Thou shalt have no other gods. It’s found multiple times in all of the major works of scripture. It’s the very first commandment, every time. Why? Why does the type of god we worship matter so much?
What we believe about God is what we end up being. It’s what we emulate. If we believe in a hateful, vengeful, spiteful, wrathful God, then we will justify our own hate, vengeance, spite, and wrath, even if we don’t have even close to the same perception of reality that God does. This is a problem. And it gets out of hand too quickly.
Our entire paradigm of justice rests on good returned for good in order to excuse evil returned for evil. This is eye for an eye thinking, and it comes from our own wickedness. It isn’t God who can’t stand it when things go wrong, it’s us. We’re the ones who can’t forgive. We’re the ones who label otherness in order to claim our own identities. God doesn’t need that. None of us are “others” to him.
So, we treat each other like crap and blame it on God, saying that God is out to punish people so we’re just trying to help the cause. We’re out here demanding justice, thinking that our lame version of it, our fancy way of saying eye for an eye, is even remotely close to God’s perfect love.
It’s true that the world does get better for those who put good out into it, but not because anything in it is any less absurd. It gets better because they’re choosing to see good in people, in nature, and even in the mystery of why bad things happen to good people. They are welcomed into the mysteries of God and are transformed by the love that moves in and through them. And it bears good fruit. That is what God’s justice does.
God’s justice is a way of being. A grounded state of heart and mind that gifts grace to the world, that pours light and love into all the darkest crevices until everything sparkles. We’ve got to stop pretending it works any other way. We’ve got to stop pretending it’s godly to give evil for evil.
These are bold statement, I know. But I’ve got it on good authority that it’s true. Out of all the records we have of people trying to figure out the will of God, there is only one time in the history of the world that God’s own nature was perfectly emulated in embodied human form. Jesus is exactly who he says he is, and our best authority on the nature of God.
Jesus’ justice heals people. Jesus’ justice never condemns anyone. Jesus’ justice forgives, over and over and over. Jesus’ justice puts away the sword. Jesus’ justice transforms people. Jesus’ justice walks itself to the cross. Jesus’ justice asks us to take up our own crosses, mourn with those that mourn, be peacemakers, and actively seek for this justice that his entire life and death proved to be the very nature of God.
We have a really hard time believing that God loves sinners. We’ll say all day long that God loves the sinner and hates the sin, but we have no problem saying that he also punishes the sinner for the sin. We need this to be true to satisfy our own inability to forgive the way God forgives. Satan, the accuser, the devil, tries to convince us that God can’t save us without some sort of payment. And if not God directly, then surely the Universe is out to get us and God is complicit. The sheer number of atonement theories prove we’re still trying to fit God into this small box.
But God’s grace is his power. His power and authority are long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, kindness, and love unfeigned (2 Corinthians 6:6, Doctrine and Covenants 121:41). How bold, and wrong, we are to think we can change his nature and make him like us, some small god that needs to be appeased or bought off.
Religion has been co-opted by this strange god. We teach some weak version of a mafia god that needs us to behave a certain way in order for us to gain his favor. We believe god isn’t powerful enough to draw us into perfectness just by his very being, no, our god is scared we won’t make it and needs us to prove to him we’re doing okay. When we worship this small god we emulate this small god, and we treat each other small. What results is nothing short of all of our racism, nationalism, sexism, ageism, war, violence, and hate, all wrapped up in intermittent good works and empty visions of some future distant heaven.
To tide us over, this god does promise us power in this world if we’ll just worship him. Give me your glory and honor, he says, and I’ll give you the world. Yet, Jesus himself calls this small god out for who he is.
And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it.
If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine.
Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. (Luke 4:6–8)
Jesus wasn’t buying into this transactional version of God because he knows God better than anyone else. He is God, the Son of his Father. He knows what really brings us into our true inheritance. And before he begins his teachings about those truths in his great Sermon, he goes out into the desert and lays to rest this small god in favor of the one true God. Later on, changing “worship” to “love”, Jesus teaches that loving this loving God is still the first commandment.
For God’s sake, stop making gods in our image and start loving the God that already and always loves us. The one whose heart and mind are the same as Jesus’. The one who shows us what it is to love unconditionally. The one who gifts his goodness to the world. The one who “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good” (Matthew 5:45). It matters. It matters enough to be listed first. It’s time we take it seriously.