If we would follow this one commandment, we would not be able to violate any of the others. No other gods before me. Have you ever made a list of the gods you put before God? I have. More than thirty years ago my feet were barely touching the ground, I was in such a state of joy at having surrendered my life to Christ. The joy lasted for three days until I came crashing down to earth with this thought: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” In the next three or so weeks I spent every spare minute I had listing the other gods in my life that stood between me and God.
The list went on for pages: candy(I have a sugar addiction), other people’s opinions of me, laziness, stubbornness, assumptions about how I thought my life should go, my parents’ opinions about me, the hell-fire-and-damnation-god of my childhood, fear, deeply held anger, extreme self-consciousness, my own feeling about my life that nothing would work out for me, shyness, rebelliousness, the church and what I was taught—these are just a few of the gods on my list. I called my list “gobs of gods.”
It was pretty disheartening at the time to see how long the list was. At the same time I began to see multilevel motivations in me: helping to please others, doing good things so that I looked good, etc.
Now that I look back on the intervening years, I can see that my journey with Christ has been about letting go of these gods that I put between God himself and me.
Another way of looking at my list and mayby yours, too, is to see that hanging on to these gods means that we can’t love and can’t really live. We cling to our own way of looking at everything and so in all things we are there partially, because filling our needs and what we want is primary to us. Our attitude in this self-seeking excludes what someone else lacks or wants and does not consider what God would want for us. So our ability to love, to embrace, to get to know another person, to forgive, to be patient with, to be kind and good to, to have self-control, to be faithful to is severely truncated by our own self-centeredness, by all these gods.
Once we can let go of these preoccupations—gods–which basically put a wall of self-protection around us and keep God and other people at arm’s length, we will be faithful to the rest of the commandments. We won’t be making any graven images or putting other gods before our God. We won’t take his name in vain. We will be keeping the Sabbath holy. God will have healed any negativity leftover from our childhood, especially feelings about our parents and any abuse we may have suffered; now we are able to honor them. We would not have any reason to kill or commit adultery or steal or lie about our neighbor, or covet anything that our neighbor has, because we’ve let go of all our justifications for any of this, because we finally have no other gods between us and God.
The gods that used to rule us have been laid to rest in favor of the One who knows us best. He created us, she would lead us to our own true selves as we were created to be, he would partner with us in achieving our purpose, she would welcome us to our true home in his arms, he would fill all our needs. There is now nothing between us. All those fears and anxieties and wants and assumptions and angers have melted away; we have been healed of their power over us. Now we don’t have to think about the commandments; there is no way we could violate them, because in loving God with all of ourselves and in loving our neighbor as ourselves(Jesus’ rendering of the Ten in Matthew 22:36-40), we cannot put anything between us and God.
The practice of identifying, claiming and letting go of these gods is the way past them to God himself. We have to own every single thing we do that violates the no-gods-before-me rule and then lift it up to God for healing. We cannot change what we ignore or refuse to acknowledge about ourselves. And God cannot heal what we will not invite him in to heal. We need to count the cost of holding onto these gods and the benefit of letting them go. And totally engage God in the process, so that the healing of the self-centered way is complete.
Commandments are an external imposition on our behavior until they are so internalized into our being that there is no longer a question of being obedient to them. We can no longer even think of violating the law of love because we rest in the arms of love. Then we will know that we have been totally healed.
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Questions to ponder over the week: What gods are more important to me than God himself? What am I willing to let God heal right now? Will I invite him into all the dark places within me?
True to the season of Advent and the birth of the Christ Child, may we all fully enjoy the hope and peace and love and new birth that the season offers all of us. May they be born in us today and always. In faith and love, Pat