2.2.2. Our God is an ethical God

2.2.2. Our God is an ethical God

So far you might be glad to not be worshiping such gods. One advantage of the ancient conception of the gods is that it was tolerant and inclusive . The ancients might say, “Your people worship a god other than the one(s) I worship? Fine, they’re both gods. We don’t all have to serve the same gods. It’s all good.” Some would even say that religious wars are impossible in such a system. I don’t think that is quite the case, but there is certainly some flexibility in the ability to add gods and imagine one gaining dominance while another “retires” and fades away. This is somewhat comparable to reverence for the saints in Catholicism. Many are deemed worthy or reverence, but it is not required that we all express devotion to the same (or any) saint.

Here is one more advanced point about the gods of the ancient Near East. The gods were powerful, but not all-powerful. They were subject to a still higher power of fate . Unlike the gods, fate is not personal and cannot be manipulated or changed. Like gravity, it is more like a law of the universe than a being or active agent.

The Israelites conceived of their God as perfectly just. God behaves with perfect justice , and God expects justice of God’s people. Other gods had a sense of fairness and held the roles of judge or righter of wrongs. However, the Israelites pushed further with a God of perfect justice, which online title loans Maine could not be manipulated.

Of course other nations had concepts of justice and laws, but those principles were not theological principles; they were independent of the gods. The gods were subject to certain social rules and consequences (for the most part), just as humans are subject to certain rules and consequences (for the most part). Anyone in the ancient world would have agreed that murder, adultery, and theft are not okay. Other nations had laws and punishments for certain crimes, but those were practical consequences. The Israelites were the first to present ethical laws as absolute commandments by God.

Moreover, the Israelites kept emphasizing justice as the most important attribute of God and the most important thing God expects of humans. Justice was foundational and more important than other aspects of religion.

Whereas the other nations conceived of gods who were fickle and opportunistic, the Israelites asserted that their God was fundamentally an ethical God.

2.2.3. From the supreme god to the only God

All Jews, Christians, and Muslims are monotheistic . That is, we all assert that there is only one God. The oneness of God implies the unity of God, or even that all that truly is, is God. We have room for supernatural beings called angels, but they are clearly subordinate to God. On the one hand, this may be the most lasting insight into God that the Israelites had. On the other hand, this is a relatively late development in Israelite thought. Most of the Hebrew Bible does assume that other gods exist. Monotheism developed in stages.

God could be counted on to act justly and act in defense of those who do not receive justice on earth

The earliest stage is not very different from Israel’s ancient neighbors. Other gods exist, but one God is superior to all of them, like a king.

Some Jews and Christians will interpret these subordinate divine beings as angels, rather than gods. The early Israelites, however, called them gods. The idea that one God is king of all the other gods is not different from the idea that Marduk or Zeus is king of the gods. This early stage is still polytheism , the belief in many gods.