The following is another excerpt from the second chapter of Ten Essential Words.
It should be clear then, that Yahweh does not simply demand “no other gods” without going to great lengths to reveal himself to his people. The personal name, Yahweh, invites us into a relationship with God. The Garden of Eden reveals God’s original intention of what that relationship could look like. The commandments, the laws of Moses, and moral codes of the Hebrew Scriptures set the bar of God’s righteous expectations for our conduct. The Temple demonstrates the depth of worship that is worthy of God. The prophets proclaim both God’s disappointment and forgiveness when we inevitably fall short of that bar of righteousness. Jesus dramatically revealed the heart of God and the lengths God was willing to go to be in relationship with us. So the First Commandment points us to God and invites us on a journey to discover who God is. Three things can help guide that journey:
We can know God. That sounds like such a simple statement, but it is both surprising and tragic how many of us live like we do not believe that statement – we live like functional agnostics. Sure, we believe there is a god out there, but God is beyond our reach and does not have any real impact on the way we live our lives. Rough estimates reveal this: that, though nine out of ten American adults believe that God exists, there is a growing disagreement about how God should be described. Many who consider themselves to be Christian are unacquainted with the basic tenants of their faith. Amidst the religious pluralism of our day, there is a growing resignation that we can really know anything for certain about God. This is giving rise to two approaches to God.
The first approach is to simply accept this functional agnosticism. God remains a vague life force somewhere out there, but there is no real hope that we can ever understand it. Like the force in the Star Wars movies, God is a powerful energy in the universe, but no one really understands it and only a select few – the spiritual Jedi if you will – can ever really harness it. But for the everyday person, God remains elusive and out of reach. God has no real influence in our lives and at the end of the day, we hope we have stayed on God’s good side and hope there might be something beyond the grave. It does not sound like an inspiring way to live, but truth be told, this is exactly how many do live. The truth is, I live far too many days of my own life this way.
The second comes out of functional agnosticism, but is not satisfied with the hopelessness described above. So a mix-and-match faith emerges. Since God cannot really be known, the best of a variety of religious experiences are borrowed to tailor a spiritual expression that suits the individual’s needs. What has emerged is the rise of designer religions, sometimes referred to as “pastiche spirituality”, that combines various beliefs and practices from different sources, even being a member of two or more distinct religions at the same time. While this may sound initially appealing to our cultural mindset that so values choice, what we end up with is a god made after our own image. What we have created is an idol, which is precisely what the Second Commandment (and the next chapter) cautions us against.
With the introduction, “My name is Yahweh”, God is calling us away from the elusiveness of a spiritual energy and the idolatry of a designer religion, and is calling us into a relationship with himself. We are called to learn about God through the study of scripture. We are invited to experience God through prayer and other spiritual practices. We are encouraged to pay attention to creation and the world around us for more clues about who God is – after all God is the creator of the world around us. Much of this involves some initiative on our part, which is probably why many people remain functional agnostics. But this seeking initiative is also met with a promise: seek God and you will find God. Inquire about God, search God out, knock on doors, turn over stones! God can be known to the one who wants to know him. That is the journey we are invited to take.