What do you do with a demanding, jealous God? I mean talk about high expectations! The first words concerning the Israelites—God’s people—spoken by the Lord to Moses were, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2-3). Talk about commitment!
There’s no wiggle room here. The Lord acknowledges that there are other gods—those created by the different clans and tribes of people who surrounded the Israelites when God says, “before me.” God’s people, though, are not to have anything to do with them. There are no bff’s, no passing acquaintances, and no “just-in-case/covering-all-the-bases” type relationships. It is the Lord, Yahweh, God and no one else. This is total commitment. We’re getting very, very serious here.
You’ve Got to be Kidding
In a way, what God is telling us to do is counter-intuitive. We’ve been told many times, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” This is good advice when it comes to investments. It doesn’t work, though, in a relationship with the Divine. We’re restless and we still want to play the field; keep our options open. We resist the idea of settling down. Such a lifestyle may be necessary during a certain stage of our development into adulthood. An intimate, open, dynamic, life-changing relationship with our soul mate though, demands exclusivity—total commitment. Such an earthly relationship mirrors what the Lord desires to have with us when God says, “You shall have no other gods before me.”
The skepticism of many of us who identify ourselves as progressive Christians can play against God’s call to total commitment. After all, we have questioned the traditional teachings of the church, cast a wary eye toward the theological writings of the church fathers, and argued against the literal interpretation of scripture. When some people, who identify themselves as Christians, claim that God has directed them to deny the humanity of others, oppress the poor and needy, and seek power and riches for themselves, we have shaken our heads and said, “That isn’t the God whom we worship.” We haven’t, though, identified who the God is whom we do worship.
The Attraction of Certainty
I confess that at times I envy the certainty that my more conservative brothers and sisters in Christ exhibit. They are so certain that: God created the world in six days, Jonah actually was swallowed by a whale, Jesus was born of a virgin, the Holy Spirit directs their every step, and that God has nothing better to do than to answer their prayers for a parking space close to the entrance of Wal-Mart. Their certainty supports their ability to be totally committed and to have no other gods before the Lord. Now, I think that many people in this category place their faith in the wrong things, but I’m still envious of their certainty.
Embracing the Mystery
Many Christians, and I’m count myself as one of them, have more questions about God than we do answers. Our questions increase exponentially the more we discover about God. We come to realize that God is way bigger than we are. God is the Total Other. The Lord is the mystery that we will never fully understand, and we can be certain of very little.
For some they can only deal with this mystery by locating God out in the cheering section, complacently watching the game of life and the universe play themselves out. It is impossible to totally commit to such a god. Their skepticism and questioning have done them a disservice. This is most assuredly not the type of relationship that the God revealed in scripture wants to have with God’s people. Nor is it the type of relationship that we humans crave to have with our God.
Not Far, but Near
The stories of scripture and the person of Jesus Christ reveal a different God than one who inhabits the bleachers. They reveal a God who is involved in life here on earth. God is incarnate. In the Bible we see a God of steadfast love. This is the chant of Psalm 136, “The steadfast love of the Lord endures forever,” and the proclamation of Lamentations, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end” (Lamentations 3:22). God’s forgiveness is unconditional. In story after story the Lord forgives God’s wayward children, embraces them with God’s love, and welcomes them back into God’s family. In the words of the Bible, we read about God’s overwhelming grace, and in our daily lives we experience it.
The God who calls God’s people to not have any other god’s in their lives—to be totally committed, is a mystery. We do know some things about this God. We know that God is present and that God is a God of steadfast love, unconditional forgiveness and overwhelming grace. Yeah, I still have many questions, and if I’m totally honest, a few doubts. Yet, this is a God to whom I can be fully committed—in my own messed up, stumbling, fallible way. We can be totally committed to a mystery—how weird is that!