Editor’s Note: While preparing a lesson for August 16, 2020, the following question struck me. Perhaps if we understand it better, we can make better choices ourselves, and help others more effectively.
For those that have followed God (Jehovah1) for a long time, and have learned to lean on His blessings, guidance, and provision, there may no longer be any question about who they will serve or worship. However, as we consider those who have never given God a chance, or have never heard enough about Him to make an informed decision, let’s pause here and consider something: Why do people follow other gods?
To start with, can we agree that everyone serves something that they believe in? Each of us has chosen to give some or all of our allegiance, decisions, and valuables over to some authority or ruler (in addition to what may be forced upon us by external factors). Whether or not we formally call something a “god”, anything to which we give our time, talent, treasure, and talk (and which controls our decisions) functions as an object of worship, even if it is something that is internally focused (like selfishness, comfort, or pride).
In the context of those who serve God, and have given their lives over to Jesus Christ as the Lord of their lives, consider what other gods are common-place in the world today: Some put their faith in science, others in luck. Some give their support to politics or to influential friends. Some worship wealth, power, or entertainment. Some yield to advertising, media influences, or a preferred author or teacher. There are also beliefs in other specific, named gods, ranging from those of the Hindu faith (for instance), to those of the occult.
In reality, the behavior of most people I know (including myself) might give the impression of being a little “polytheistic”. I’m not trying to be offensive here, but while I certainly believe in a single God (having three persons), and want Him to have complete control over my life (because I have found that it is both appropriate and beneficial for me to do so), I know that sometimes my bad choices make it look like I’m serving something or someone else. I’m not proud of that, but it’s the reality of being imperfect, and imperfectly committing to Jesus as my Lord.
So, let’s get back to the question: why would someone follow other gods? What draws people to anyone or anything other than their loving Creator? You may have some good ideas, but here are some reasons that I thought of, as a starting point:
- A belief that they will be blessed. When we think of ancient cultures, we can fairly easily picture adherents calling upon all matter of deities in order to provide good crops, healthy livestock, and protection from their enemies. Today, the various gods around us still claim to offer rewards if we will follow and worship them, often sacrificing what is important to us in exchange for these gifts.
- The feeling of having power. Sometimes, this takes the form of wanting to bring the power of a particular god to bear on one’s environment. Many gods (including the gods of authority, money, and influence) claim that they will give us what we want, and many beliefs tell us that if we are devoted to them, we will be able to manipulate other people and circumstances to our own desires. I think that there’s also a belief that other gods (especially the “god” of selfishness: serving one’s own interests) will let their followers do whatever they choose. There is a real perceived power in the idea of unrestrained self-determination, and actions without consequences.
- Peer pressure and popular opinion. Let’s be honest, some bad ideas gain followers simply because they are trendy. This feeling of fitting in or of being one of the crowd is a strong one, and many modern gods offer the impression of being in a community, even if the others in the group are just as unhappy as we are. Factions and divisions align on either side of an issue, and there is solidarity with those on “our” side, even if the battle isn’t getting individuals or society closer to the purported goal.
- Entertaining worship practices. Now, this is not a statement about whether or not there should be guitars or drums in church. Rather, it is an observation about the attraction of other gods. In ancient times, heathen worship practices would often include revelry (of a kind that doesn’t need to be described here), and we can easily imagine participants getting caught up in the “high” of sinful activities, regardless of who they were worshiping. Today, a lifestyle of parties and leisure may certainly look more attractive (at least in the short term), compared to a life of service and purpose.
If you have more ideas on why other gods are attractive, let me know. Then, we can pick up tomorrow with some comparisons to what Jehovah God offers. It’s better than alternatives like those described below!
You burn with lust among the oaks
and under every spreading tree;
you sacrifice your children in the ravines
and under the overhanging crags.
The idols among the smooth stones of the ravines are your portion;
indeed, they are your lot.
Yes, to them you have poured out drink offerings
and offered grain offerings.
In view of all this, should I relent?
Isaiah 57:5-6 NIV
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- In this article, I’ll try to use God (with a capital “G”) to refer to Jehovah, whether the Trinity of persons that comprise the one God who gave us this name by which we could call Him, or God the Father specifically within that Trinity. Conversely, I’m using “gods” (with a lowercase “g”) to refer to other things that people worship. In general, most of those other “gods” don’t care about what they are called; however, for readers whose faith involves another god with a specific name, I would be pleased to talk with you about how he or she compares to Jehovah. Drop me a note in the comments or this site’s Contact form, and we can learn a little more about each others’ beliefs.↩