In a recent interfaith video, Pope Francis argued that all religions worship God, whether we call Him God, Buddha, Jesus Christ or Allah. He then suggested we should lay aside our theological differences and all celebrate our Deity together. To quote him: “In this crowd, in this range of religions, there is only one certainty that we have for all: we are all children of God.”
I couldn’t help thinking of Zerubbabel’s response to a similar invite to come together, this one by the enemies of Judah who’d offered to help rebuild the second temple. After they told him that “we like you, seek your God,” Zerubbabel replied: “You have nothing in common with us in building a temple to our God; but we ourselves will together build to the Lord God of Israel” (Ezra 4:1-3). Apparently, he didn’t consider them to be children of the same God Israel served.
But could the Pope be right? Does God not care much about what we call Him? Or how we worship? Is it enough just to acknowledge He exists and be sincere in our religious beliefs? Or is our God more particular about how He wants to be addressed and worshipped?
We don’t have to look far in the Bible to get the answer. There’s an account of God’s prophet, Elijah, confronting Israel and the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel. Elijah is obviously one who also does not embrace the big religious hug fest as proposed by Pope Francis. For we find him here challenging Israel to choose: “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If Yahweh is God follow Him; but if Baal, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21).
If Baal was indeed Israel’s God by another name, it shouldn’t matter, right? But clearly our God didn’t see it that way. Because after Israel voted to follow Him, He had Elijah slay all the priests of Baal!
It seems Israel never learned its lesson at Mt. Sinai where God instructed them on how to worship Him. For while Moses was off getting the instructions in writing, Israel decides to worship God Egyptian style. And they set up a golden calf. As a result, three thousand died that day. What were they thinking? Hadn’t God just told them: “You shall not make for yourselves an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them, for I, the LORD [Yahweh] your God, am a jealous God” (Ex. 20:4,5).
Still the people did not depart from their idolatry: “It was not Me that you offered victims and sacrifices forty years in the wilderness, was it O House of Israel? You also took along the tabernacle of Moloch and the star of Rompha, the images which you made to worship” (Acts 7:42,43).
So we see God will not identify with the names of other gods. Not then. Not now. To begin, God has only one proper name, which is Yahweh – or Jehovah. It is written as the Tetragrammaton YHWH, but translated as “LORD” (all caps) in our Bibles out of deference to Jewish belief the name is too holy to be written or spoken. When speaking of Him, Jews today usually call Him HaShem (The Name). Before His true name was revealed the Patriarchs called Him El Elyon or El Shaddai.
We can also address our God by His title, which is “Lord” (Heb. Adonai).Or as “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” which is the only family on earth to whom He has forever linked His name (Ex. 3:15). But the most intimate way to speak to Him is to call Him “Father” (Heb. Abba). That’s how Yeshua talked to Him, and no one knew Him more intimately than he.
But Satan is a deceptive marketer who doesn’t quit. He knows if we approach God any differently than how God has prescribed we’ll be serving him. “I say the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I don’t want you to become sharers in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy?” (1 Cor. 10:20- 22).
As a former Roman Catholic, for example, I was taught that, at the incantation of the priest, the bread and wine at Mass were transformed into the actual physical body and blood of Jesus. Jesus could then be offered over and over on their altars as a bloodless sacrifice. The Council of Trent declared this sacrifice to be “propitiatory,” that is able to “pardon even the gravest crimes and sins” (Twenty-Second Session, Chapter II). After I started to read the Bible I found Hebrews 10:10-14 totally refuted this false doctrine. How deceived I was to think that worshipping a piece of bread as God, as we were taught, was any less idolatrous than worshipping a golden calf.
We live in the Age of Grace right now. But one day this grace period will end and the wrath of God will begin. We don’t want to be found at that time hesitating between two opinions.
Brian Hennessy is author of Valley of the Steeples