Deuteronomy 4:39 Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other.
Monotheism was a major stretch for the Israelites, after generations of living in Egypt. Maintaining monotheism was a struggle for them all the way through to the Babylonian Captivity, because all the nations around them had gods, and the general feeling was that all of them were simply territorial deities, or else specialized for different functions, like storms or fertility. They had no mental framework for direct interaction with the Creator, which is one reason why the supernatural manifestations at Sinai scared them witless. Today in the West, monotheism, agnosticism, and atheism seem to cover most of the bases for people, with Hinduism being the largest active polytheistic religion, followed by Shinto. Buddhism is a special case, because at its root it is atheistic, but in practice it is polytheistic. It can be argued that Mormonism is polytheistic, because it teaches that good Mormons go on to become gods to create their own universes. For that matter, it has been argued that Catholicism is polytheistic because of their plethora of saints to whom people pray, but the degree of that seems to vary from country to country. All of that is clearly in violation of what Moses says here, and is a danger to the wholehearted devotion called for throughout the Bible. That’s why it’s so important that the Bible starts with, “In (the) beginning, God…” Various spiritual entities are mentioned in the course of the Bible, particularly angels and demons, but from beginning to end there is only one God. Most of us don’t think in terms of polytheism, but in practical terms we depend on a number of things other than our Creator. A major one is government, but after tangling with bureaucracy I would hate to think of it as divine! Science also takes on the aura of divinity for many people. That is doubly tragic, because any honest scientist will tell you there is far more we don’t know than we do know. It all comes back to the choice to believe that the Creator of the universe is personally interested in us, and that He has made a way for us to be able to relate to Him.
This is a major issue for me because I minister in Japan, where the vast majority of people practice both Buddhism and Shinto when the occasion calls for it, but have no personal faith and mostly operate on superstitions of one sort or another. The idea of personal monotheism is offensive to many, because it says that the traditions of their ancestors are invalid, and they have been taught to revere their ancestors above all. My wife had a good friend explicitly decline to become a Christian even after having read the New Testament and hearing a lot about Christ, because “My ancestors weren’t Christians, and when I die I am supposed to go where they are.” Tragically, she dropped dead one day, and now she knows the truth. All I can do is keep speaking the truth in love, demonstrating with my life what a relationship with Christ looks like, and pray for the Holy Spirit to break through for people to understand that they can have what they admire in me. Frankly, I’m tired of people liking me without opening their hearts to Jesus!
Father, presenting the Gospel has never been easy in Japan, but nothing is impossible for You. I pray that You would use me, use this church, to break down the spiritual and cultural barriers and sweep multitudes of Japanese people into Your kingdom, Your family, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!