The God Who Tolerates No Rivals

The God Who Tolerates No Rivals

Do cell phone companies bug you as much as they do me? “Extend your contract—get one thousand bonus minutes!” “Switch and we’ll send you a check for one hundred dollars! Get your whole family to switch, and we’ll throw in text messaging! Get your town to switch, and we’ll make you mayor!” New gimmicks. New deals. Companies compete viciously, all for your cell phone loyalty.

Loyalty of the people is a prize of high value. Our liberated friends in the wilderness were surrounded by gods. Behind them were the gods of Egypt, who for a while looked quite powerful and efficient. Then they met the God of the plagues. In front of them are the gods of the Canaanites. These gods are seductive. They offer good crops, rain, victory over the tribe next door, and plenty of children. Who doesn’t want what’s behind those doors? Gods, gods. Which to choose? Where to place your loyalty?

One of the interesting things about Christianity is that our God does not stand in a line of world religions like club rush day and say, “Pick me; please pick me!” In the words of Jesus, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16).

We do not find God; God finds us. Long before we were freshmen in the search for life’s meaning, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ had already created the world in love, offered us His covenant, demonstrated His love in the flesh-and-blood Jesus, and atoned for our sins.

The first commandment is matter-of-fact. “I am your God, and there will be no other gods.” He actually said, “No other gods before my face.” When God looks at us, He wants to see our face, not the face of another who has captured our loyalty.

But in today’s world, with the Egyptian and Canaanite gods out of the picture, what gods might threaten such loyalty? Profit-loss columns, video games, the new Lexus, our favorite reality show, workaholism, perfectionism, NASCAR, exercise, romance novels, sports, food, the latest movie, the new diet, politics, shopping, prescription drugs, the girl, the boy, shopping, shoes, hair, stuff, money. Most anything or anyone can be turned into a god if you stare at it long enough and eventually bow to it.

But Bob Dylan was right. “You gotta serve somebody,” and God wants exclusive rights. Some have questioned such a God. Why does God need our undivided attention and unquestioned loyalty? Is He insecure? Demanding? Paranoid? What kind of a weak God is this?

Imagine yourself as a crafts person. You are expecting your first child. You carefully select a pattern and plan for a cradle. You go to the lumberyard and choose the finest, straightest, most beautiful cherry boards available. You spend hours in your woodwork shop, never once looking at a clock. Time passes as you are caught up in the loving act of creation. You measure twice before cutting once. You refuse to make allowances for any quarter-of-an-inch mistake. You plane and cut and groove and assemble and sand. In selecting a stain, you test several candidates on scrap wood before settling for the right one—a stain that allows the natural grain to emerge without erasing the beauty already in the wood.

You apply the stain with circular hand movements, rubbing it deep into the wood. You wipe the residue carefully. You seal and sand, seal and sand, until the triple-coated surface is smooth as the bottom of the baby to be born. Your masterpiece is complete, waiting for the birth of the child you have loved before his or her creation.

Imagine then, that one day, another crafts person comes into your workshop, sees the cradle, and suggests that this would be a good storage bin for tools. It is sturdy, has plenty room, and could hold several hand tools. This crafts person claims the cradle for this purpose. You are incensed and guard your creation jealously. You know why the cradle was created and for whom it was created. You refuse to allow that which was made for one purpose to be used for a less dignified purpose.

This is a jealousy rooted in love. This jealousy does not rise from a paranoid tyrant, but from a loving creator. It is on behalf of the loved, not the lover. It is a saving attitude and action. It makes claims on behalf of those who have no clue what other gods intend to do with them.

Deep in our heart of hearts, we all want to be loved like that. The slaves of Egypt did. The exiles of Babylon did. They wanted a God who would bring them to completion as creatures. They wanted a God who desired for them communities of justice, mercy, and grace. They wanted a God who was not capricious, not moody, and not fickle. They wanted a God who had no need to be elaborately placated.

But how would they know such a God? They would experience this God in day-to-day life. This God would be the source of the experience of their fathers—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. This God would make demands through covenant, offer blessing to generations, and provide a place/land for life to happen.

There are plenty of cell phone companies that promise you the moon, plenty of clubs to join, and plenty of causes to sign up for. Choose them, and they will reward you. Shun them, and they will go on to the next prospective pawn.

But there is only one God who will not sleep until you know that you have been fearfully and wonderfully knit together under divine optimism, given a world of provision for life, and claimed by blood shed on your behalf in a decisive moment of history.

This God will not rest until you know that you are made in His image and likeness. This God claims you as a child. This God moves heaven and earth to liberate you from all the imposters, tyrants, and seducers. This God knows that the gods can only enslave and kill. This God gives life, abundantly.

That’s why this God tolerates no rivals.

To be loved like this is a gift.

Today’s post is an excerpt from Dancing with the Law: The Ten Commandments.

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