandment) as the One true and living God who set the captives free is to be receiving the utmost love and attention. Since He is the source and giver of all things whether in heaven or on earth, nothing should take His place.

Why can’t mankind make sense of the simplicity of this primary command? First, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor. 4:3-4). Second, though God has given Himself and has made Himself available, scripture says that none will seek after Him. This is the greatest sin of humanity.

So why can’t mankind see? Because he is rebellious. “Sinful humans . . . don’t love God. The don’t delight to do His will. Instead, the law of sin and death has written its bloody signature across the godless human breast (Romans 7:21-24). Our inborn cry is, ‘Not you will but mine be done!’ The devil is our father and his will we gladly do.”[i]

In a survey of Paganism, one cannot help but notice how this animistic world religion is founded on the very breaking of the first commandment. The pagan claims to practice irreligion, a system of absent authority or liturgy; or, one may claim to practice no religion at all, so the first step one takes is away from God, declaring his or her autonomy. Two things happen simultaneously in this declaration: first, man (generally speaking) has set himself up as absolute and supreme authority, a god. “By creating our own divinities we create mental steps for ourselves, up which we can mount toward realizing ourselves as divine.” [ii] Notice how, now that he has taken this stand, he is now in direct contradiction to his own system of absent authority. The balances that he seeks to maintain through the manipulation of forces and powers has begun off-balance! Second, in declaring his autonomy from God he has actually agreed with God concerning the condition of mankind at the very moment of the fall in the Garden of Eden! When Adam disobeyed God, he was declared to be “like one who is abandoned, all alone, autonomous, from it [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] knowing good and evil.” The pagan has two choices: make his own gods, or revere himself as one. Paganism is hardly a godless system at all.

A second feature of paganism is the attempt through autonomy to elevate experience over dogma. First, what exactly is the “open mind” of paganism toward religion if there are no commandments? They seem to draw the line somewhere. One writer rationalizes, “The lack of dogma in the Craft, the fact that one can worship the Goddess without believing in Her, that one can accept the Goddess as `Muse' and the Craft as a form of ancient knowledge to be tested by experience; these are precisely the things that have caused the Craft to survive, to revive, and to be re-created in this century."[iii] If there is a lack of dogma, how can there be ritual? By definition, ritual assumes some sort of law or custom. If there is no dogma, how can there by ritual? Second, what is the measure of experience? How does one know he has arrived? There must be a standard. A godless divinity and a dogmaless doctine? Hardly.

A third feature of paganism tied to the pursuit of experience is divination, or magick. This is simply an attempt to act divine, or god-like through the raising of power via meditation or concentration; spells or incantations; astral-type projection; herbs, medicines, incense, alcohol and/or drugs; expressions of “freedom” through dance and body function and/or manipulation and blood control. As impressive as these may seem, they hardly qualify for truly divine characteristics as omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence—and these are non-moral attributes. Clearly paganism raises a god that has no moral attributes as love, only fear; peace, only strife; joy, only pleasure that must be replenished; and others.

Now someone must be saying, “Hey! I may not believe in God or whatever, but I don’t believe all this stuff! I am not a Satanist or a pagan!”

John Angel James wrote in his booklet on Spiritual Idolatry: “It is obvious that whatever we love most, and are most anxious to retain and please--whatever it is we depend most upon for happiness and help--whatever has most of our hearts--that is, in effect, is our God! It does not matter whether it is friends, possessions, desires--or our own selves! These are the idols of the heart! SELF is the great idol which is the rival of God, and which divides with Him the worship of the human race.”

Psalm 14 helps us understand that God is real because of the foolishness of those that deny Him! To say there is no God is to assume one has absolute knowledge, which would make one out to be a god, even the very thing he denies! The truth is that since nobody has absolute knowledge, one who says there is no God really is unsure, so they act wickedly. The fool insults his own intellect by his immoral behavior. Of Romans 3:10-18 John MacArthur comments, “Paul strings together a series of OT quotations that indict the character (vv. 10–12), conversation (vv. 13, 14), and conduct (vv. 15–17) of all men. Nine times he uses words such as “none” and “all” to show the universality of human sin and rebellion.”[iv]

Just to help us grasp the seriousness of keeping this commandment, try Exodus 20:22, “He who sacrifices to any god, other than to the Lord alone, shall be utterly destroyed.” How devoted should one be in worship? Devoted enough to make sure he gets his worship right, or be devoted to his own destruction (as the 1890 Darby Bible translates).

Consider this quote: “If you find yourself beginning to love any pleasure better than your prayers, any book better than your Bible, any house better than God’s, any table better than the Lord’s, any person better than your Savior, anyone better than your soul, a present indulgence better than the hope of Heaven—take alarm!”[v]

**********

[i] Comfort, Ray. “The Ten Commandments, part 1.” School of Biblical Evangelism. Gainesville : Bridge-Logos, 2004.
[ii] Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon. New York : Viking Press, 1979.
[iii] Adler, Ibid.
[iv]MacArthur, John Jr. The MacArthur Study Bible. electronic ed., Ro 3:10. Nashville: Word Pub., 1997, c1997.
[v]Hardman, Samuel G., and Dwight Lyman Moody. Thoughts for the Quiet Hour. Originally published: Chicago: Revell, c1990., August 15. Willow Grove, PA: Woodlawn Electronic Publishing, 1998, c1997, c1994, c1990.

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