Monotheism; April 24, 2021

Deuteronomy 4:7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?

I like the way the Japanese inverts the order of this verse, stating first that the Lord our God is near us when we call to Him, and then bringing up the matter of other nations. A very important thing to remember here is that when the NIV, and a lot of other translations, use LORD, as in this verse, that is a stand-in for the covenant name of God, Yahweh. The people in general were thoroughly polytheistic, thinking there were many gods, but the one that happened to interact with them was this Yahweh character. He was certainly impressive, but they had no mental framework to conceive of Him as the Creator, the only Being from before time, eternal in every sense. Moses didn’t try to give them a theology lesson, he just pointed out some of the benefits of relating to Yahweh. America today is nominally monotheistic, but polls show that over half the population thinks there is more than one way to salvation. That is practical polytheism. Often, the best way to combat that isn’t a head-on assault, but rather to point out the benefits of relating to God as the Bible shows Him to be, just as Moses did here. From their years in Egypt, the people were all too familiar with hit-or-miss prayers to various deities. Frankly, people today are too! That’s a good reason to record what we pray for, so that we will be aware of God’s answers. We can’t think of God as an ATM, but we need to be aware that He is our Supply, as well as our Protector and Healer.

Japanese have a long and ingrained tradition of polytheism, and I need God’s wisdom in relating to them to draw them out of it. I have had people who wanted to “add Jesus to their god-shelf,” and I have reacted very negatively. That perhaps was not wise. I do need to make the exclusive claims of Christ very clear, but I am not to put people down for where they are right now. Japanese Buddhism essentially makes everyone who has ever died into a sort of god, and ancestor worship is seen as a duty of what is called “filial piety.” If you don’t pray to your ancestors, you aren’t a worthy descendant! The interesting thing is, that is completely different from Shinto, which makes a god of any striking natural feature, leading the Japanese themselves to call Japan “The Land of 8 Million Gods.” Incidentally, that is the tradition that has god-shelves. Many Japanese homes have both a god-shelf and a special cabinet for their ancestral tablets, and they offer food and incense to both. Interestingly, businesses often have a god-shelf, but never a Buddhist altar, because ancestral tablets are kept only in the home of their descendants. Modern society has separated many people from the whole ancestor worship thing, and that can be a good opening for the Gospel. I am to meet people where they are, but I need the help of the Holy Spirit to understand just where that is, so that His words through me may penetrate to set people free from the lies that have bound them.

Father, thank You for this reminder of the ministry task before me. Help me not depend on my own understanding, but always seek and rely on You, because You alone know everything. (Proverbs 3:5-6) Thank You. Praise God!

About jgarrott

Born and raised in Japan of missionary parents. Have been here as an adult missionary since 1981.
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