The world of the Bible presents us with a new image of God. In surrounding cultures, the image of God and of the gods ultimately remained unclear and contradictory. In the development of biblical faith, however, the content of the prayer fundamental to
, the Shema, became increasingly clear and unequivocal: “Hear, O
Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord” (Dt 6:4). There is only one God, the Creator
of heaven and earth, who is thus the God of all. Two facts are significant
about this statement: all other gods are not God, and the universe in which we
live has its source in God and was created by him. Certainly, the notion of
creation is found elsewhere, yet only here does it become absolutely clear that
it is not one god among many, but the one true God himself who is the source of
all that exists; the whole world comes into existence by the power of his
creative Word. Consequently, his creation is dear to him, for it was willed by
him and “made” by him. The second important element now emerges: this God loves
Deus Caritas Est, 9
Reflection - We who come from a culture shaped by millennia of monotheistic Biblical faith often find it hard to imagine the world of polytheistic paganism. God for us, even if we are not especially religious or educated, is (if he exists) the Big Guy, the Head Honcho, the Man, the One.
This sense of multiple gods and goddesses reigning over different corners of the world, of competing forces treating humans like chess pieces or like toys to be played with and then tossed away, of a universe springing out of chaos, bloodshed, and strife and only precariously held in balance by gods of limited power—all of this we might know from our reading of Homer, the Greek myths, the great tragedies of Sophocles and Aeschylus, or various other sources.
But we know it from within our own deeply ingrained monotheistic conditioning. I use that word deliberately as opposed to ‘faith’, as I am thinking here of people who may have little if any religion but who nonetheless still bear the cultural inheritance of Christianity.
I think of people who have little faith and less religion, but who have a deep bitterness towards God for the injustices, evils, and sufferings of the world and in their own life. Yet why should they be bitter towards an 'uncaring' God… unless they have a deep sense that He should not be so? Only in very late paganism, the paganism that frankly was wide open to the proclamation of Christianity, does that note of bitterness towards the gods appear. A normal pagan would never imagine that the gods should be other than what they are: capricious, vengeful, bloodthirsty little two-bit despots running a sort of cosmic protection racket – ‘nice world you’ve got here… shame if something happened to it.’
And even if there is a good god who he liked, the pious pagan was well aware that some other god or goddess, not so nice, could always seize the reins of power at least temporarily and get a few licks in.
The Jew, the Christian, and the post-Christian deeply know that this will not do with our God. He made it, He’s the only Show in town, and He is supposed to love us and be on our side. This generates for us the fearsome problem of evil and suffering, which is no small matter, and which (at least in this post, which is too long already!) I have no intention of getting into.